An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

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The Carpathian Assignment

THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE APPREHENSION AND DEATH OF DRACULA VLAD TEPES, COUNT AND VOIVODE OF THE PRINCIPALITY OF TRANSYLVANIA

In Wagar’s (An American in Vienna, 2011) historical horror novel, detectives in 1896 Transylvania suspect that the enigmatic Count Dracula is responsible for numerous disappearances in the area.

When newly assigned Chief of Police Kálváry Istvan arrives in Transylvania’s Bistritz district, he’s initially unaware of the unusually high number of unexplained missing persons, which includes his predecessor. Bistritz also has its share of unsolved murders, so Istvan and Inspector Gábor Kasza believe a serial murderer is at large. It isn’t long before the investigation centers on Count Dracula, who locals think is a vampire. The Roma who live in the woods on Dracula’s estate in exchange for work—including hauling mysterious boxes filled with dirt—are apparently too scared to talk about the count. Meanwhile, Dracula is shipping an abundance of crates overseas. Finally, frustrated police decide to raid his nearby castle. Wagar’s story, framed as an account from Istvan’s grandson, Stefan Dietrich, in 1924, suggests that Bram Stoker’s definitive 1897 novel Dracula is a fact-based narrative. Although Stefan claims his story is “unabridged,” it mostly relates Stoker’s well-known tale from alternate perspectives. It shows events that take place prior to Jonathan Harker’s arrival in Transylvania, shows young Roma Natália’s point of view while Harker’s at the castle, and updates Bistritz police on Dracula’s time in England via Harker’s telegrams. Many readers, however, will be jarred by Harker’s own story, which is significantly different from the well-known version. The eclectic cast of characters encompasses other figures from Stoker’s original, such as Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker, as well as real-life historical figures such as famed psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Richard von Krafft-Ebing; the latter actively aids the investigation. Wagar fortunately doesn’t rely solely on his primary source of inspiration. He also delivers a few truly shocking sequences, such as when Natália’s overly curious father and uncle, Béla and Nikola, peek inside one of the heavily guarded boxes in transport. There are also some alluringly elegiac passages: “The sky went pink, then purple and then twilight until the sun sank behind the mountains.” Because no vampire story is complete without a romance, Wagar provides a new one: Widower Istvan, who lost his wife two years ago, has his passion reignited by the Baroness Ribanszky Julianna, whose daughter is one of the disappeared.

An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

Pub Date: May 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495498909

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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