Monday, June 20, 2011

Books with a Bite

Vampires have always been intriguing literary characters. The recent popularity of the Twilight Series is a prime example. Some avid readers have said that although they enjoyed the Twilight series, they want something more. Either they want to go back to the beginning of the vampire legends or they want a new spin on the classic tale. There is no shortage of stories featuring vampires. Whether they are sinister and repulsive, or seductive and beguiling, they are always fascinating.
The first and most recent title takes place in modern times, but reaches into the past as well. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.   Dr. Diana Bishop stumbles upon a powerful book during her research. Unbeknownst to her, this discovery catches the interest of a variety of creatures. Vampires, witches and daemons all have a sudden interest in Diana, who although born into a powerful family of witches, has refused to use her powerful magic. One of the most intriguing characters who Diana meets is a geneticist and ancient vampire named Matthew Clairmont. Although wary of him initially, Diana soon develops a bond with Matthew, who becomes her protector and partner.  They both face danger from daemons, vampires and witches who will all stop at nothing to find the secrets in the ancient book.
A Discovery of Witches stands out from other vampire stories due to the skill of Deborah Harkness, the author. Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She uses her extensive knowledge of history and her skill as a writer to craft compelling characters. This story has elements of fantasy, mystery, romance and the occult.
The second title is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  Much like A Discovery of Witches, the story begins with the discovery of a mysterious book. However, this story is based on the original character of Dracula. A teenage girl discovers a book in her father’s library. The book is blank except for a dragon illustration on the front and the word “Drakula”. The book contains several letters addressed to, “My dear and unfortunate successor.” The events in the novel include different continents, time frames and characters. All these elements slowly lead the main character (as well as the reader) to Dracula (or Vlad the Impaler).

The novel is based loosely on the classic Dracula, by Bram Stoker. It is Kostova’s debut novel, which she worked on for 10 years. The Historian is a lavish and detailed story, and it’s a must read for fans of Stoker’s Dracula and other vampire tales.
The third title is Renfield: Slave of Dracula by Barbara Hambly. The book is based on the classic Dracula by Bram Stoker, with Renfield as the major character.  Dracula’s demented servant, R. M. Renfield, is confined in Rushbrook mental asylum. His insane ramblings and bizarre habit of capturing and eating various insects, in his mind, make him grow stronger.  His story takes shape as he senses the approach of his master, Dracula. Much of the story is told in the form of journal entries and letters from Renfield to his beloved wife, Catherine, and daughter, Vixie.
     Barbara Hambly creates a fascinating backstory for Renfield that makes his character much more complex. She is able to skillfully bring Stoker’s more minor characters to life while also giving greater depth to major characters, such as Van Helsing, Jonathan and Mina Harker. Most importantly, the tale of Dracula is told by the tortured Renfield, whose divided loyalty to his Master and his family slowly tears him apart. This book is perhaps my favorite of the three because I always finish reading a novel and wonder, “What happened to the other characters in the story?” The novel, Renfield, answers that question.

Recommended Titles:
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
Dracula in Love by Karen Essex


  1. I don't really enjoy monster-type books, although I do enjoy a good thriller. Your review made me think of Northanger Abbey, which I read earlier this year. The main character enjoys the thrill of a gothic novel, but finds that it fuels her imagination in ways that are less than helpful to her! I've also read Tears of the Desert (Halima Bashir)this year; I think it could be described as a book about real-life monsters.

  2. The titles do all feature the main character as a monster. However, the most interesting part of the stories are the characters who aren't all good or evil, but a combination of both. It's the elements of good and evil in the characters that make them so interesting.

  3. My favorite of the titles was Renfield, because it had elements of the classic Dracula story combined with a more modern writing style.
    There may be several people who prefer to classic Dracula, but I like the older stories with a slightly different spin.

  4. Sara McDaniel6/20/2011 2:30 PM

    Hate to be an old fuddy-duddy, but so many of the vampire/monster books I've read seem to have an excess of pretty graphic sex scenes in them. I can skip some of them; but when the scene goes on and on I wonder why I'm bothering to read the book at all. Stephen Coonts can be interesting, tho'. The few of his that I've read may have a "monster" in them, but as a previous contributor has said the other characters can be very interesting and well developed.

  5. I agree with the previous post. I don't really enjoy graphic scenes involving either sexuality or violence. I don't believe the titles Renfield or The Historian have graphic sexual situations, but there is a bit of graphic violence.
    Unlike movies which have more "blood and gore", the books have more substantial character development and more detailed settings. The elements of violence are minimal. Rather, it's the suspenseful mood of the stories that make them great.
    Some readers enjoy novels with elements of violence and sex, while others despise those same elements in a story. Luckily, there's something for everyone- even in vampire fiction.

  6. I agree with Suzanne, I'm not much for vampire/monsters, but I love a good thriller. I would recommend several books by Ted Dekker. He's amazing. Adam was intense, but very exciting. He's written so many nail biters:). Lately, I have read four novels by Colleen Coble (he Aloha Reef series) and I loved them. They have mystery, romance, and are wholesome. Not to mention who can resist the Hawaiian islands as the setting. I am a huge fan of hers and have read all of her books minus Firedancer. I hope to find that one soon. Read On!

  7. I admit that horror or supernatural fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea. Don't give up hope yet,though. If Books with a Bite aren't what you enjoy, then keep checking the blog. We have upcoming blogs about Summer romances as well as mysteries. The goal is to cover a variety of themes, so there should be something for everyone. Until then, keep reading!

  8. I have read all the recommended titles with the exception of Dracula in Love by Karen Essex. Guess I know what im going to be checking out soon!
    As for the graphic sex in most monster books; sex sells and love is becoming a fad. Writers are just trying make sure their books continue to sell in a time when most people dont read anymore.

  9. Dracula in Love focuses more on the romantic (and sexual) relationship between Dracula and Mina Harker. This is definitely not a light romance, but it is a must read if you enjoyed the other vampire fiction titles!

  10. Lenee Bookhardt6/23/2011 6:09 PM

    Thanks for the information. I look forward to reading a couple on the list.

    I agree with Sara as well. I don't consider myself old fashioned or anything, but my tastes have changed and quite frankly, that stuff is is my personal opinion doesn't sell a book.

    Many award winning books sell with out sexual content and have great success. Case in point - children's books. lol!

    I have liked MaryJanice Davidson's books in the past because they are funny and deal with comedic vampire stories, but I usually just skip right past more of the blase points.

  11. I was disappointed with Discovery of Witches. I had such high hopes for this book; great reviews, sounded great. But an editor should have taken an ax to all the sleeping and making tea scenes. For someone that was supposedly a genius, the main character read like a dumb damsel in distress.

  12. The books Lenee referred to in a previous post are in the vampire fiction category as well. I think the difference is the comedy element. If you like a touch of humor rather than suspense, then MaryJanice Davidson is an excellent choice. You might also want to try Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore. It's very quirky, but very entertaining as well.

  13. I do see the point C.K. makes about A Discovery of Witches. There are several sections where there is not much action. However, I think the author intends for this to be the start of a series. The first book "sets the stage", so to speak, for future books.
    It sounds like you need a story that moves along faster and has more action. In that case, you could try Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. Yes, Dacre Stoker is a direct descendent of Bram Stoker, author of the classic Dracula.

  14. melisa becerra6/25/2011 4:14 PM

    all my life i have love vampires and all things supernatural.however, i think a lot of new thing such as "Twilight", witch i enjoy,create fair-weather fans. who are into whatever everyone tells them two be into.and i love the vampire dairies witch was here before twilight..never the less i love vvamps!!!

    melissa b. 6-25-11

  15. Talking about vamp books I have to admit I still love Anne Rice's novels. I was put off with Blackwood Farm because the characters seemed to change drasticly from one book to the next but after I read it a second time I fell in love with the main charater, Quinn. Someday I will read all of her books in the order she has written them!

  16. In response to Melisa's post- you are definitely not alone. There are numerous vampire fiction novels available. Whether you like the scary gothic tale or a humorous one, you can find something that suits your taste.
    Keep reading!

  17. In response to Christy L.'s post- Anne Rice is a classic. I remember reading Interview with a Vampire in high school. I think every generation has a break-out vampire story. For me, it was Lestat in Interview with a Vampire. For others, it's Edward Cullen from the Twilight series.
    Although Anne Rice no longer writes vampire fiction, you can go back and find something new in her previous stories. You could also decide to try someone new.
    If you want to go back to the real beginning- try Bram Stoker's Dracula and go from there.

  18. My daughter has been reading the series by P.C. Cast and has enjoyed them. She has suggested I read them too. How do they compare with the ones discussed here?

  19. I had loved Bram Stoker's Dracula when I read it forever ago when I was in school; I just finished reading Dracula in Love by Karen Essex and still havent decided how I feel about it yet, I may wait a few months and read it again. As for the vampire I related to most it was definatly Louis in Anne Rice's series!

  20. In response to the post by anonymous- I haven't read the P.C. Cast House of Night series yet. But it is on my list of "must read titles." It is set in a world much like our own, except that it includes vampires. The House of Night is a school for Vampires, which reminds me of Hogwarts School in Harry Potter series.
    Try the first one, "Marked", and see what you think.

  21. In response to Christy L's post. I liked Louis in the Anne Rice series. But my favorite character turned out to be the title character in Renfield. I have always enjoyed stories that are based on originals, but add more depth to minor characters.

  22. Stacy Pettit7/21/2011 8:21 PM

    The P.C.Cast book series is for teens, but was a very good read. As adults we can enjoy the teenage crush and not get bogged down with sex in this series. I trully enjoyed it and it gave a different view from other vampire books starting with teens and a beginning and how they grow up to be this type of person. The books keep you interested and you want to know what happens next. I loved the Discovery of Witches, although i agree the main character should have been less damsal in distress. I am currently reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. It is about an upperclass vampire society, specifically the warriors that protect the class. It has nontraditional ideas of vampire culture compared to what "history" states.

  23. James W. Harris7/29/2011 3:42 PM

    The Bartow Library has one of the greatest and most influential vampire novels ever: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Written in 1954, it’s not a typical vampire novel, and it has none of the romance trappings of many of today’s vampire tales. It takes place in the future, after a plague has wiped out most of the human race and turned many of them into vampiric creatures – except for one man, who remains human and must defend himself against them. It is grim, atmospheric, and exciting, and is a short, fast read. Matheson is one of the best horror writers ever, and he inspired many modern horror writers, including Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I first read his short stories as a child, and I’m still reading him decades later. Added bonus: the library’s edition of the book also contains ten excellent short stories by Matheson, and he is one of the great masters of the horror short story.