Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula cover

Dracula book cover

Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker 
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: 1897
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Format:
Audiobook,


Before reading Dracula, I had seen almost every iteration of it on television–from the original Bela Lugosi film to the remake TV series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  I have to say that, in this case, the book is better than the movie. Which movie, you ask? Every. Single. One.

I absolutely loved the writing style and the way that Stoker carefully cultivated a tense and bleak atmosphere. This entire book is written in epistolary style–through journal entries and letters and the occasional newspaper article. This in itself should make it challenging to craft an effectively dark and chilling atmosphere, which is required in any good horror novel. Yet somehow Stoker manages to, not only develop a unique voice for each of the characters, but to create that deep sense of foreboding that is so common in great horror books. I found certain passages spellbinding, and I was shocked to discover how a book that was written over a hundred years ago could still be terrifying. (Thanks to Renfield I’ll never look at a fly OR a spider the same way again).

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Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Kill Creek Book Cover

kill creek book cover

Title: Kill Creek
Author: Scott Thomas
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Inkshares


World-renowned horror author Sam McGarver has writer’s block.  He hasn’t written anything in two years. So when he’s mysteriously invited to spend Halloween at an allegedly haunted house, he figures he has nothing to lose. When he gets there, he discovers that the reporter who invited him, infamous Wainwright of the website “WrightWire”, actually invited three other horror authors as well. All four of them write completely different types of horror, yet they’re all brought to the house for a group interview as a publicity stunt to increase sales of their future books. But when the sun goes down strange things start to happen in the house, and Sam starts to wonder—what if this house really is haunted?

Kill Creek brings Gothic horror into the modern era.  In the very first chapter, Sam McGarver, who is also a professor at the university, gives a lecture on the elements of true Gothic horror.  It did not go over my head that this book addresses all of these key components. The house on Kill Creek has a tragic, mysterious history that Thomas shares with the reader in the very prologue of the book. This sets the stage for the disturbing events that follow…

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

the ocean at the end of the lane book cover

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Date of Publication: June 18, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a haunting and riveting tale of a man who returns home for the funeral of his father.  When he’s there, he’s compelled to go to the house at the end of the lane, where the most peculiar girl, Lettie Hempstock, once lived. While he doesn’t remember much about her, the story of what happened when he was a child is revealed through a flashback…

This is novel is like a dark and slightly twisted version of A Wrinkle in Time There’s a strange magic surrealism to the story from the very beginning, all the way through until it becomes very clear that there’s something supernatural going on. Written from a child’s perspective, Gaiman effectively provides the impression that the world is viewed through a child’s eyes without sacrificing quality of language or the impact of the story.

I absolutely loved the way that Neil Gaiman implemented little asides and anecdotes within the narrative, which served to flesh out the main character and give us insight into his personality through showing and not telling. For example, no one came to his childhood birthday party, and there was a comment about fifteen empty folding chairs. That line and the sheer loneliness of it has stuck with me for weeks after finishing the book.

This is my first non-Sandman graphic novel series Neil Gaiman book, and it did not disappoint. I read other reviews indicating that he’s writing about a theme (growing up) he’s apparently visited and revisited numerous times, as if this is a valid criticism of the quality of the story on its own. While I haven’t read his other books, I do know that this one definitely has literary merit.  I might just have to check out these other stories.

My only criticism is that while the protagonist has ample character development, secondary characters aren’t given as much attention.  However, this could be an artifact of the nature of seven-year-old boys and how they perceive the world.  While he’s fascinated by the mysterious girl who lives at the end of the lane, he doesn’t bother to analyze his family and what they themselves are going through.

Neil Gaiman book

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a darkly beautiful story of a boy growing up in a world that’s like our own but not quite right. It’s lyrically written, but the plot moves quickly.

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Book Review: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft

Toil and Trouble book cover

Toil & Trouble book cover

Title: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Editors: Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Anthology
Date of Publication: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen


The title says it all.  This is a collection of 15 short stories about magic and witchcraft, but it’s a lot more than that.  Each of the stories uses fantasy elements as a metaphor for real life experiences and social issues.  I was attracted to this anthology because it was touted as being a diverse anthology, and it does not disappoint.

There are some recurring themes that are worth mentioning, but I’ll avoid any spoilers in this discussion.  This book definitely has literary merit.  Some of the short stories deal with overcoming the oppression of being a woman – how “witches” were viewed historically (and even in present day).  There are common themes of “growing up” and maturation, overcoming fears and obstacles, coming out as LGBTQ+, and becoming an adult.  This is a must read for any teenager who just happens to like magic. (So basically all teenagers).

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Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer book cover

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Date of Publication: August 8, 2016
Publisher: Gallery Books


Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have strong feelings for Amy Schumer. I thought she was hilarious in her movies Trainwreck and Snatched, but I thought she could be a little crass in her stand-up comedy.  I didn’t have any strong opinions about her otherwise. I was neutral.  This has changed with this book.

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Book Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending

#murdertrending

Title: #Murdertrending 
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Date of Publication: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Freeform


Dee Guerrera is innocent of killing her step-sister, but this doesn’t stop her from being convicted of first-degree murder and sent to the country’s top prison – Alcatraz 2.0.  However, Dee doesn’t spend the rest of her life trapped in a tiny cell. Instead, she becomes one of many stars of a sick reality TV show. Everyday she goes to work at an ice cream parlour on the island called “I Scream” and returns home to her house in the barracks.  But this isn’t an idyllic, peaceful existence.  She—along with all the other convicted criminals—are always in danger. Because on Alcatraz 2.0, there are serial killers who hunt down the prisoners, and the killings are live-streamed for the millions of fans watching from the luxury of their homes.

I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting.  It is a fun, campy, thrilling read with lots of relevant references to pop culture.  However, there aren’t any pop culture references that would date the book. McNeil limits herself to mentions of things like Disney princesses, and classic movies like Rambo and Die Hard. It’s definitely a good idea to stick to the classics, because if you focus too much on a movie that’s a passing fad, the book will lose its relevance in a few years.

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Book Review: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Endling

The Last Book Cover

Title: The Last (Endling #1)
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Date of Publication: May 18, 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books


What a book! I was a HUGE fan of the Animorphs book series, so when I saw this book on the shelf at OLA, I just knew I had to pick it up. I typically don’t review middle-grade books, but I might have to reconsider. Bear in mind that my review won’t be discussing how appropriate this story is to a younger audience, but focusing on the sheer brilliance of the plot and its characters.

I bet you can tell that I loved this book just from my previous sentence. When Byx’s family is killed, she fears that she is an ‘endling’, the last of the species of dairnes, which are doglike creatures that have human qualities, can speak, and can identify when others are lying to them.  Armed with nothing but a map she drew based on stories she heard when she was just a little pup, Byx is joined by other misfits on her journey to find others like her.  But it is quite possible that Byx is the endling, and that she will never find this mysterious land where other dairnes are said to have escaped.

Endling is set in a dynamic and unique world that Applegate has created. While we see some animals that we’re already familiar with—dogs, horses, and even humans—there are new species introduced, like the aforementioned dairnes, as well as wobbyks, felivets, and raptidons.

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Book Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Last Time I Lied

The last time I Lied Book Cover

Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Publisher: Dutton


Fifteen years ago, thirteen-year-old Emma was sent to Camp Nightingale for the summer, where she joined a cabin with three older girls.  Vivian, the ring-leader, instantly took her under her wing, treating her like a younger sister and showing her the ropes. But not long after summer camp begins, the three older girls vanish without a trace. In present day, Emma is still having a hard time letting go of the fact that the three girls were never found.  An artist, she paints the three girls into all of the paintings in her forest series, hiding them behind gnarled branches and thick foliage. When she’s invited back to Camp Nightingale to teach art to the first cohort of girls since the terrible incident fifteen years ago, she jumps at the chance. Can she find the truth about what happened that night, or is history just going to repeat itself?

I could not put this book down! It is an incredibly atmospheric, creepy read. I love books and movies set at camp (Camp Crystal Lake, anyone?), and this book does not disappoint! Sager paints a vivid picture when setting the scene. The trees seem to come to life, and I soaked up every word he wrote. The whole story has an Agatha Christie-type of mystery feel to it –where readers suspect everyone of hiding a sinister secret.  Anyone could be responsible for what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma herself isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of narrators, as it is revealed early in the book that she suffered a mental breakdown shortly after camp fifteen years ago.

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Book Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

Whisper by Lynette Noni

Title: Whisper
Author: Lynette Noni
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: May 1, 2018
Publisher: KCP Loft


Jane Doe has been held captive in a secret government bunker for over two years. She’s been experimented on, she’s been tested, and she still doesn’t know why she’s held there.  But she refuses to answer any of their questions.  She refuses to say anything at all.  And for good reason…

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Past Tense by Star Spider

Past Tense Book Cover

Title: Past Tense
Author: Star Spider
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins


Julie Nolan is just another teenager who’s madly in love with her best friend, Lorelei.  She’s obsessed with her and spends a lot of time hunting down the perfect opportunity to come out and profess her undying love.  Once she does, she knows in her heart that Lorelei will reciprocate this love and they will live happily ever after.  But Julie’s home life is getting in the way with her grand plans. Her mother, who just gave birth to Julie’s younger brother, has started to act strangely.  Her mother has become meek and muted.  At night she takes Julie to the graveyard, where she asks Julie to bury her and give a eulogy.  She’s nothing like the vibrant, full-of-life person she once was.  She’s convinced that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, that she isn’t breathing, that she’s dead.

Past Tense Book

At first Julie’s singular obsession with her best friend was a tad tedious.  But do you remember when you were that age? A crush, or “being in love” would often demand all of your attention. Star Spider does a fabulous job of replicating the teenage experience, and manages to craft Julie into a three-dimensional character. Sure, she’s obsessed with her best friend, but she has other personality traits that she demonstrates and gets to develop over the course of the novel. She shows compassion for her teacher who she thinks is in love with her. She demonstrates maturity and a deep love and concern for her infant brother when her mother starts to act strange.

This brings me to the title. “Past Tense”. How clever! At the graveyard, Julie’s mother asks her to give a eulogy.  She corrects her when she starts – saying that it has to be in past tense. “Past Tense” aptly describes all the themes in this book.  Julie is evolving into a new person, and by the end, she’s nothing like the person she was in the beginning of the book.

As the novel progresses, Julie starts to develop more self-awareness. There’s an event that’s a turning point for Julie, but her evolution is gradual and beautifully conceived.  Julie becomes able to evaluate her relationship with her best friend.  She develops a friendship with a boy in her school, Henry. It’s refreshing to see that her new relationship isn’t insta-love, like what she had with Lorelei.  Julie has grown and evolved into a person who can see beyond looks and superficial charm, and she develops a true connection at a deeper level.  This self-realization is also demonstrated in her relationship with her mother.  While giving the eulogy for her mother, she says that her mother was “wonderful”. Julie ruminates over this term, the shallowness of it, and how she should be able to probe deeper. If nothing else, when Julie’s mother truly does die, Julie will be able to give a fabulous eulogy.

Julie’s relationship with her mother is fascinating.  From the beginning of the book, her mom is already suffering from some sort of mental illness, yet we know that Julie and her mother were very close before the events of this book begin.  Instead of just telling us that they were close, Star Spider demonstrates this with absolutely heart-wrenching little anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter.  They’re short, yet powerfully demonstrative of the relationship they once had.  In the past, her mother was dynamic and full of life and absolutely attentive to her daughter, which makes it even more painfully obvious that she’s suffering in the present.

I particularly loved the parallels between the two prominent plotlines in this story.  The storyline of her best friend and what’s going on with her mother intersects quite beautifully with a life lesson that we all should learn.  (Spoilers are between the glasses!)

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

Julie learns that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore the wishes of the person you want to help.  Being brave sometimes requires a simple telling of the truth.  Sure, she’ll never run into a fire to save a life (like her mother did), but she can still have an incredible impact on the lives around her.

She tells her father about what her mother is going through, which helps her to get the medical treatment she needs. She tells another teacher about Lorelei’s highly-disgusting relationship with the teacher.  By the end of the novel Julie is glad with the decisions she’s made, and she has no guilt or regrets.

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This is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book recommended to young adults (and adults!) of all ages.  While it deals with some intense themes, the book itself isn’t too dark.  The end is uplifting, which makes all the feelings that you had while reading worthwhile.

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*I received a copy of this ARC from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.*

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