Best of the Best

Every year, around this time, I pull together a top ten list of books that I’ve read.  This is usually a difficult choice because over the course of 12 months I usually manage to fit in a good number of books and given that I don’t force myself to read those that I’m not enjoying these are mostly all good reads.  This year is no exception although for once (in perhaps 15 years) I haven’t read 100 books.  This is a new all time low for me which I put down to a mid year hiatus where I read and blogged very little.  My reading is back to normal now, I’m pleased to say, and I have plenty of great books to look forward to so far this year. So, this is part 1 of my ‘Best of’ list.  I’ll be doing a further post to highlight some of my other great reads but this is about choosing my absolute favourites.  Without further ado:


The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence

In a nutshell.  This book has so many winning elements.  A thrilling adventure.  A twisted ending.  Characters that you can love (and hate), a jaw dropping conclusion and also one that is packed with emotion and a series that manages to be fantasy and science fiction combined.


The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

This story compelled me to keep turning the pages into the early hours.  I loved the choice of narrator, the world is developed with (more than likely) deceptive ease, the murder mystery is intriguing and more complex than first meets the eye and, well, put simply, it just won me over so easily and quickly.  I can’t wait to read the second instalment which is now waiting on my shelves.


Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

I would say that not only did I like Insomnia but I liked it even more than Behind Her Eyes.  It’s a perfect jumble of crazy mixed up, spiralling out of control, sleepless insanity.  Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on it turned out I was wrong and I just love the way that the ending is totally out there – let’s just say #wtfthatending


The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne

Gwynne is an author who excels at action scenes and all them are breathtakingly described.  I had my heart in my throat every time shields locked wondering whether any favourites would fall under the axe.  There’s also wonderful moments of camaraderie and banter, or cunning snippets of other scenes playing out and weaving the story together.  The pacing is just so well planned and I loved the way that as the story progresses you have these shorter chapters that really pack a punch and I have to acknowledge it drove my reading on into the early hours with the age old ‘just one more chapter’.


Nettle and Bone by T Kingfisher

Fairytale style stories are absolutely one of my favourite reads and I’m always on the lookout for more.  This is an author that I hadn’t read before but have wanted to do so for quite some time and now, with the benefit of Nettle and Bone under my belt, I can genuinely say that I will be visiting all her previous books.  I loved this book so much.  It’s full of everything that I enjoy, it’s got elements of old fairy tales but as the same time feels unique.  It takes us on a wild ride to a far away kingdom.  There are princesses in distress, people who can talk to the dead, a dog that came back to life, amazing characters and the beginnings of a sweet romance.


Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandell

I am in complete awe of this author and can’t even begin to outline how impressive this book is.  On the face of it this is a standalone story that fundamentally connects the lives of four people who share an experience through a strange anomaly, a glitch in the system if you will, that in the future will be scrutinised and investigated by a time travel agency.  Dig a little deeper and this novel actually brings together elements from the author’s previous works (definitely The Glass Hotel and also I think Station Eleven) in the most eye popping feat.  If that wasn’t enough, one of the characters is an author herself, of a post apocalyptic book that has become a bestseller.  There are so many little twists and turns in this book all finished off with a mouth dropping conclusion that is simply brilliant.  Read it – please.


Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

I picked this one up and was immediately intrigued with the storytelling voice. There’s an almost ethereal feel to the way the narrative is delivered and this is strengthened by the unusual setting and the dysfunctional family that we are introduced to.  Feeney starts out with a captivating hook, she then lets us run on the line enjoying the freedom to explore the remote setting and the histrionics of the Darker family before reeling us in to a climatic and dramatic grand finale.  Brilliant.

Daisy Darker

A Dowry of Blood by ST Gibson

I will say from the outset that I loved this.  I was gripped from beginning to end and couldn’t put it down.  This is my catnip.  Retelling famous stories from the point of view of side characters, victims or misunderstood characters is popular without a doubt at the moment and I for one am enjoying this trend.  Dowry of Blood is no exception.  Take the classic vampire story, Dracula, and take a look at him and his life through the eyes of three of his ‘children’.  Dracula’s chosen ones.  A story with a message.


Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson

Miss Percy is an absolutely delightful, regency period, fantasy of manners style story that won me over with ease.  The writing is wonderful, the plot is well thought out and totally absorbing, the characters are Austen-eque but with a slightly more uptodate sensibility and for those readers out there who usually shy away from fantasy elements, but who are in good need of a period drama, I implore you to give it a try, because, whilst I cannot deny that the inclusion of a dragon definitely falls most firmly into the realm of make-believe, the way this story is told, it feels almost less sensational than forgetting to wear a bonnet.  Please give it a try, I’d love to discuss your thoughts about this one.


Emily Wilde Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

I don’t have a link to a review for this book yet as it’s a recent read that I’ll be posting about shortly.  I did love this book though and highly recommend it.  Simply superb.



A Dowry of Blood by ST Gibson

Posted On 13 October 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review: Sweeping gothic story of abuse


I will say from the outset that I loved this.  I was gripped from beginning to end and couldn’t put it down.  This is my catnip.

Retelling famous stories from the point of view of side characters, victims or misunderstood characters is popular without a doubt at the moment and I for one am enjoying this trend.  Dowry of Blood is no exception.  Take the classic vampire story, Dracula, and take a look at him and his life through the eyes of three of his ‘children’.  Dracula’s chosen ones.

As the story begins we meet Constanta, rescued from certain death after her village is ransacked and turned into a vampire.   Constanta is telling her story, in epistolary format, almost as though she’s speaking to her husband.  The style is beautiful and quite captivating.

Constanta is smitten to begin with and the two of them live in their castle until the plague forces them to move to Europe and from then onwards their life seems to be a constantly movable feast.  Eventually Dracula takes another bride, manipulating Constanta into agreeing and although the three of them form a bond of sorts there’s always something lacking.  At this point Dracula takes one more partner and ultimately this seems to signal the beginning of the end.

I don’t really want to say too much about the story but talk more about what I really enjoyed about it.

Well, firstly, as I mentioned I love the format used to tell the story.  Constanta has a lovely narrative voice and it feels like she’s talking straight to us at the same time as confessing to her husband.  The writing is lovely and there are some fantastic passages that I wish I’d noted to copy here.*shakes fist at self*

Secondly Stoker’s Dracula is a firm favourite of mine and I confess I enjoy any opportunity to revisit it and to look at it through a different lens was perfect.

Thirdly, gothic. All the gothic.  I love the gothic elements ranging from castles resplendently dressed in tapestries to crumbling houses, not to mention a brooding central character.  The story quickly takes us through the years.  We witness plague, wars, the fall of empires. Only briefly touching on these as our small family are swept from place to place staying just ahead of the chaos or sometimes using that same chaos to feed heartily sowing death in their wake.

On top of this, A Dowry of Blood gave me different vibes whilst I was reading. For example I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Anne Rice at certain points and I think that boils down to the focus here which I don’t think has been touched on with Dracula or any of his retellings before (although I clearly haven’t read everything). With Lestat/Louis, etc we enter the world of ‘making vampires’ and the issues that this inevitably causes, think of Louis and his struggles not to lose his humanity also Claudia and the right or wrong of making a young vampire, not to mention the power struggles between the dynamic and the camaraderie that builds between certain characters. Certain elements of those struggles are apparent in these pages.

Which leads me to the characters here and what for me was the key element to the story which is the manipulative and controlling relationship that Dracula had with his brides.  This is a story of abusive relationships, how people develop certain behaviours in order to cope and also about breaking free.  In a way you couldn’t probably find a more manipulative and controlling abuser than a vampire – I mean, they take your blood after all and it is rather essential to life!  I think over the years we’ve all developed romantic notions of the immortals and forgotten their true nature is that of a predator and we their prey but if you look a little deeper could there be anything more invasive than the mind control that some vampires exercise. In some novels this runs to glamouring or a sort of hypnosis, with Dowry this is less about a perceived superpower and more about Dracula controlling his partners through a variety of means. He offers love for good behaviour and on the opposite side he shows immense anger when his more gentle methods fail.  He is emotionally and mentally abusive keeping each character in their place by whatever way seems the most successful.  All his partners seem to begin from a point of gratitude but slowly and surely their rose tinted glasses come off.  Dracula controls everything.  He holds the purse strings and on top of that he is very careful about sharing knowledge so his progeny rely on him for everything.  As strange as it may seem this is a hopeful book, a book about breaking bonds and breaking free.

I think this book is around 300 pages in length and it surprises me how much the author manages to fit in.  I wouldn’t say the world building is focused on but at the same time I would defend that choice quite strongly as this is set in our world, the history is unchanged and we simply catch a fleeting glimpse of how the vampires move through it.

In conclusion, this is undoubtedly a dark, sexy, romantic, gothic, well told, twisty, retelling of the story of Dracula by one of his brides. I loved the writing and thought Constanta was a wonderful character. An absorbing and hypnotic read.  I will definitely read more by this author.

I would also point out that this story contains numerous trigger warnings which the author outlines on Goodreads.  So take a look before picking this one up.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars