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Bram Stokers Dracula Lucy.jpg

The Pajiba April 2023 Book Recommendations Superpost!

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | April 28, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Books | April 28, 2023 |


Bram Stokers Dracula Lucy.jpg

It’s that time of the month again. We’re slowly heading into Summer, which means long sunny nights for reading (hopefully. The weather mostly sucks where I am.) As always, there are too many books and not enough hours to read them all, but here are three that had me appropriately intrigued over the past month.

Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

There are many amateur detectives in literature, from quirky grandmothers to the haphazard owners of niche shops in murder-heavy small towns. In a society where nobody trusts cops anymore, there’s an evident appeal to the crime solver who operates outside of the crooked system. And what better person to take that on than a nun? How about a tattooed, chain-smoking, queer nun with a gold tooth and zero given f**ks?

Sister Holiday, the protagonist of Margot Douaihy’s debut novel, now works as a music teacher in a New Orleans Catholic school. Previously, she was a troubled rocker with a strident faith in God but little interest in herself. As she struggles to find her place as a woman of the habit, an arsonist strikes the school. The authorities don’t seem interested in the problem, the local fire marshal has her own problems, and Sister Holiday finds herself in multiple crosshairs. Will finding the culprit fix everything or only further expose very raw wounds for everyone involved?

It’s easy to look at the set-up of Scorched Grace and imagine something hopelessly twee. Mercifully, Douaihy takes this concept entirely seriously. Sister Holiday is a mass of contradictions but her faith and commitment are unwavering. Her struggle is mighty. While she has found purpose with the Sisters, she still yearns for her married ex-girlfriend and is traumatized by the loss of her mother. She’s driven and a solid detective but not always the best one. None of this comes easy to her, especially when she’s dealing with an especially cruel student or a fellow nun who hates her. The highlights of this novel come less from the sleuthing than Sister Holiday’s own view of the world. She has every right to show disdain for it yet stridently believes in the power of Mary (she prefers to pray to women over men) above all. While there are quirks to this book that fit with its somewhat zany set-up, Scorched Grace also delves into some dark territory and ends on a bleak note. Still, I cannot wait to see where Douaihy takes this fascinating character.

Reluctant Immortals by Gwendoline Kiste

There are few women in the Western literary canon as maligned as Lucy Westenra and Bertha Rochester. The former was brutally sacrificed by her three suitors after being overwhelmed by Count Dracula’s thrall. The latter was locked in the attic and deemed a ‘mad-woman’ by her husband before dying in a fire. Reluctant Immortals picks up their story several decades later. Both women, immortal and in rot, have fled together to America to avoid the shitbag men who seek to control them. Now, it’s the late 1960s. Flower power is in vogue in San Francisco. Dracula is trying to escape from Lucy’s protection, and a strange brooding Englishman has throngs of young hippie girls following his bidding.

With a set-up like that, how could I not want to read Reluctant Immortals? I love vampire stories, I love retellings of classic novels, and I love examinations of the hippie era that delve into its not-so-hidden dark roots. There was a lot of fun to be had with this book. The parallels between the hypnotic terror of Mr. Rochester and a certain Charles Manson were savvily drawn, and Kiste’s take on immortality, where the sufferer inspires physical rot wherever they go, was unique and unnerving. The main problems came with the story itself, which felt occasionally half-baked. Jane Eyre enters the scene as a possible double-crosser, but she goes back and forth so often that it becomes tedious. This version of feminine rage, rooted in two of the most familiar side-characters of Victorian fiction, is palpable and highly familiar. Yet it doesn’t have the narrative foundations to uplift it. It’s a shame because, as enjoyable as Reluctant Immortals is, it could have been so much more.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for some classic urban fantasy, the kind of paranormal romance-tinged action fare featuring a sexy woman on the cover in low-rise leather pants and a halter top (weapon optional.) This subgenre was everywhere when I was a teenager and I read much of it, but Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series somehow passed me by. So, a 99p Kindle purchase and a free weekend felt like a solid opportunity to right that wrong.

Kitty is a late-night DJ who spends her nights playing her favourite music and fielding calls from a variety of insomniac weirdos. She’s also a werewolf who’s still struggling with the trauma of her attack and current tensions with her pack. During one particularly boring shift, she accidentally starts ‘The Midnight Hour’, a late-night advice show for cryptids and monsters of all kinds. It’s ratings gold, but it also puts her in the crosshairs of vampires, werewolves, an annoyingly good-looking hunter, and all manner of shifty beings.

I do love this sort of book, but it takes something sharp to elevate one from the crowded pack. Carrie Vaughn gets the job done thanks to witty dialogue, a warm protagonist who has real emotional growth, and just enough sexiness. Kitty isn’t an ass-kicker or almighty heroine. She’s an exhausted DJ with a lot of emotional baggage and unfortunate outsider status among her own pack. It’s all very 2005, right down to the gay character getting killed off, but I was sufficiently entertained enough to want to read more. And that’s saying something since we all know that werewolves <<< vampires.