"Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood" by Jim Steinmeyer
c.2013, Tarcher $26.95 / $28.50 Canada 336 pages
It’s only a movie.
That’s what you kept trying to remind yourself the first time you saw a classic vampire movie: it’s all special effects. Vampires aren’t real. Transylvania is miles away. It’s only a movie. That helped sooth the creepiness factor but you still kept your turtleneck sweater handy, fang you very much.
Surely, it took a lot of imagination to invent a blood-chilling character that sleeps in a coffin and bites necks, right? And in the new book "Who Was Dracula?" by Jim Steinmeyer, you’ll see that imagination only half-Counts.
It would be easy to think that actor Henry Irving was somewhat of a Victorian diva.
From start to finish, Irving created lavishly dramatic spectacles to delight London theatre-goers, paying strict attention to detail both on-stage and off. Cast and crew called him "The Governor" and nobody contradicted him – except Bram Stoker.
As Irving’s "Acting Manager," Stoker kept tight budgets for all presentations and made happen that which Irving dreamed. Though Irving was technically Stoker’s boss, Stoker was Irving’s equal in attention to detail and the two became close friends.
It was a shocking surprise to Stoker, then, when literary sycophants gained cheeky access to Irving’s inner circle. Stoker grew angry: he’d had an idea for a novel, and Irving’s new friends were less-than-complimentary. It gnawed at him, too, that Oscar Wilde, the son of personal pals, had enjoyed writing success.
Still resolute, Stoker collected information and made notes, tweaking and creating his masterpiece. Vampire lore had been around for centuries by then, and he was careful to craft details for bits of mythology. Dracula was a well-rounded, thrilling monster. So on whom did Stoker base his vampire?
Steinmeyer says that the answer is complicated. Surely, there’s a bit of Irving in the Count. Stoker may have personally known an infamous murderer, and his research gave the vampire a name and loose historical basis. Add a bit of autobiography, influence from a randy American poet, and a scandalous playwright, and Stoker had a hit.
Think of all the vampires you’ve known and loved: cartoons, romances, toys, movies, (good and bad), even breakfast cereal. Now consider this: Stoker’s creature appears in a mere 62 pages of the original novel. So how did Dracula seize our imaginations so strongly?
Among other things, author Jim Steinmeyer answers that question. Along the way, he busts myths and gives his readers menace, jealousy, and mystery, as well as a wonderful sense of life for Victoria literati.
While I very much liked the foreboding, I sometimes struggled with Steinmeyer’s flights off-topic. They were more information than I wanted, but I do have to admit that those parts are relevant, if not entertaining, and they do help to understand why we’re repelled and fascinated by this culturally-changing, bad-accent-using bloodsucker.
If you’re looking for gruesomeness, there’s little of that here. Mostly, this book is literature about literature but if you’re a garlic-fearing vampire fan, it’s clearly a don’t-miss. For you, "Who Was Dracula?" is a book you’ll want to sink your teeth into.
"The Prom Book" by Lauren Metz
c.2012, Zest Books $16.99 / $19.99 Canada 160 pages
You always wanted to be a princess.
Growing up, that’s what you told people when they asked. You wanted to wear shiny, flowy dresses, drip with jewels, wear a crown on your head and delicate crystal slippers on your feet. You wanted to look beautiful, with a handsome prince to complete your ensemble.
And now you’ve got a chance to make that Princess Dream a reality – but you want to do it right with no disasters. Which means you’ll need "The Prom Book" by Lauren Metz by your side.
Pretty much since winter break was over, you’ve been looking forward to prom. You’ve probably also gathered ideas for what you want to do, which is the first step to having a perfect prom: PLAN NOW. Create a budget, confirm (or make!) appointments for your hair and mani-pedi, and order your date’s boutonniere. Organize all-in-one-place group-photo ops, so you and your friends aren’t crazy-running from house to house for pre-prom pictures.
Chances are, you’ve already got your dress and you love it. You’ll love it even more if you try it on with the underwear and bra you intend to wear on prom night, so there won’t be any wardrobe issues. Also, break in your new shoes: wear them, and also rub them lightly on the bottom with sandpaper, so you won’t slip on the dance floor.
Because you want to look gorgeous on prom night, be super-vigilant about your skin care routine. Practice your make-up ahead of time, moisturize, and get plenty of sleep. And if a zit surprises you at the last second, don’t mess with it. "The Prom Book" has expert tips on make-up and skin problems so you glow all night.
On T-Minus Prom Day, try to relax. Eat light, never stuff yourself, and drink lots of water. Double-check the emergency kit you need in your purse (instructions in this book), and stash away the money and phone numbers you’ll need for the evening. Then, expect the unexpected, breathe deep, and don’t panic about the little things. Take lots of pictures to swap and share. And know how to stay sane, serene… and safe!
How long have you been dreaming about prom? If you’re like most teens, you’ve thought about it non-stop since Christmas. You want everything to be as perfect as possible, so minimize disasters and avoid last-minute rushes by reading "The Prom Book" first.
As someone who attended three senior proms in the same week, author and former Seventeen staffer Lauren Metz is obviously qualified to give advice on making your prom experience run smoothly. She does it with hints of her own, as well as tips from other experts and teen prom-goers and – very helpfully – she also includes budget-conscious ideas for frugal fashionistas. I also liked that there’s plenty of room in this book for note-taking, scrapbooking, and planning for next year.
So pick out your prince, grab your gorgeous gown, and find this handy little keepsake book. For a magical night you’ll remember forever, "The Prom Book" is princess-perfect.
(The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.)