The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum

In his “Ridiculously Unnecessary Author’s Note,” Eric Nuzum makes sure the reader understands that although the events are real, some scenes are composite scenes; however, these composites do not change the basic facts. He also changes the names of real people and alters a few facts about these people so they won’t be embarrassed. Nuzum does make it perfectly clear that:

This is not a James Frey thing, I do not claim to have spent time in jail, saved drowning kittens, prevented a revolution, or whatever.

It is what it is.

The Dead Travel Fast simply is one of the most refreshing and hilarious books on vampires and vampire lore that I’ve read in some time. What began as a desire to write a history of the vampire soon turns into a quest to experience the vampire in all its cultural forms. Nuzum examines the vampire movement from top to bottom, juxtaposing fact with humor to look at why we are so fascinated by the vampire.

Nuzum informs the reader of the making of the novel Dracula and intersperses history with one of the most entertaining travelogues I’ve read in years. If you read nothing else, you must read the chapter entitled “I Don’t Believe in God: The Crucifix is to Keep Away Vampires” where the author travels to the land of the vampire and along the way deals with dog attacks, floods, possible amputation, and running out of hand sanitizer. Nuzum goes to Transylvania on a Dracula-themed tour with some unpredictable results.

It’s not all fun and games; Nuzum knows when to get serious as he chronicles vampire-themed murders across the globe. As the outsider looking in, he assesses the Goths who feel empowered by the vampire lifestyle they seek to emulate. Nuzum attends Goth clubs, Buffy the Vampire marathons, and haunted houses in his quest for what it means to be a vampire.

Check out the undead and the company they keep.

My rating:

The Girls with Games of Blood by Alex Bledsoe

It’s 1975 in Memphis, Tennessee, and Alex Bledsoe returns with his Memphis vampires for a novel filled with fast cars, rock and roll, and steamy southern nights. Baron Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski has his eye on a car, and not just any car. He outmaneuvers a good old boy, Byron Cocker, to buy the 1973 Mach 1 Mustang of his dreams. Cocker is a former sheriff of some renown, who doesn’t appreciate being cheated by anyone, especially foreigners.

Cocker is determined to wrest the Mustang from Zginski, but Zginski has other worries. Life becomes more complicated when Patience Bolade, who poses as a folk singer, enters the scene. Zginski and the two young vampires he’s taken under his tutelage immediately recognize another vampire has entered their territory.

One of the infamous Bolade sisters, Patience has a history of her own in the form of a blood feud with her sister Prudence, also a vampire. Prudence has vowed to destroy Patience and anyone who stands in her way. Zginski, Leonardo, and Fauvette, soon find themselves drawn into the sisters’ feud with some surprising twists and disastrous results.

Bledsoe really hits his stride with his latest novel of love and betrayal amongst the undead. The pacing is superb and just when you’re sure you know how the plot will unfold, Bledsoe gives it a twist to keep you engaged.

Bledsoe’s characters are portrayed with layered personalities so that every scene reveals their inner struggles in more depth until you’re caught up in their lives and loves. Patience Bolade’s transition from dying woman to vampire evokes mystery beneath a full moon and remains the novel’s most poignant scene. Leonardo grapples with racism and his own motives as he seduces his latest victim while Fauvette tries to find her place in the world and Zginski’s life.

Zginski remains as repulsive as ever, unrepentant racist and misogynist — and those are his good qualities — but towards the end, Bledsoe gives you a clue that Zginski isn’t quite all that he seems, either. While the younger vampires seek to emulate their mentor’s stoic old world mentality, Zginski finds his humanity reawakening in ways that surprise even him.

Bledsoe ties it all together neatly and doesn’t miss a beat with either plot or prose. He serves up vampires for adult readers, so if you’re looking for horror with verve, check out The Girls with Games of Blood.

My rating:

Secret Graces by Kathryn Magendie

Virginia Kate Carey is home in her mountains, going through the letters and memories of her past. Her mother, Katie Ivene, left a legacy of broken lives behind her, and Virginia Kate seeks to put the pieces together in this second volume of the Graces Saga.

In Secret Graces, Virginia Kate remembers her youth, her first love, her first marriage, and the promises she made and broke. As a young woman, she swears she won’t make the mistakes of her womenkin, but she can never hush the voices of her past. Her mother and grandmother are in her blood, and her grandmother’s voice whispers through the wind and trees with premonitions and warnings.

Whereas Tender Graces moved with the magical rhythm of a child’s perception, Secret Graces carries a more somber tone. Magendie leads you into the Louisiana nights where love thunders on a storm like the power of a young woman, who is testing the limits of her strength. And in the end, we see the person Virginia Kate has become, a woman of uncommon depth, who knows her needs and is secure in her power over men.

Magendie’s prose is sensual and she illustrates the life-course of a child of an alcoholic with unerring aim. Like Tender Graces, Magendie doesn’t pull her punches; she shows you the mother/daughter relationship in all its ugly glory. Yet even in the moments of the deepest heartache, Magendie never lets you lose hope.

A powerful writer and one to watch is North Carolina’s Kathryn Magendie. She is the storyteller of our lives . . .

My rating:

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Inured to the writerly tricks of most horror novels, it’s rare the Dragon finds a tale so creepy that she jumps at noises in the night. With The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters delivers just such a story.

Dr. Faraday’s mother was once a maid to the Ayres family, and even as a child, Dr. Faraday had loved the Ayres’ family home, Hundreds Hall. In its day, it was a grand manse, but the Ayres family and Hundreds Hall have fallen onto hard times.

Post World War II society is changing, and the old families no longer command the respect or money they once did. Hundreds Hall reflects the decline of the Ayres family with its weed choked yard and crumbling plaster. Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, and her daughter Caroline, try to keep the deteriorating estate from falling into collapse, but money and circumstances are against them. Dr. Faraday is called to assist them one day and finds his life slowly intertwined with the fate of Hundreds Hall and its haunted residents.

Waters moves through her story with a languid  pace that is deceiving. While the reader may think nothing of import has transpired, Waters brings every event into sequence, laying the path for an ending that is as surprising as it is haunting.

Waters uses the power of language to evoke one creepy moment after another, building the tension toward a climax that is both astounding and perfectly fulfilling. If you enjoy your novels layered with complexity without cheap tricks, you’ll love The Little Stranger.

Just leave the lights on when you put it down for the night . . .

My rating:

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Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

I recently came across an article with a list of “best pirate books” and this one, by Daphne du Maurier, was included.  Even though I’ve read several of her books (years ago Rebecca  and, more recently, The House on the Strand) I had never encountered this particular du Maurier book.  In the mood for something completely different than the other novels I’ve read recently, I decided to give it a go.

Lady Dona St. Columb lives a life of leisure in Restoration-era London with her husband, Harry, and their two small children.  While Harry fills his time with card playing and hard drinking, the jaded Dona chafes under the societal constraints imposed upon her as a wife and mother.   One night she joins with friends to play an unkind prank on an elderly woman.  As she explained to Harry, ” the ridiculous prank on the countess was only a thwarted, bastard idea of fun, a betrayal of her real mood; that in reality it was escape she wanted, escape from her own self, from the life they led together; that she had reached a crisis in her particular span of time and existence, and must travel through that crisis, alone.”  Soon she’s off to Cornwall with the children, leaving Harry behind in London.

When she arrives at the country estate Navron, she finds a new kind of freedom, romping and playing with the children, getting dirty and enjoying the outdoors.  One day while exploring the nearby creek, she comes upon a ship at anchor in a secluded cove.  She has discovered the hiding place of La Mouette, the pirate ship of the frenchman, Jean-Benoit Aubery, who has been terrorizing the coast of Cornwall.  Befriending the ragtag group of pirates, she is drawn into their world and is soon falling for the frenchman himself. 

Will Dona choose freedom, excitement and romance, or will she do the “right”  thing and return to her children, husband and family responsibilites?  We are kept wondering til the end.

Reading a classic such as this one is always a pleasure on several different levels.  There is the pure enjoyment of a story that has stood the test of time, but adding to the experience is knowing that this book was written nearly 70 years ago as du Maurier lived alone in Cornwall while her husband was away during World War II, a time when women were just beginning to gain new freedom and independence.  It has been said that she may have written this particular book to explore her own fantasies of escape from a life of children and a chilly marriage to a distant husband.  Whatever the motivation, this book is filled with du Maurier’s beautiful, evocotive writing which lifts it head and shoulders above a typical pirate romance.

My Rating: 

Quarantined by Joe McKinney

Quarantined If you enjoy dystopian novels, Quarantined is for you. Joe McKinney’s gritty prose brings San Antonio to life, or death, as the case may be. A new strain of the bird flu has mutated into the virus H2N2 and is killing San Antonio’s population by the thousands in a modern-day plague. While the World Health Organization (WHO) races to find a vaccine, the Federal Government seals San Antonio behind a wall patrolled by military personnel, who have orders to shoot potential escapees on sight.

Quarantined is about what goes on behind the wall when a WHO doctor is murdered, and San Antonio homicide detective Lily Harris tries to solve the case in an increasingly hostile environment. Between bureaucratic red tape and shrinking food drops, societal norms are breaking down and the black market burgeons.

Harris finds comfort in the presence of her family and steadfast partner. Yet she stands to lose both family and partner if they can’t find their way out of the city and tell the world about an even greater threat to humanity.

McKinney writes with a cutting edge, and he makes his future San Antonio so real, it could be happening today. The true horror of Quarantined is in McKinney’s ability to construct a plausible scenario for the H2N2 virus and the government’s response.

McKinney’s experience as a homicide detective gives Quarantined real bite as he guides the reader through departmental politics, both within WHO and the local police department. He manages to deliver a mystery with a dark bite, and also writes a believable female character with Lily Harris.

McKinney doesn’t have Harris shake off her cop persona and turn into Martha Stewart when she’s with her family. Her tension rides like a demon on her back, and though she loves her family desperately, she’s not always able to prevent herself from hurting them. She’s a woman torn between her duty as an officer to uphold the law and her need to protect her family, even if it means breaking the law.

Good conflict, a tight mystery, and a dark setting make Quarantined a summer read guaranteed to give you a chill.

My rating:

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I’ll keep this review short and sweet — kind of like Sarah Addison Allen’s books.  This is Allen’s third book and much like Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, it has elements of fairy tale mixed with small town North Carolina flavor and a pinch of romance.  Emily Benedict returns to quirky Mullaby, North Carolina in search of a solution to the puzzle of her mother’s life.  Why did Dulcie Shelby leave Mullaby and never return?  Why was she so reluctant to discuss the grandfather Emily never knew, or the house she grew up in?  And why are the eccentric townspeople so angry at Emily for something that Dulcie did years ago?

Like the two other books before it, The Girl Who Chased the Moon is filled with magic, like the wallpaper in Emily’s room that changes with her moods, the bewitching aroma of the sugary cakes that  Julia, owner of the local barbeque joint,  bakes in an effort to lure lost love back to her, and the mysterious Mullaby lights that appear in the woods outside of Emily’s window each evening.  Emily’s grandfather is a gentle giant and her boyfriend’s entire family mysteriously refuses to be seen by moonlight. 

Even though this time around Allen’s book was a bit predictable and some of it was a little silly (the explanation of the Mullaby lights for example), I still enjoyed it for what it was — a light enjoyable read as sweet as one of Julia Winterson’s cakes.

My Rating: