Category: Book Reviews

Feb 23

Review of Iron Cast

Book Reviews 6 ★★★★

Review of Iron CastIron Cast by Destiny Soria
on October 11, 2016
Genres: Alternate History, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreads four-stars

In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.
When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn.

I was so excited to see this book in my tiny local library! They seem to be putting more of an effort into diversifying their YA section and it makes me really happy. So here I present my review of Iron Cast, Destiny Soria’s debut novel from 2016.

Feels:

“America is the land of liberty, Danny dearest,” Corinne said. “She won’t stand for Prohibition, mark my words.”

 

This book feels like a gangster movie with a few twists. Also not everyone dies, like in most gangster movies I’ve seen. 😛 I felt like I was sucker-punched in the gut a few times. Also I love how the author has chosen a relatively unexplored (in YA, at least) period of time (the weeks right before Prohibition took effect in 1919) for her setting. It was an awesome experience!

Ahem. Where was I?

Characters:

“No one likes a know-it-all, Ada.”
“Yes, I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”

Ada and Corinne are amazing. Their chemistry just leaps off the page and it’s beautiful. It made me miss my best friend so much. The back-and-forth banter had me laughing out loud, but their fierce loyalty to each other was what really made this story. The romantic interests – sure, they’re there, but they are a background to the girls’ friendship.

Plot:

Destiny Soria has taken the year 1919 and turned it on its head with one change of facts: there is a small percentage of the population that are born as hemopaths, who have the ability to manipulate other people and sometimes time itself through some form of art. When I first started reading I thought that the hemopath ability was inspired by sickle cell anemia due to the influence put on the hemopaths’ aversion to iron (an iron deficiency being one of the side effects or symptoms of sickle cell anemia), but after I finished I wasn’t sure. It’s an interesting thought, though. If it WAS so inspired, the author definitely gave it a new look by making it a strength and also making it just as widespread in people of every race.

At this time in history, hemopaths are feared and even hunted in Boston. Once considered artists, they are now looked at as freaks that are sub-human. Ada and Corinne find the noose of the law closing on them as they struggle to survive in their underground nightclub home, seemingly able to trust almost no one. Hemopaths start disappearing – people they know. Unsure where to turn, they spend a lot of time wandering from place to place. At times this was kind of a drag…it created atmosphere but left me wondering what was the point of a particular scene or chapter. However, the characters and a lot of the places they visited were interesting enough to keep me reading. I really wanted to find out WHO was behind all the horrible things that kept happening!

Worldbuilding/Description:

Reading this was like walking down a dark, foggy street. Or sitting in the darkened, smoky club surrounded by toughs and exquisitely dressed women. OR being kidnapped and dragged to a sterotypical “insane” asylum! There is a definite 1920s vibe to it that I loved. It’s so different and feels so glamorous compared to most places and even books (maybe I haven’t read the right ones?) today.

Final Rating:

4/5 stars. As I mentioned, the plot did drag a bit sometimes. Also I wish that Charlie and even Gabriel had been a little more fleshed out, but maybe that would have taken away from the strong thread of female friendship that holds the story together. I also really enjoyed the diversity aspect, as Ada’s family was not white but neither were her parents from the same country, and there is a LGBT couple as well. I loved that Destiny Soria didn’t gloss over how any of these characters would have been treated at this point in history but manages to (to me, at least) portray them without the slightest hint of bias. I’m not marginalized myself, so I can’t authoritatively speak to how accurate the characters are, but they felt very real and relate-able.

review of iron cast

Actually 384 pages, the auto-generated data was wrong.

four-stars

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Feb 18

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4

Book Reviews 0 ★★★

review of a series of unfortunate events

I missed the boat on these books growing up. Actually, I think they were published just a little bit behind when I would have been of the age to most appreciate them (yes, I’m old…shhhh). Of course I had heard of them, but when I saw all the hype about the Netflix show I decided to pick them up and of course I had to write a review! My plan is to read all 13 books and review them in 3 posts.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events
Series Overview
:

This series is entertaining just for the narrative voice, if nothing else. Mr. Snicker (as narrator), is so dry and ridiculous that while yes, the books appeal to children, the tone is undeniably entertaining for adults. Are they great literature? No, I really don’t think so. Will they be remembered in 50 years? Yes, I think so, because they are so different from the vast majority of middle grade (MG) books.

The first 4 books (all I’ve read of the series, at this point) are all very similar. Set in an indeterminate time after the invention of the car and the telephone but before television and cell phones (I’m leaning towards the 1930s but not sure), the Baudelaire siblings, as we are told “lead lives filled with misery and woe” even though “they are charming and clever.” The actual location varies a bit, but adults are generally stupid and careless or cruel and cunning. The siblings stick together even as various horrible people try to hurt them or steal their fortune (or both). As their parents die in a catastrophic accident at the beginning of the first book (hence the title), the siblings have an enormous fortune, no near relatives, and no intelligent adult to help them or protect them. They fall easy prey to fortune-hunters…a theme that is repeated in all four of the first books. They go through a series of “guardians,” each seeming more horrible than the last, but at the end of the 4th book it looks like something might be changing as far as their living situation goes. To be honest, that is the main reason I’m going to continue on with the series, just because they were all so very similar.

The narrative voice in this series is as previously mentioned, very distinct. It breaks all the rules. It interjects into the story – sometimes with 3rd person omniscience, sometimes with random definitions of words. Like this:

This is one reason many lawyers make heaps of money. the money is an incentive – the word “incentive” here means “an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do” – to read long, dull, and difficult books. The Baudelaire children had a slightly different incentive for reading these books, of course.

I think in this way, the author manages to use some words that middle grade readers wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with. It works, surprisingly – though as an adult reader I found it a bit annoying. The narrative voice is also the constant voice of doom and gloom, though with such wryness I found myself chuckling.

The series is not a realistic fiction series. I read several negative reviews that obviously took it as such, and I think that’s missing the entire point. The appeal of these books is that they use gross exaggeration to make points and to be funny. The characters are not supposed to be people you would meet on the street. They are grotesque exaggerations of people. Yes, we can all see elements of our crazy ex-boss in Count Olaf or Mr. Poe. But no one in the real world is that overtly-obtuse or evil. There are also made up creatures in these books – a dead giveaway that while they are set in a familiar world for readers, they are not in fact events that could actually happen.

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Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on September 30th 1999
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 176
Goodreads three-stars

Dear Reader,
I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning as a title does not exaggerate. These poor kids, let me tell you. It starts off with introducing us to the Baudelaire siblings – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – just as they’ve lost their parents. Their solicitor, Mr. Poe, is a well-meaning but incredibly thick man who has no idea how to care for children and truly seems unable to see past the end of his constantly dripping nose. The siblings go to live with the evil Count Olaf, who is somehow VERY distantly related to them (how is it their parents have SUCH weird distant relatives and no near ones?) and cares nothing for them except how to get his hands on their money, as their deceased parents were quite wealthy. They move into his horrid house, where there are treated as little better than slaves. There is some comic relief, and also a consistent ray of sunshine in the form of Count Olaf’s neighbor (who, despite being well-meaning, is just as dense as every other “good” adult in this book).

The siblings are far from being normal children. They are all extremely gifted in some form, even Sunny – who is still a baby but is able to both communicate and act on a much older level. Violet is an inventor, and Klaus is a devourer of books and therefore just a general compendium of knowledge. Are they believable? Hardly. But neither are the adults.

The dark, twisted tone of this book really surprised me. This is for children!?! There are elements of abuse of the Baudelaire kids on all kinds of levels, twisting of the law in the worst possible way…and yet, the siblings refuse to be put down and refuse to give up. They stick together and eventually overcome the evil…but the evil is still lurking…and Mr. Poe is just as dense as ever.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on September 30th 1999
Pages: 192
Goodreads three-stars

Dear Reader,
If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I'm afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether. The story may seem cheery at first, when the Baudelaire children spend time in the company of some interesting reptiles and a giddy uncle, but don't be fooled. If you know anything at all about the unlucky Baudelaire children, you already know that even pleasant events lead down the same road to misery.
In fact, within the pages you now hold in your hands, the three siblings endure a car accident, a terrible odor, a deadly serpent, a long knife, a large brass reading lamp, and the appearance of a person they'd hoped never to see again.
I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

The Reptile Room starts off (after the necessary doom-and-gloom letter from the narrator, of course) on a much better note for the Baudelaires. At last it seems they may be going to live with someone who genuinely cares for them and has their best interests at heart. BUT WAIT. Let’s not get too carried away. This is, after all, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and indeed they do seem to be the MOST unfortunate of children.

Soon after they arrive at their new home – another relative, this one a eccentric but lovable scientist, disaster strikes and they find themselves being hunted by the horrible Count Olaf once more. Only of course, since they are children and have been greatly traumatized, no one believes them. Because why would you? 😛 Naturally, things go from bad to worse and the children find themselves in a desperate fight to avoid being kidnapped right under the nose of the law. Sunny, the little rascal, plays a very important part in this one – eliciting a few eyerolls as somehow she manages to have the mental compact of about a 7-year-old in the body of a 15-month-old, but you know. Realism isn’t the point here. 😉 In the end, they narrowly avoid Count Olaf once more.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #3) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on February 25th 2000
Pages: 214
Goodreads three-half-stars

Dear Reader,
If you have not read anything about the Baudelaire orphans, then before you read even one more sentence, you should know this: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are kindhearted and quick-witted; but their lives, I am sorry to say, are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched, and this one may be the worst of them all. If you haven't got the stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signalling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will probably fill you with despair. I will continue to record these tragic tales, for that is what I do. You, however, should decide for yourself whether you can possibly endure this miserable story.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

The Wide Window takes place far and away from the first two books, in a reclusive town and even more reclusive house with, you guessed it, yet another unstable distant relative as guardian for the Baudelaire children. This time their guardian, Aunt Josephine, isn’t even actually related to them, but is their “second cousin’s sister-in-law.” Who just happens to be terrified of everything. The dock. The lake. The oven. She never eats anything hot for fear of getting burned by either the oven or the food. However! She has an intense passion for grammar.

“Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?”

Being something of a grammar freak myself, I found her constant corrections and horror at bad grammar to be quite entertaining and that in itself is the reason this book received a slightly higher rating than books 1 and 2. It really was hysterical at times, and plays an interesting part in the story.

Of course this wouldn’t be an A Series of Unfortunate Events book without, well, you know. Horrible bad luck. Of course these kids can’t catch a break and when a “Captain Sham” (hahaha ok, Lemony Snicket, you must have had such fun naming characters) shows up with an unhealthy interest in the children and all kinds of sweet words for Aunt Josephine, the terror begins. Once again (I since a recurring plot) the kids are forced to fend for themselves due to the incompetence of their adult guardians, and once again after a great deal of running around and close calls and horrible things happening to certain people, they manage to escape.

Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-4The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #4) by Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist
on April 15th 2000
Pages: 194
Goodreads three-stars

Dear Reader,
I hope, for your sake, that you have not chosen to read this book because you are in the mood for a pleasant experience. If this is the case, I advise you to put this book down instantaneously, because of all the books describing the unhappy lives of the Baudelaire orphans, The Miserable Mill might be the unhappiest yet. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumber mill, and they find disaster and misfortune lurking behind every log.
The pages of this book, I'm sorry to inform you, contain such unpleasantries as a giant pincher machine, a bad casserole, a man with a cloud of smoke where his head should be, a hypnotist, a terrible accident resulting in injury, and coupons.
I have promised to write down the entire history of these three poor children, but you haven't, so if you prefer stories that are more heartwarming, please feel free to make another selection.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Whoo-boy, here we go – The Miserable Mill picks up where The Wide Window left off, with the Baudelaires going off to yet ANOTHER guardian, this one the most mysterious and incomprehensible yet. Things are getting extremely repetitive at this point, so much so that I was tempted to not read this one. But the books are so easy to get through and so FAST to get through that I persevered.

This book gives a new spin to the Baudelaires mistreatment – they actually ARE slaves in this one, for the most part! Thrown into a sweatshop/poorhouse type sawmill, they are used and abused and try to hold each other together. Hope seems to be slipping away from them as they are too exhausted to do anything at the end of the day. But then Klaus breaks his glasses and has to go see the “optometrist.” And all is not as it seems…because nothing ever is, for these kids. Of course no one believes them when they say they are being stalked. Of course no one sees anything wrong with 3 children working in a sawmill – actually, someone does, but has no guts to do anything about it, typical of the “good” adults in these stories. In the end, they of course barely escape per the usual. However, this time, the ending doesn’t have them going off to another relative, it has them going somewhere else entirely, so maybe the next book will have a change in plot. I very much hope so because I really think even most children would be bored with these by now.

three-stars

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Feb 09

Review of Waterless Mountain

Book Reviews 0 ★★½

Review of Waterless MountainWaterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 12th 1993
Genres: Historical, Middle Grade
Pages: 212
Goodreads two-half-stars

Winner of the 1931 Newbery Medal, this is an authentic novel about an eight-year-old Navaho boy's training as a medicine man. This deeply moving and accurate account of one young Navaho's childhood and spiritual journey is filled with wonder and respect for the natural world--a living record of the Navaho way of life before the influence of the white man.

This is my first Newbury Award winner of the year! I need to get on this challenge, I’m already behind! So here’s my quick little review of Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Arner.

My first issue: I feel like that description or blurb is very misleading. “A living record of the Navaho way of life before the influence of the white man.” Um…I don’t see how that is accurate at ALL, when several of the main incidents of the story involve a slightly condescending but kind white man who runs a general store near the Navajo family. So what exactly is that blurb about? Hmmmm? Anyway.

This book was first published in 1931. The style of writing reflects the time, as it’s very slow-paced and nothing at all like the fast moving, action packed chapter books and MG novels of today. It’s thoughtful. There isn’t very much dialogue. I think that most middle grade readers today would lose interest, sadly. The subject matter is fascinating, but it’s not really presented in the most fascinating way. :-/ There’s a brief conflict that doesn’t even begin until the book is more than halfway over, and even that is resolved almost immediately and when it is, it just happens off somewhere else and Younger Brother (the main character) isn’t even involved!

The characters are not really fleshed out very well at all. I liked Younger Brother’s way of looking at the world, of his respect for all nature, of his desire to communicate with it, but I felt like the rest of the characters were very two dimensional and rather stereotypical.

Supposedly the view on Navajo culture presented in this book is pretty accurate – according to some white scholars in the 1930s. The book is written by a white woman. Which is all fine – you don’t have to be a member of a nationality to write about it – but I think the #ownvoices movement has sensitized me somewhat to people outside a culture writing about it, and I really object to the covert racism here. For instance, when the Navajo family makes a trip with the white store owner, to another store, the narrator says that “his father was curious but dared not go outside the door.”

I think the Newbury Award judges were trying to expand children’s view of the world by even selecting a book that portrayed Navajo culture in a positive light. I really do. However. Most white people at the time weren’t even…aware isn’t the right word. Racism at that time wasn’t looked at as anything particularly wrong, it just WAS. That doesn’t make it any more excusable, but from the point of view of a white intellectual in the 1930s, this book was probably a shining example of equal opportunity. So that said, I wouldn’t really recommend this for modern classes or kids, except as maybe an example of how racism creeps into even well-intentioned (?) writing. With all that going on I found it a little difficult to find things I liked about the writing, even if there was nothing particularly wrong with the style.

“I know this much, Little Singer. There are secrets we cannot name, songs we cannot hear, and words we must not speak.”

I did really enjoy how Younger Brother has such a respectful connection with nature. It’s not just him, but the rest of his family as well. At one point the narration mentions how even the youngest child isn’t afraid of bees, because she has never learned to be afraid of them. This was a real lightbulb for me. How many times are we afraid of something because we have seen someone else express fear?

Overall, 2.5/5 stars. When I initially finished I felt a little more forgiving, but the longer I think about it the more irritated I become by all the issues, especially the racism masquerading as not racism.

two-half-stars

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Jan 31

Review of Fear the Drowning Deep

Book Reviews 0

Review of Fear the Drowning DeepFear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh
Published by Sky Pony Press on October 11th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads

Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.
Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

I was first attracted to this book by this piece of art by Evie Seo:

review of fear the drowning deep

And then I was completely drawn in by the description – which I read as historical magical realism. Then I started reading, and about 80 pages in I decided that was TOTALLY wrong. Then I finished it, and decided it actually was the closest to an accurate description of genre I was going to get!

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“Nothing from the ocean is meant to survive on land forever.”

Feels:

Satisfaction. I adored the resolution of this book. It’s not a perfect happily-ever-after (HEA) and that makes ME so very, very happy. I’m a disgruntled, hard-hearted porcupine when it comes to love, and while I like endings with hope, only rarely do I completely get behind a tidy little HEA. FtDD has a very hopeful ending, but one that could go several different ways. I loved that.

Characters:

It took me awhile to warm up to Bridey, I’ll be honest. She is so defined by her fear of the sea that at first that is the only quality I saw in her. As the story goes on though, I came to genuinely like her. Lugh and Cat, her best friends, I wish we had seen a little more of. I felt sorry for them as she kind of abandoned them to go work with Morag and then in her absorption with Fynn.

Fynn is something of a mystery for most of the book. A lot of reviews I saw complained about the insta-love between him and Bridey, but to me it was believable BECAUSE from the very beginning, it’s obvious Fynn is not just a normal human boy. Because of that, I feel like the insta-love is understandable and realistic – even though I usually DESPISE it.

Morag was my favorite character. An odd choice, I guess – but I loved her. I love that she was old and crotchety and hurt – both physically and emotionally, yet she was such a wise woman and genuinely cared about people. She was like a gingerbread cookie…crunchy on the outside but soft and delicious on the inside (that IS how you make your gingerbread cookies, right?).

Plot:

FtDD starts off kind of slow, not going to lie. It’s beautiful and haunting, but slow. The pace picks up about a third of the way through, and I was completely drawn into the Isle of Man world Sarah Marsh has created. I already wanted to visit but now I want to go even more!

Because how could you not?

At first I thought I had misjudged the cover blurb and this was a historical fiction YA with some mythology thrown in…but no. It soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems on the idyllic Isle, regardless of what the villagers want to believe. And of course no one wants to listen to the tales of old women or the vision of the young. No one wants to believe that maybe the faery stories are more than stories.

Worldbuilding/Description:

Beautiful. Idyllic. Almost mystical and definitely slightly creepy. I loved it. It felt so real…next time I’m at the ocean I’m going to be on the lookout for creepy ghosts playing violins. I still want to visit the Isle of Man though.

Rating:

4/5 stars. There were some things I felt were too easily explained away, like some things about Fynn. Some things I felt happened too easily…like once Bridey got over her fear, suddenly she was a grand rescuer…but they were small things, and adrenaline and love do give people almost superhuman strength sometimes.

I’ve started using a new app for timing my reading, called BookOut! I’m having all kinds of fun with it so far. It generates these really cool little infographics for each book you finish. What do you guys think?

 

review of fear the drowning deep

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Jan 24

Review of The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review of The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette MartinThe Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper
Published by Algonquin Books on August 2nd 2016
Genres: magical realism, Cozy
Pages: 336
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads four-stars

Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they’ve been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose’s daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor’s tremors disappear, changes the course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.
Antoinette’s gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter’s life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe.
Written with great heart and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be “different,” The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a novel about the lengths to which people will go to protect the ones they love.

This book has been on my shelf for almost 6 months! Shameful. I kept meaning to read it and then I would get distracted. But at long last, I present my review of The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin!

Feels:

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a sweet, homey book that easily transported me back to my childhood and teen years growing up in Ohio. I immediately loved the sisters Rose and Lily and TOTALLY identified with Rose’s stubbornness and heartache in not calling her sister years earlier. Antoinette is clearly a difficult but lovable child and so many times I just wanted to scoop her up and hug her. The slow, off-the-main-plot romance was also sweet…even if I wasn’t particularly fond of how this grown-up version of a love triangle was handled, in the end.

Characters:

The sisters Rose and Lily along with Rose’s daughter Antoinette, are the key players in this story. The story is told in turns from the POV of Lily, Antoinette, and Rose’s diary. It works really well – I was surprised! Antoinette’s father disappeared before she was born and Rose has devoted herself entirely to her daughter. Lily hasn’t had a serious relationship since the-boy-next-door, Seth, broke up with her years before. Even if her best friend is a guy and they’ve been through a lot together. The other side characters that populate small town Kentucky are so real they almost walk out of the pages. I love them all. I wish I could be the sister’s neighbor.

Antoinette is a dear thing, even if I can imagine how frustrating and difficult it would be to try to be her mother or guardian. Her autism is one that baffles even the doctors, as she both shows signs of severe autism and breaks all the “rules” regarding it.

Plot:

Rose is dying. As a last resort, she calls her estranged sister and begs her to come home and help care for Antoinette and their family’s flower farm in Kentucky.

The story centers on Antoinette, even though she never says a word. Her sections of the book are VERY well done. Of course we don’t know for sure how a non-verbal child would describe the world around them, Knipper’s depiction is vivid and sharp without being condescending. Her personal experience with special needs children is evident. Antoinette never feels “wrong,” or like someone to be pitied. She just is, and as she is, she has a lot to offer the world if only people would look past their first impression.

Now, here’s where I have a slight issue. When I requested this book, I guessed it would be magical realism. Which was spot on. However, I’m not really okay with Antoinette’s disabilities being written off as a side effect to her magical ability to heal. At times it seemed like it was more “in addition to” her autism, she could heal things – which is fine and creative and all that. But at other times it seemed like she was different because she could heal things. The difference is small but it’s a lot in terms of how you look at people with impairments. The overall tone is one of deepest respect and love for Antoinette (and by extension, anyone with differences), as well as understanding of and for her, but that point bothered me a little.

I really liked that Lily also has signs of a disorder – she’s very high-functioning, so as an adult she copes and hides it well – but it’s there all the same and as a child she was always the odd one. I loved that so much. I love that it gave her a means to connect with Antoinette, I love that she didn’t grow out of it or magically become cured by coming home.

Anyway, as far as the story arch goes…it was a beautiful story. It’s not very fast-paced (very in line with small town Kentucky), but it’s lovely. I felt like I was walking the rows of flowers with the characters, and I was sure I could smell lavender bread at one point. The resolution was NOT what I expected though…and I really wasn’t pleased with it. I understand that the book is centered around the idea of unexplained abilities, but up until the very end it was still very believable. The ending was just too convenient for my taste, but if you like happy endings you will enjoy it immensely.

There is a little bit of romance – even a grown-up, mellow version of a love triangle – but it works. It’s sweet and a fireflies-in-July type of warm and fuzzy. It’s believable and not over the top. I didn’t like the way it was wrapped up, particularly…well, I was happy with who ended up together but not how it ALL ended.

 Setting/Description:

I grew up in Ohio/Virginia. This little town, the farm, and the people, are as familiar to me as my own name. Stephanie Knipper has done an amazing job last bringing this little place to life. I really felt very, very homesick as I read.

Rating/Thoughts:

I’m giving 4/5 stars. Overall this is a lovely story that I would highly recommend for a rainy afternoon and evening while drinking a cup of tea. There’s nothing drastic in it, nothing scary…it’s a very cozy book, but it still managed to rend my heart. I hope Stephanie Knipper writes more books, I would definitely give anything she wrote a chance. I’m actually very surprised this book doesn’t have more reviews!

Many thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Challenges:

This counts towards my Beat the Backlist challenge!

four-stars

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Jan 21

Mini Review of Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Book Reviews 0 ★★★

Mini Review of Silver on the Tree by Susan CooperSilver on the Tree (The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book Five) by Susan Cooper
Published by Listening Library on February 26th 2002
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Goodreads three-stars

The final volume of Susan Cooper's brilliant and absorbing fantasy sequence known as The Dark Is Rising.
The Dark is rising in its last and greatest bid to control the world. And Will Stanton--last-born of the immortal Old Ones, dedicated to keeping the world free--must join forces with his ageless master Merriman and Bran, the Welsh boy whose destiny ties him to the Light. Drawn in with them are the three Drew children, who are mortal, but have their own vital part in the story. These six fight fear and death in the darkly brooding Welsh hills, in a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the British Isles and that brings Susan Cooper's masterful sequence of novels to a satisfying close.

Notes on the audio version:

Alex Jennings narrates the last of this 5 book series, and I was very glad to have him back as a narrator! I’m not sure why they switched on book 4, and while that narrator was fine, I like continuity. That said, the audio QUALITY on this version was ATROCIOUS. It’s been digitized from cassette tape, I’m almost positive, and it was absolutely horrible. As soon as I started it I knew I was going to struggle through it because it just sounded old and a bit crackly. Ugh.

The book – short review:

I’ve read this entire series by audiobook, and while I enjoyed it, I really think I need to go back and read them as books. Sometimes I would have gaps of days in between my listening within a book, and gaps of weeks or even months between the books themselves, so I got a little confused. The whole series seems a bit un-explained, to me, and I’m really kind of perplexed that I couldn’t get as into it as so many other people. I didn’t like the way the point of view jumped back and forth between the Drew kids and Will, I didn’t like the way the “magic” was never fully explained (at least not to my satisfaction), and I didn’t like the characters themselves much! I was especially affronted by how the female characters are either air headed (Jane) or magical. Why is this series considered to be so brilliant? I really feel like I’m missing something.

Despite that, I stuck it out for the entire series and was fascinated by the setting of Wales and England. I think that, given how short the books are, I will go back and re-read them at some point. I think maybe all my gaps in reading effected my comprehension of the plot. I really don’t think anything can rescue the characters though.

Challenges:

This one counts into my Audiobook Challenge 2017, my 75 in 2017 GoodReads challenge, and my Beat the Backlist Challenge! 😀

three-stars

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Jan 17

Review of The Star-Touched Queen

Book Reviews 4

Review of The Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1) by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on April 26th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 342
Goodreads

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

This has been on my TBR since before it was released last year! I’m so excited to have finally read it. So without further ado, I present my review of The Star-Touched Queen!

“I am  a frightened girl, a roaring river and night incarnate….And I will not be tethered. My life belongs to me.”

Feels:

Reading The Star-Touched Queen was like falling headfirst into a swirling vortex of color, light, and strange beasts. It was beautiful, fascinating, terrifying, and slightly confusing at times.

Characters:

Maya is one of the many sons and daughters of the Raja of Bharata. Ostracized for her “cursed” horoscope her entire life, Maya has developed more independent thinking than most of her sisters. I immediately admired her resiliency in adapting to her less-than-ideal circumstances. I loved her protectiveness towards her younger sister Gauri. Very endearing. I didn’t quite understand some aspects of Maya’s character though…some of which I think may be due to cultural differences. For instance, near the beginning of the book, she makes a certain choice (no spoilers), that for the life of me I cannot understand and to me seems very out of character for what we know of her, up to that point, and even to her as we see later in the book. I just don’t understand it at all.

Maya does a lot of growing in this story. She changes. She comes to realize who and what she is, is not determined by her horoscope.

Once, I would have hurled curses at the stars. But the longer I looked, the less I hated them. The stars, filled with cold light and secrets…I, not the starlight, shaped my decisions.

Amar is the hero of the story…or is he? What is he? He’s so mysterious, so confusing…and holy shit, the man has some of the most amazing one-liners I’ve ever read. Like melt-my-heart kind of one-liners. Stop and think and WOW kind of one-liners. At the same time…he seemed to be a lot of smooth talk and not a whole lot of action. At least that was my impression. As more of his character and his life is revealed…well, you’ll have to judge him for yourself. His quotes are amazing though.

“I make this bond to you in blood, not flowers.”

“There is no romance in real grief, only longing and fury.”

To be honest, while I liked both Maya and Amar, I wasn’t OMG invested in either one of them. I think this was at partially because I was so overwhelmed by the world and everything that was happening (more on that later). I’m really eager to see how the next book plays out, thought I’m afraid that since it’s focusing on Gauri, we won’t really get to know Maya and Amar much better.

Plot:

Bharata is at war. The Raja will stop at nothing, nothing, to win and secure peace. However, all that quickly takes a backseat to the journey that Maya takes with Amar, to the kingdom of Akaran. Everything slows way down once they arrive there, and several chapters are spent wandering around the palace and discovering ALL SORTS OF THINGS. It was beautiful, but it was slow. While I was intrigued, I kept wondering when something was going to happen.

Once things started moving again (oh look…there’s ONE THING Maya is not supposed to do…and what do we all do when told about ONE THING?), they really start moving. I was NOT prepared for all the world-time-space jumping and more than once literally felt like I was falling into that vortex. It was amazing, but it seemed a bit disjointed at times.

About halfway through the book, I realized that there were really TWO major plot lines. My little light-bulb came on, and that was very helpful…but I really feel like it could have somehow been done better to avoid all the “WTF is going on” moments I had. I really doubt I’m the only one having these thoughts, but if I am…you know. I might just be weird.

I really like that there is no prince-saving-the-princess going on here. Yes, there is a love story. It’s beautiful, and powerful. However. Maya and Amar both remain fully their own people and in the end, Maya is the one who really does the saving.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

This, my friends, is where The Star-Touched Queen shines. The world building here is nothing short of phenomenal. The fuzziness of the plot was forgivable so long as I could live in this bright, beautiful, and unfathomably deep world. It glows. It glitters. Rosin Chokshi employs all five of the reader’s senses when building her world. I could smell the spices, see the split skies, hear the jingle of bells. It’s by turns beautiful and frightening.

The world and characters are largely drawn from traditional Indian (Hindu?) mythology and culture. Now, I am almost entirely unfamiliar with both, so maybe I was a little more in awe and sometimes a little more confused than a reader with more background. I had next to none, but the awesome thing is: it didn’t matter. Chokshi has missed nothing…I could see every step Maya took in the palace halls, I could feel her falling through space, I could see both the beauty and the horror of her journey. As someone with no frame of reference for this world, I can’t say enough good things about this aspect of the book. I was fascinated. When I was confused, it wasn’t for lack of being able to picture what was going on but being at a loss as to WHY or HOW something was happening.

I had never read a fantasy book where reincarnation was treated as…well, as anything! It added an amazing new element and all kinds of new possibilities. I found it a little hard to wrap my head around, but I hope to see it again in the second book.

Rating/Thoughts:

4/5 stars. Half a star off for the meandering and delay of the plot after the story moves to Akaran, half a star for the confusion and lack of explaining on how the space/time thing worked. Maybe I’m just a confused muppet but I really could have used a little more explanation…shocking, coming from someone who usually complains about too much telling versus showing.

I’d love to hear what other readers thought of this book! Was I the only one confused?


Challenges:

This book counts towards my 75 Books in 2017 Challenge, the Beat the Backlist Challenge, and the Diverse Reads 2017 Challenge!

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Jan 13

Review of Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Book Reviews 4

Review of Fairest by Marissa MeyerFairest (The Lunar Chronicles, #3.5) by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel & Friends on January 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 220
Goodreads

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.
Mirror, mirror on the wall,Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.
Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

I was so excited to have this book (along with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles #1-4!) under the tree for me this year! When I first heard of Fairest I wasn’t convinced I would want to read any story from Levana’s point of view (already having read the 4 main books), but I enjoyed the world so much I decided that yes, indeed, I would probably just have to read them all. So, I present you with my review of Fairest! (A few days late, because my DH was hit with an EXTREMELY violent bug of some kind and I was busy taking care of him!)


“Love is a conquest. Love is a war.”

Feels:

I went into this absolutely positive I would never feel anything remotely akin to sympathy for Levana. She’s such an unholy terror in the other books! And seemingly without reason. I felt like she just liked being evil and inflicting pain on others (which I guess is partially true but there’s so much more to it than that). However, about halfway through I changed my mind. Of course I already knew roughly how it would end, but it was just so tragic. I was so overwhelmingly sad. Levana as a young woman had so much potential, if she had just had someone to help her channel her emotions and teach her how to overcome.

Characters:

She tried to brush away the sting of rejection, the knowledge that she was still not good enough…she pressed the feelings down, down, letting them turn hard and cold inside, while her face was smiling and pleasant.

Obviously, this is Levana’s story. However, we see characters familiar to us sprinkled throughout (especially if you’ve already read Winter, like I had), which was fun. Some of the characters that have already passed on in the other books are here and alive, too. We get to see some of the events that are only speculated on by Cinder and her friends. There are a couple of other characters that are new to this story, that really wrung my little heart out as well.

When we first meet Levana here she’s a relatively normal 15 year old girl! She’s been abused at the hands of her egotistical, cruel older sister, neglected by cold, distracted parents, and pushed and pulled into the image of a perfect princess (since, as the second born daughter, she’s only fit to be married off). Levana is gifted – or cursed – with a quick mind, intelligent and resourceful – the mind of a queen. She’s also terribly scarred, as much mentally and emotionally as physically. This combination has resulted in her being an entirely self-centered, self-absorbed person who quite literally never thinks of other people or their feelings except as they pertain to HER feelings or desires.

I think that in the end, selfishness was Levana’s true issue. She is one of the most selfish characters I’ve met in a long time. She becomes egotistical, but she didn’t start out that way. She reacts to pain by assuming that the world owes her something (not a hard conclusion to come to, when you’re a spoiled princess anyway). She comes to believe that she is entitled to whatever she wants, no matter what it takes to get it. No matter how much she might hurt other people, even the one person she actually cares about. She has no concept of true love for anyone. She hurts, but beyond that she knows almost no emotion.

Plot:

This is a novella, so the plot is pretty straightforward. I.e., how Levana became queen and all the people she hurt in the process.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

If you’re familiar with any of the other Lunar Chronicles books, you’re already familiar with Luna and her people. If you’re not, I strongly recommend starting with Cinder! This story is basically the backstory that we never see fully in the main 4 books. You could start with Fairest, as chronologically it is actually first, but I don’t think it’s very interesting without that prior knowledge. The setting is there, but it’s not explained as well.

Rating:

3.5 stars. I’m struggling to give this one 4 because it really feels like a flashback that should have been somewhere in Cinder, also aside from Levana’s becoming a psycho it’s all focused on luuuuuuuv. And I just…I’m so tired of twu wuv being THE motivator of teen girls. I mean I know we were all there once. But come on! I’m stepping off my soapbox now…

Challenges:

This is 2/75 for my 75 in 2017 GoodReads Challenge, and 1/40 of my Beat the Backlist Challenge!

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Jan 10

Review of The Bear and the Nightingale

Book Reviews 5 ★★★★★

Review of The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 336
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
Goodreads five-stars

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Before I get to my actual review of The Bear and the Nightingale (possibly my longest review ever), I have a little note:

Dear 2017,

I’m sure you’re aware of what a suck-tastic year 2016 was, for so many people. I really appreciate your efforts to make up for it by giving us this amazing treasure of a book so early in the year. The Bear in the Nightingale is the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time. It’s savage. It’s painful. And it’s phenomenally lovely. I had chills. I cried (and not just the tears-in-my-eyes kind…the I’m-on-a-public-bus-and-I’m-trying-so-hard-not-to-sob-I’m-shaking kind). Thank you for giving me a stellar 2017 book to recommend to everyone I know. Thank you for giving me another author to put on auto-buy.

Please send more books like this my way this year. 

~Lizzy

P.S. On second thought, maybe just one a year is fine. I had to order both the US and UK editions, so very many of these might break my bank.


There was a time, not long ago
When flowers grew all year
When days were long
And nights star-strewn
And men lived free from fear

Just to clarify: The Bear and the Nightingale (TBATN) is NOT a YA book. I’ve seen it pop up on several lists as such, but it is not. It’s also NOT historical fiction, though it is heavily inspired by historical, medieval Russia. It is adult fantasy that reads almost entirely like historical fiction until Part II, where it starts to feel like magical realism historical fiction…so let’s just keep it simple and say fantasy. Could some teenagers read it and appreciate it? Yes, but the style is very different from most YA, and some of the content is definitely adult (marital rape and a little graphic violence). This obviously didn’t deter me from ADORING it, but I thought the slight genre-confusion I’ve been noticing was worth a mention.

In Russian, Frost was called Morocco, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in the night.

Feels:

I am in love. With everything. With the world, with the characters, with the woods, the village. With Vasya. A little bit with Alyosha. I wept with Vasya and her family. I saw the spirits as Vasya did. I felt the fear of the villagers. I felt the pain and confusion of a young child with a wild, free spirit in a world that didn’t accept her. The writing in TBATN is astounding. Lyrical, whimsical, and utterly entrancing.

Characters:

“I am only a country girl,” said Vasya. “I have never seen Tsargrad, or angels, or heard the voice of God. But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing. We have never needed saving before.”

Vasya, the main character, is my sister from another mother. I swear. Her love of nature, her stubborn refusal to accept the fate others wish to push on her, her refusal to be broken. I already said I love her but it bears repeating. The story spans from right before her birth to the time she is 14 years old. She doesn’t have an easy life, but she has to be one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. Bent, at times, but never broken.

“All my life I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing.”

Now no joke, there are quite a few characters in this story. However, they are all so clear and distinct I was never confused. Not once. Not even with the Russian names. I did have to realize in the beginning that everyone had a given (fancy) name and a called (shorter, plainer) name, but since Arden stuck mostly to the called names it wasn’t hard. Also, each character experiences a growth arc in the book. No matter how minor, they show some growth and change – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad! That is an incredible feat and after reading so many books with such flat minor characters – amazing.

Romance – guess what? There is none. None. None, none, none, NONE! It’s such a beautiful breath of fresh air. There IS marriage. There’s also sex – and by sex I mean marital rape. It’s not graphic, but it’s obvious. I feel it’s treated as well as such a thing CAN be – these are medieval times, and in those times women were no more than property, no matter how highly valued that property. The women themselves often never questioned the right of their fathers and husbands to barter with them and then use their bodies for their own pleasure – it was a husband’s right and a wife’s duty! *insert much sarcasm* It definitely effects the entire dynamic of the story.

Plot:

TBATN is not a fast-paced book. It’s a slow burn building up to more and more – and it’s TOTALLY worth the read. All the details are beautiful and intriguing, and they really add to the mystery and overall atmosphere. The characters are really the driving force, and all the drama and suspense are very slow to build but after spending several chapters getting to know the people and the country I was already so invested I already knew I was in for the haul. Things really start to pick up with the arrival of a new priest in Vasya’s village. There is a struggle between the new Catholic church and the old spirits of the land and as things start to happen at first NOTHING is explained. Everything just kept building and building and there’s even a little mini-climax at one point (which was EXTREMELY satisfying), but things just keep going! Not only did it keep going, it picked up speed and I was completely wrapped up in the story.

As previously stated, there is no actual romance in TBATN. It doesn’t need it. There’s also not an entirely happy ending. It is…heartrending, yet hopeful at the same time. There’s no actual cliffhanger, but so much room for additional stories, and Vasya’s fate and path seem far from decided.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

Phenomenal. It truly has a historical feel to it. I’m not all the well-versed in Russian history or mythology, but the detailed notes on language and history at the end, as well as the comments I’ve read from people native to that part of the world seem to bear out that thought as well. The descriptions allow you to fall through the pages into the story, and it really feels like a full sensory experience. When the mythological creatures begin to appear, it feels so amazingly right.

Rating/Further Notes:

5 stars. I don’t have any more words for how beautifully savage this book is. I can’t wait to see what Katherine Arden comes up with next. I’ve heard rumors this is the first of a trilogy, but in her author Q&A page I only see mention of a sequel. I’ll be buying whatever she comes up with!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Challenges:

This one only counts towards my GoodReads challenge!

 

 

five-stars

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Jan 07

Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker

Book Reviews 2 ★★★★

Review of Dracula by Bram StokerDracula by Bram Stoker, Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley, James Adams
on February 20th 2012
Genres: Classic, Paranormal
Pages: 16
Goodreads four-stars

15 hours and 28 minutes
Because of the widespread awareness of the story of the evil Transylvanian count and the success of numerous film adaptations that have been created over the years, the modern audience hasn't had a chance to truly appreciate the unknowing dread that readers would have felt when reading Bram Stoker's original 1897 manuscript. Most modern productions employ campiness or sound effects to try to bring back that gothic tension, but we've tried something different. By returning to Stoker's original storytelling structure - a series of letters and journal entries voiced by Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, and other characters - with an all-star cast of narrators, we've sought to recapture its originally intended horror and power.
This production of Dracula is presented by what is possibly the best assemblage of narrating talent ever for one audiobook: Emmy Award nominees Alan Cumming and Tim Curry plus an all-star cast of Audie award-winners.

This review of Dracula is long, LONG overdue even if I just finished it last week. Why overdue? Because this was supposed to be part of my Halloween Read-a-Thon! Shameful, I know. To be honest, I got distracted about 2/3 of the way through and it took me forever to start it back up again. Also shameful. It’s a classic! It’s what started the popular image of vampires! Aaaaaand…yeah, I never did care for the whole vampire craze a few years ago. Bram Stoker’s book helped solidify the vampire’s place in literature and popular culture though, so I really wanted to read it. Sadly it doesn’t count for my audiobook challenge, as I finished it between Christmas and New Year’s! Bah.

Narration:

The narrators for this Audible Editions version were fabulous. Each character has their own narrator for their various journal entries, letters, etc., and they were all easily distinguished from each other. I listened at 1.25% speed, which helped with the 15 hour, 28 minute length.

Feels:

I was mostly just very intrigued the whole way through! It was so very different than anything I’ve ever read. I was invested in the characters but not terribly attached, if that makes sense. I felt like I learned a lot from this novel, even though it was fiction. I learned a lot about British/European culture at that time, how they looked at the supernatural, and how they looked at women.

Characters:

First of all, let’s get this Count Dracula straight. Dracula is not something out of True Blood or Twilight. He is not sexy. He does not sparkle. He is not emo or hurt and in need of someone to comfort and heal him. He is evil, cruel, barbaric, and intent on taking over the world. Ok, maybe just England, but still. He is imposing and has a certain ability to manipulate people even without his supernatural powers, something that I think must have been a part of even his regular-human personality.

Then you have the other main characters, which starts off with Jonathan Harker and his fiancee’ (later wife) Mina. They are just normal people trying to live a happy life, and suddenly they are thrown into this mess of Dracula’s creating. Jonathan actually travels to Dracula’s castle, never realizing until much later that the Count is much more than a normal man. Mina doesn’t actually meet Dracula until much later, but she has quite an experience with him due to his involvement with her dearest friend, Lucy.

Lucy is the person who actually brings all the other characters together. She is the typical Victorian blushing virgin, and somehow manages to attract marriage proposals from several men all at once. When she becomes a target for some unknown horror, they all come together – not without some awkwardness – to try to help her.

Plot:

The plot can be summed up in two words: vampire slayers. Because while this book takes AGES to get to the point, in the end that’s what it’s about. Vanquishing the evil that is Count Dracula and his minions, preventing him from further colonization. There are a couple of sub-plots, but they really don’t add a whole lot to the story, in my opinion. Like many books of this era, Dracula is very wordy and goes on and on and on about points that most modern readers really don’t care about.

Worldbuilding/Setting:

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.

Stoker does a marvelous job of making us see, here, feel, and even smell the setting of Transylvania, the seaside, London. I have absolutely no complaints. I never once felt as though I couldn’t picture the world of the characters. To him of course, the world was HIS world.

Rating/Other Thoughts:

Let me get to these other thoughts before I give my rating.

First of all, the religious atmosphere of this book. It really took me by surprise, but I guess, given that the main characters are British during the 1890s (Queen Victoria’s reign). I was disappointed that the only things (other than garlic) to repel the vampires are relics of the Christian church. I was extremely disappointed by how many pages were devoted to the characters musing on their rightness with God, on whether or not they would go to heaven or hell, and other similar topics. All very accurate to how people thought and believed during that time.

Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He has allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel toward sunrise; and like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause.

Secondly, the treatment of women. Again it’s very accurate to how women in Victorian England were expected to behave, how they were looked at by men and the world at large. Mina Harker, at least, does not entirely accept the traditional role of the fainting female even if she is very willing to accept being the weaker sex. Accurate or not, I find the subservience the female characters demonstrate disturbing. Also disturbing is that Jonathan Harker objects to the female vampire who come to him based solely on the fact that they appear sexually attractive and do not behave like Victoria’s shrinking violet female model. He is attracted to them by their beauty and their open admission of their desire, and yet he feels he sins in the attraction.

I realize that this is all my perspective through a 21st century lens. The points that strike me as repression and bigotry were completely normal and accepted in society at that time. Does that make them right? Of course not. It does explain how and why characters reacted the way they did, however inexplicable their actions seem to a modern reader.

Overall, I’m giving 4 stars. The story, for all its faults, is still gripping even over a hundred years later. Dracula has given rise to countless spin-off tales, even if most modern day readers consider vampires (and werewolves) more sexy than terrifying. Vampires, with their super-human powers of shape changing and manipulation, have enthralled people’s imaginations for decades. I don’t see Dracula leaving the classics list any time soon.

 

four-stars

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