Dracul:A Novel by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker

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“Why are you hiding, Nanna Ellen? You’re frightening me!”

The peculiarities of Ellen Crone, oh yes, is the perfect place to start this creepy novel. Written from the notes, missing pages, remnants of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, there is an eerie intimacy in this prequel, sharing the inspiration behind his dark creation. It seems fitting that Stoker’s great grand-nephew carries on his legacy, co-authored by J.D. Barker (a horror and thriller fiction writer himself). That is turned out so good  is simply an early Halloween treat for your bucket.

We begin with Bram, a sickly ill-fated child (how gothic) until a peculiar Nanny ‘monster, wraith, friend’ (sounds about right if you think about Nannies of bygone days) cures him. Spending miserably sad, mounting days from his attic room wondering if it’s to be his last, with his older sister Matilda for company, watching life outside his window. There from the time of his birth, lending her strength to his being and disappearing for days at a time always returning restored again (cheeks flush with color, life) his nanny (Nana Ellen) is a force.  Ellen of the changing eye color and strange mysteries is it imagination that brother and sister let run wild, or is she something ‘other’? Is it just his illness, playing games with his mind? Feeling her, but not seeing her when at his worst? Curing him when leaches fail him? The cure, that strange beastly overpowering… did she truly save or change him?

interrupting these journal entries, Bram of the present is being stalked by a presence on the other side of the door, trapped in a room, engulfed by the awful stench of this monster, wondering if he’ll ever leave alive. Back to the past, brother and sister snooping through Ellen’s room, when they aren’t watching her strange nightly encounters, looking for evidence of something. Being children, they know not what but why is there a box of dirt, with a body impression, as if someone sleeps there in her room? Why isn’t her bed as clean as their own? Well, the ‘help’ is often busy and exhausted, is it so bizarre to be a messy nanny? Shoo, children, what does your Ma care so long as Ellen watches out for you and the house is clean?

Naturally they don’t give in, they continue to hunt, stalk their Nanny who disappears into mist. Maybe their feet just aren’t as fast? Are they really chasing her? Is he dreaming? Bram wakes with an itch. Could siblings share the same dream, or is it the sinister games of Ellen? If there was nothing unholy about her, nothing monstrous, why has she left in the night, without a word, leaving nothing of herself behind?

The monster means to seduce him into opening the door. After all, he owes it his very life, he wouldn’t have reached adulthood without it. Come on, open the door! Let’s get to the bottom of this!

They will find Ellen again, and discover the origins of her monstrous heart. What is great about this prequel is the knowledge shared about Stoker’s childhood, life. There is folklore and I love folklore but I wish there was more heart pounding terror. What you will find is the undead, plagues, murders and a strange love for the very thing he fears.  It  is a solid read and perfect for fans of Dracula, and old horror stories. We’re to believe that Stoker encountered the very sort of ‘evil’ he wrote about. It is part horror, thriller, mystery and Stoker family history, fictionalized (or is it) mwwwwaaaaa…

Available Now

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

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The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

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It was in early summer of my eighteenth year that my destiny arrived, and despite my fancy for premonitions he took me quite by surprise.

This is the story of Katrina Van Tassel, who falls in love with the Sleepy Hollow’s new school master Ichabod Crane. Katrina is delighted when she learns of Mr. Crane’s love for music, and that her father has engaged his services of singing lessons, for her. So begins a love affair that can only lead to doom and gloom with a legendary headless horseman running amok.

Then there is Brom Van Brunt (oh how I love these old names)  nicknamed ‘Brom Bones’ for his large frame,  the town’s beloved favored son,  and bully (when he isn’t leaving sighing women in his wake) who is sure Katrina is his destiny. They are all hung up on their destiny here! Brom is adamant Katrina will be his, has known this since childhood as they were once a tight trio including her best friend Charlotte (of strange gifts). They spent their youth inventing their own mischief until he turned sour, cruel to Charlotte for something she did (which is his fault, really). Now he seems to spend most of his time sniffing around Katrina and informing her that she will ‘come around’ to loving him, to being his wife. It’s only a matter of time, and a lot of harassment. He may have been her first kiss, but she’ll be damned if he’s her last.

Even the most progressive parents weren’t likely to welcome a terrible match for their child. Her father certainly isn’t going to support his daughter’s love for someone like Ichabod, well read and musical talents aside, wealth speaks louder than character when it comes to your precious, privileged child. Is Brom so awful? I mean, really Katrina, the whole town loves him, he is popular and handsome, full of brawn and… well he looks good on paper and that’s what mattered then. Alliances aren’t often made between the pillars of society and the penniless, better the promise of Brom or someone of his ilk. Maybe Charlotte can use her ‘magical talents’, reading tarot cards to see if there is even a slim chance of happiness and a future as Mrs. Crane. Charlotte does seem to have her uses.

Charlotte spends much of the novel giving warnings, or herbs to solve other inconveniences for Katrina. She has ‘feelings’, some of us may just call this intuition, others a wild imagination, depends on who you ask. Katrina isn’t immune to visions herself, in her nightmares of the headless horseman she keeps seeing ominous warnings but he isn’t real!!!! Something is brewing, but is her love for Ichabod truly doomed? Not even the terror of a legend can keep the lusty lovers out of the woods, and each other’s arms.

Circumstances push her to conform to society and it’s demands when Ichabod seems to have disappeared on All Hallows Eve, life becomes its own special hell. Will she ever be reunited with her lover? Or will she have to go to extreme measures to keep herself, and maybe someone else, safe?

It does have a pinch of feminism with Katrina, whose spirit won’t be tamed, who wants to love where she will and thwarts society, maybe even has to resort to manipulations here and there. Herbs as a safeguard against unwanted pregnancy isn’t something new, though it was forbidden (such witchery), even when she is reduced to accepting the turn her life takes, she still tries to hold some sway over her own destiny. My only beef was, I expected more terror beyond the occasional nightmare. Though to be fair, human beings are ugly enough themselves without a headless horseman lurking about and they don’t fail to be so here. I wished for more magic and spells, I mean love can be a spell I suppose or a curse. No? With Spellbook is in the title, I admit I was holding out for witches and spells, all sorts of spooky but I have high demands.

It was fun to visit Spooky Hollow again but came off more as a romance. More seduction than nightmare. Charlotte’s reputation is dangerously ruined by Brom early on, no one takes kindly to any whispers of evil, dangerous accusations, couldn’t the novel have backed up these threats with more than her seeing into the future? Too bad she couldn’t conjure some spell against Brom, but take heart, he seems hellbent on defeating himself half the time.  If you like romance with an old spooky legend thrown in, this will be perfect for you. Just in time for pumpkin patches, and headless men, out in October.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

St. Griffin

The House in the Hills by Rowan Hanlon

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The house stood out but it didn’t brag. It stood back from the street and wowed passersby with its unintentional difference but didn’t necessarily invite them in. While not standoffish it didn’t really care one way or another if you liked it or not.

This novel wasn’t what I expected. The house of Marc and Harmony’s dream is more nightmare than fairytale. From the beginning it doesn’t bode well, it’s cheap for a reason but once Harmony is cajoled by Marc to give the home a chance, she is wooed by the beauty within, such as the perfect kitchen that fits the needs of her life as a food blogger. Like most folks, if an ‘amazing’ house is super cheap you know there is a catch, either an infestation of rodents, insects or ghosts! All joking aside, this house has inhabitants of the paranormal sort. Marc admits, maybe just maybe it’s cheap because… someone died. But hey, people truly do die every day and we have to die somewhere right? But what if the ‘death’ wasn’t some natural passing from old age or illness in bed but possibly domestic in nature?

Oh and did he mention, the guest house on the property comes with a tenant? Just what a young couple needs! A pretty young actress, Darcy Flynn. Upon meeting them, she eyes Marc and asks “Who’s this tall drink of water?” But don’t worry, she promises Harmony she won’t sleep with him. Really, very big of her!

Don’t feel too bad, our Harmony has her shameful guilty secrets too. Things begin to happen, Harmony starts hearing and then seeing apparitions, and questions her sanity? Marc thinks it’s just her nerves, in that patronizing way of his, shrugs her off. Of course, maybe there is even more to the ‘domestic’ story than he lets on. Strange in this day and age Harmony didn’t look into the house from the start. But she starts to piece things together and Marc just has that ‘hey ok, maybe I didn’t tell you everything’ attitude.

The character who gives the novel some life is her elderly neighbor Josephine, another southerner like Harmony (who hails from Tennessee). Two peas in a pod!  Josephine is a self-described big mouth and far more interesting than the young and beautiful characters that should be center of the novel. She is more interesting than the ghosts too, in fact I wish the story was all Josephine. Why are people always trying to shut little old folks up when they are trying to give us all the dirt on our evil homes? Seriously, let them talk- you might just learn something!

Marc, half the time you just want to throttle him. Everything is a secret with him, no harm done right? Guilt by omission doesn’t count, right? Lawdy lawdy! What if it could cost you your life?

I think for me I have read really horrifying stories that are hard to compare to. I got to the point where I didn’t care if they were in danger or not. Marc and Harmony were equally screwed up and self-centered, their marriage was more terrifying a prospect than any earthbound souls tormenting them. It’s a fast read, again Josephine is salvation for a story that would have otherwise remained flat. It was okay but not as haunting as I wanted.

Available now

Reverberator Books

Hag:A Novel Kathleen Kaufman

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You will see the places where time touches other paths; you will see all the what-ifs and possibilities. You will know things that others do not, and they might fear you for it.

Hag tells the story of a bloodline of women that hail from a Cailleach (a divine Hag of Scottish roots). Many generations come to pass, some in hiding from their abilities, others with the power to heal or harm. The common thread is the fear others feel, damning them for their powers, haunted by superstitions, marking them as evil. It spans the old world, and America as each daughter is meant to learn the old ways, as the Cailleach is a watcher of sorts from her cave, waiting for another to take her place.  Some daughters throughout the story embrace their inheritance, while others run from it, but there is no corner of the world far enough.

The women are timeless, and much wiser than the people, regardless of the era their story takes place.  The novel begins with  six-year-old Alice, playing in the Glasgow rain in her red rain boots. Already she has the gift of foresight, and understands there are paths in life that change the outcome of the future. Maybe she won’t grow up to run the shop, selling herbal tinctures, as her mother did before the war. These red rain boots have other plans for her, and her future is waiting in Colorado, the United States. So opens her path. As she comes of age, with the gift of knowing, she lives a life of desire and passion for a while, knowing it can’t last, finding herself caught up with a dangerous man, Tiburon in Venezuela, another story, another path she has to close. Then there is Paul, deceptions and his family blaming her for everything, as seems to be the way for all the women of her bloodline. There are many examples of just how intuitive and wise she is, from her days as a teacher to her love for Tiburon.

Throughout the chapters about Alice, there are the stories of her many ancestors and their gifts. I particularly enjoyed Catriona’s tale during the Spiritualists movement, how mesmerized she is by ‘the Russian Woman’ during a time when so much chicanery was taking place, and much of high society itself was bamboozled. It’s an authentic part of the novel, considering all the theater the fraudulent clairvoyants took great lengths to create. She should have heeded her mother’s warning. But there are other great powerful women in the line, weaved into the story, just as interesting. Muriel for instance,  who learns upon the heath that her moods  are tied to manifestations, that with her mind emptied she can control nature, to an extent. Gifted with herbal knowledge, she too has her patrons in neighbors, who come to her when in desperate need but also whisper about her. As people are want to do, they may appeal to the women in the line when it suits them, and yet turn on them with suspicion, mistrust and hatred dependant on any event that demands a target for their woes. Rather than your typical witches in the mainstream these days, Kaufman paints old world witchery that comes off as much more genuine.  While there is love, Hag isn’t a romance novel where one’s gifts lead to happy endings with suitors. It is more often that the blood flowing through each character dooms them, in a sense.

Time doesn’t really flow in a straight line, it is more circuitous as is evident in this tale. There is a child, Coira and soon a long-awaited homecoming.

Perfect if you enjoy folklore and witches.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Turner

 

 

Miss Subways: A Novel David Duchovny

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But her senses were too acute to be failing- she could feel everything around her, smell the grass and the musky standing water of the pond, see the moon and make out the face that always looked aghast to her- as if the moon, in its slow orbit, were watching Earth the way drivers slow down at the scene of an accident. Each long night was a new, slowly unfolding catastrophe.

Emer spends most of her days as a New Yorker riding the subway, above ground and under (not unlike Persephone). Never without a book in her hand,  she harbors her own literary aspirations but focuses her energy in supporting Con as he works on his “opus”. Exhaustively fanning the flames of his passion, making him seem successful to others, she herself is collecting dust, ah the things we do for love. Delighted by the placards of random literary quotes and philosophy that catch her eye on the subway, her mind whirls with musings. Losing herself in her own curiosity, Emer is the dreamer and often touches the old scar on her head to ground herself in the now. She lives with her boyfriend Con, and is very much in love, but that life is about to go to the Gods, whichever Gods they may be. Enter a story rich in myths and religion and Gods that are bored by us diluted mortals. Emer seems to be their latest victim, either that or she’s losing her mind.

Love divided, Con and Emer are split apart and upon the threat of death, she proves her love by erasing him from her current life. Delete, fate is unfair! She wakes up new, with a niggling feeling that something is misaligned. Con is nothing but a man from her dream, but how real it feels. She throws herself in her job teaching second grade at St. Margaret’s Catholic School on the Lower East Side. A treasured teacher, she still manages to muck up her reputation by introducing a myth about a crow and forbidden fruit, a watermelon. As I write this the crow I feed is outside cawing, I can’t make this stuff up! A crow is just the latest strange creature that has entered her life. She’s always been a waking dreamer of sorts, so is it all just her overactive imagination, fed by all the books she’s devoured or does it have to do with the difference in her brain? Is it her secret seizures that make her sense things that probably aren’t there?

If her mind is attuned to parallel lives and beings, then her father’s is a stark contrast, suffering from Dementia. It isn’t long before even he seems to be making appearances in her lucid dreams. There is no way to know if any of it is real, his mind scattered to the wind with the disease, how can she question him and trust the answers? What about the Polaroid of Emer with a man, is this proof that her dreams exist as a real life? Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The story is about Emer’s love for Con, but more than that it is about Emer finding her strength and power. Emer’s tepid love is not enough, it is through the meddling of the gods and mythical beings that the brew of her heart grows stronger. It is when Con is caught in the West African trickster Spider God Anansi’s web, that everything becomes twisted. To what ends? Are Con and Emer just pawns in a game, begun long before they were born? Why does Anansi want Con? Why not? Why is one of the mythical Irish Bean-Sidhe (who is definitely not a leprechaun!) paying her visits, tormenting her? Is she losing her mind?

This is one of the strangest stories I’ve read in a long time. It is full of clever humor, and a nod at what likely many travelers on this polluted earth of ours are pondering from time to time. At the start of the novel Emer is as average as any of us come, going through the motions, loving on automatic as we do but one difference, she has a bridge between the two halves of her brain that is maybe a supernatural gateway, or maybe it’s just a rich imagination. You decide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by David Duchovny, I was pleasantly surprised, his writing is solid and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the aftermath of Emer’s incident in the lunchroom with her three students, the ‘weird sisters’. It’s not earth shattering, unless you’re a teacher in this time where students have more power than the teacher.  At time when teaching children about other cultures verges on criminality, how can you not laugh, uncomfortably of course, at Emer being in ‘trouble’ for daring to tickle children’s imaginations with a story? How did we become so ridiculous, so bland, so numb?

Out today! May 1, 2018

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

Music of the Deep: A Novel by Elizabeth Hall

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For most of her life, Alex had been the rogue electron, that weird anomaly that orbited just outside the nucleus of the rest of humanity.

Alexandra Turner flees from her abusive marriage to Puget Sound, deciding to work for Dr. Margaret Edwards of renowned marine biologist whose life purpose is focused on Orca whales. The locals of Cooper Cove are superstitious, and swear that the captain’s house is inhabited by ghosts. For the locals, the town is known for being haunted, which serves tourism well. But for Alex, it’s the living who have terrified her more, it’s the ghosts of her past, of her abusive relationship and loss of self that haunts her. Owing to her ‘rabid intelligence’ she’s always been a misfit and living in a broken home once her father left, she plunged further into study. At 28 years old and with a masters in library science, she was finally living a fulfilling life, until the handsome geologist Daniel Frazier took an interest in her. A whirlwind romance takes place, and despite her mother’s warnings, she ends up marrying him. It isn’t long before the real Daniel starts to show himself through his omissions, his manipulating, and threats. Alex suffers major losses, and escapes to Cooper Cove.

Working for Maggie she learns about orcas, a mysterious beautiful underwater world, of creatures boring their own pain, heard in their music of the deep. The orcas are twined perfectly with the story. Maggie hears voices in a fog, wonders if indeed there is some truth to the locals beliefs. or else she suffering a mental breakdown. Restless and tortured, she is trying to find peace in her new surroundings but the past won’t release its teeth from her. She finds friendship with the local knitting group, the ‘spinsters’, but Maggie is perceptive, and knows there are lies binding Alex. She made a promise to her dying mother, and being here with Dr. Maggie is how she is honoring it. Emmie is an important character too, as her and Maggie share a past that has created distance and resentment. A past that has Alex curious, with a town full of secrets of its own, are restless ghosts such a surprise?

Alex will learn you can’t outrun your pain, and that a stand must be made. Maybe, if she’s lucky, she will find her clan, make a family and be able to survive a past that refuses to let her go.

This isn’t my usual read but I really enjoyed a story about intelligent women, all struggling with the past, coming together. The orcas were just as interesting as the humans, as sensitive and I learned things I didn’t know. There aren’t always happy endings for us, nor for nature, everything isn’t always fixed at the end, but there may be hope for Alex.

Publication Date: April 17, 2018

Lake Union Publishing