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Crown of Midnight
Sarah J. Maas
We Were the Lucky Ones
Georgia Lyn Hunter
Untitled
Elizabeth May

Crystal Grids: How and Why They Work: A Science-Based, Yet Practical Guide

Crystal Grids: How and Why They Work: A Science-Based, Yet Practical Guide - Hibiscus Moon 3.5 stars. This is a good jumping-off point for crystal study, I think, and I love that it touches on possible scientific explanations for the reasons we react to crystals in certain ways...but it's SO short! Only a few resources are listed in the back (perhaps because this isn't a well-documented field), and I would just really have liked to have more detail about everything. It IS the best book I've found for explanations of the how-to for crystals grids, if you're already convinced that they are a valid practice. There is a list of several intentions along with suggested crystals and layouts.

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin - Stephanie Knipper ~*Full review notes on The Bent Bookworm!*~

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!

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Silver on the Tree (The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book Five)

Silver on the Tree (The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book Five) - Susan Cooper 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.
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Wait WHAT. That was NOT an acceptable ending, AT ALL!! *sniff*

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen - Roshani Chokshi ~*Full review notes on The Bent Bookworm!*~
“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?
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The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden ~*Full review and comments on The Bent Bookworm!*~
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 that 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!

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Kiranmala and the Kingdom of Serpents

Kiranmala and the Kingdom of Serpents - Sayantani DasGupta I want to read this SOLELY BECAUSE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SO MEAN SPIRITED about it already. Like, wtf? Are you that petty and hateful, or are you just bored and trolling? Either way...keep on haters...you're only garnering it more attention. The fear of ideas and differences will keep you small while the rest of the world soars.

Fairest

Fairest - Marissa Meyer ~*Full review notes on The Bent Bookworm!*~
“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 [b:Winter|13206900|Winter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4)|Marissa Meyer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1470057036s/13206900.jpg|18390887], 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 [b:Cinder|11235712|Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)|Marissa Meyer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1470056948s/11235712.jpg|15545385]! 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…

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House of Silence

House of Silence - Sarah Barthel 95/222 pages read, and DNFed.

Feels: Annoyance and disappointment.


Characters: Flat. Irritating. Helpless. Our heroine is supposed to be calculating (she's about to make an advantageous political marriage BY HER CHOICE), but then her only recourse is to pretend to be "insane" when confronted with the situation she finds herself in? Ok. I can deal with that, to a point (let's just ignore how the fact that she's PRETENDING is going to cast doubt on all the other people who are genuinely mentally disturbed and need help). After ensuring her own "safety" in a rest home, however, our lovely little Isabelle remains just as helpless. Let's pretend to faint to get away from the annoying other women, shall we? Oh, and then look! It's a (very obvious) Prince Charming whose thighs she can't help but admire.

Description/Worldbuilding: For a historical novel, this book is painfully short on detail. I expect more research to be put into even a historical fiction book. At points I couldn't tell if they were in the 1870s or the 1910s. Granted, my degree is in English, not history, but the educated reader should be able to make a good guess on the decade of the book setting.

When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi - Sandhya Menon I. Need. This. Book!!

Deep Blue

Deep Blue - Jennifer Donnelly ~*Full review on The Bent Bookworm!*~
“You fear you will fail at the very thing you were born for. And your fear torments you…instead of shunning your fear, you must let it speak and listen carefully to what it’s trying to tell you. It will give you good counsel.”

Feels:

Well, to start off with I got a serious case of deja vu.

Thankfully it moves past that pretty quickly. There are some similarities throughout but I think that’s to be expected given the mermaid subject and the intended audience. I loved the emphasis on friendship and sisterhood that is this story. There is no prince on a white horse and these princesses have to save themselves. In the end that was what really increased the rating for me.

Characters:

The main character is Serafina, the princess of one of several underwater merl realms. While I feel for her as she goes through the massive trauma that is the first several chapters…I never quite connected with her. Her best friend is Neela, the princess of another realm – and I adore Neela. She’s so funny, and warm, and her obsession with sweets is SO relatable. I mean who doesn’t try to distract people from hard things by giving them delicious food?

The other princesses that they collect in their quest aren’t drawn out as fully, but they’re interesting and I want to know more! Ling, Becca, Ava, even cranky Astrid – they all obviously have stories of their own and they are all so beautifully different in backgrounds, their skills, even their appearances. I really like the fact that the sisterhood between them all is the main emphasis of the story. While, yes, there is a prince, and at first it seems like a romance is going to be a main part of the book – it’s not. Several times I thanked all the stars that Sera was not one of those heroines who got completely distracted by her crush from the rest of the world.

Plot:

The plot was all very dramatic…there’s a prophesy, there’s a dream, there’s magic…nothing all that new in the fantasy world. Again, at first I was about to throw the book across the room because it seemed all Little Mermaid-ish…but then people started dying and there was blood and spells and I was ok. Because every mermaid needs a little trauma to grow her up, am I right?

The romance completely takes a backseat after the first few chapters, and I have a couple of theories on what happens to Prince Mahdi. I’m really looking forward to seeing if I’m correct in the next book(s)!

Worldbuilding/Description:

Donnelly does an excellent job of creating an underwater world that we can almost see and touch. It sounds lovely and enchanting! Once all the explosions and stuff have died down, naturally. She has invented words and at least part of a language for these books, I believe. There are at least words in another language that I don’t recognize and that is only identified as an “age-old tongue.” So that’s AWESOME.

I didn’t enjoy the constant puns. I’m not entertained by puns in general, so maybe they’re really not that bad. But between the puns and just some awkward turns of phrase, I did a fair bit of eye-rolling.

- Money = currensea.
- “Getting our wrasses kicked!”
- “We don’t swim on ceremony.”

Just stop. No one is going to forget that mermaids live underwater. Seriously. Also, there are several instances where we are told what the characters are feeling. Such as “Serafina was so excited, she was talking a million words a minute,” and “Serafina, frustrated by Astrid’s unwillingness to talk…” I find that style of writing extremely irritating, but it wasn’t so pervasive that I couldn’t skim over it.

Rating:

Overall, 4 stars. Until the last chapter I was pretty sure it was going to be a 3.5 star book, but then that cliffhanger…I’m sold. I’m excited to see what happens in the next book!

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Dracula

Dracula - Bram Stoker ~*Full review on The Bent Bookworm!*~
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.

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Holy shit, I FINALLY finished this damn book. Real review to come.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas (Hercule Poirot, #20)

Hercule Poirot's Christmas (Hercule Poirot, #20) - Agatha Christie ~*Full review on The Bent Bookworm!*~

All the Hercule Poirot novels can, in my opinion, be read as standalones. That said, this is considered (at least by GoodReads) to be the 20th Hercule Poirot novel. As such it definitely will appeal MORE to those who have already become attached to the little Belgian detective. To my knowledge he is the only repeat character in this book.

As the title would lead you to expect, the plot centers around Christmas. A crotchety but very rich old man “invites” all of his children to attend him during the holiday, and as so often does during family gatherings, tempers flair. As Hercule Poirot observes,
“Families who have been separated throughout the year assemble once more together. Now under these conditions, my friend, you must admit that there will occur a great amount of strain. People who do not feel amiable are putting great pressure on themselves to appear amiable! There is at Christmas time a great deal of hypocrisy, honorable hypocrisy, hypocrisy undertaken pour le bon motif, c’est entendu, but nevertheless hypocrisy!”

So it is, and in typical Christie fashion from the very beginning of the writing we are unsure who we can trust and therefore suspect everyone except Hercule Poirot himself. In the very beginning, the hairs start to raise on the back of the reader’s neck as various characters make very suspect statements. Everyone seems to incriminate themselves somehow. Add to that certain people start quoting Lady Macbeth and suddenly it’s not just the reader who doesn’t trust anyone!
Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him? – Macbeth

For such a short book, the characters are remarkably drawn out. None of them are flat, though some are recognizable as types from Christie’s other books. Even the side characters and ones that we suspect, have a vulnerable side that makes the reader second-guess any suspicions.
He said, “I see.”
She said sharply: “What do you see?”
He answered: “I see that you have had to be a mother to your husband when you would have preferred to be a wife.”

The hair-raising feeling does die down about two-thirds of the way through the book. I’m guessing perhaps Christie didn’t want to make a holiday book TOO terribly bloody and creepy, perhaps? Really though I was just SO CONFUSED I didn’t know what to think, right up until the end. And then of course once the reveal happened, everything had been staring me right in the face.

Overall, 4/5 stars. I would have liked a bit more of the skin-crawling, hair-raising bit, but it was still a fantastic book!

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Virgins: An Outlander Novella (Kindle Single)

Virgins: An Outlander Novella (Kindle Single) - Diana Gabaldon ~*Full review and details on The Bent Bookworm!*~


"The Virgins" felt short-story in length to me, though I think it’s actually classified as a novella. I read it in less than an hour though, so…maybe I just read fast? The hardcover addition available from The Book Depository is 256 pages…which I don’t understand since my e-book version was only 86 pages! HUGE difference there and I feel slightly cheated, but it doesn’t seem that there’s actually a difference in content. HOW.

Feels:

I was so happy to be back with Jamie and Ian! Seeing them before Claire came to Scotland, and seeing Jamie so soon after all the horrific events that we only see in flashback in the the full length novels, was both heartrending and exciting. I also really enjoyed that this story was just straight-up historical fiction, no woo-woo added. Not that I haven’t enjoyed those aspects of the novels, but this was just the down and dirty, the nitty-gritty. Even for such a short story, I was totally invested back into the characters and their world.

Characters:

Jamie and Ian are SO YOUNG! They distinctly remind me of my own 17-year-old brother in the way they react to some things. This is Jamie before he became the confident, skilled warrior we meet in [b:Outlander|10964|Outlander (Outlander #1)|Diana Gabaldon|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1402600310s/10964.jpg|2489796]. This is Ian before Jenny. This is both of them as complete virgins in every sense of the word, and they are gregarious, lovable, and heartbreaking. Also cringe-worthy at a few points. I swear I can almost smell the teen-boy sweat coming off of them.

The secondary characters here are interesting and colorful, but I didn’t get attached to any of them. I was rather hoping someone would drive a dagger through a certain female person’s heart, but alas. Despite my non-attachment, I was devastated after a particular scene near the end. Not so much because of who died, but because of how it affected Jamie.

Plot:

The main line of the plot doesn’t become apparent right away. First, we’re thrown into Jamie and Ian’s meeting almost immediately after Jamie’s escape from Black Jack Randall. This, I think, is where it becomes apparent that this story is not to introduce a reader to Outlander. This story is for the fans. I loved it, naturally. However, the actual plot starts off a bit slow. Does it work? Yes. But I think it was secondary to showing us a young Jamie and Ian and just how they actually thought of each other.
“Did ye not mean to go to Confession yourself?” Jamie asked, stopping near the church’s main door. There was a priest in the confessional; two or three people stood a discreet distance away from the carved wooden stall, out of earshot, waiting.

“It’ll bide,” Ian said, with a shrug. “If ye’re goin’ to hell, I might as well go, too. God knows, ye’ll never manage alone.”


Setting/Description:

As usual, Diana’s writing appears to be impeccably researched. I’m not a historian, but the amount of detail and care is obvious.

Rating/Notes:

Overall, I’m giving 4 stars. I do think part of my rating is due to HOW MUCH I love these characters. The writing itself doesn’t seem quite as polished as in the books, but it’s difficult to lay a finger on what gave me that impression. Especially in the beginning, some things felt just a little bit forced. Once everything got started it moved along smoothly, and as usual Gabaldon is a fabulous storyteller. I would recommend reading immediately after the original Outlander, but it would be perfect for Outlander fans at any point in the series!

Into the Wild

Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer ~*Full review on The Bent Bookworm!*~
“He read a lot. Used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often…he always had to know the absolute right answer before he could go on to the next thing.” – Wayne Westerberg, referring to Chris (Alex) McCandless

First of all, this is not just a biography of Chris McCandless. Yes, it tells his story, but then it goes off on several trails of OTHER wilderness-loving solitaries (some of which survived, and some didn’t).

More people have seen the movie than read the book, and from what I can tell the movie is more streamlined. My DH really enjoyed it and has been asking me to watch it with him for at least a couple of years, but I’m very resistant to watching a movie before the book that inspired it. (Don’t even get me started on how I felt about going to see Fantastic Beasts in theatre.) When a friend mentioned he had a copy just lying around, I jumped on the chance. Surprised by how it small it was, I sat down and devoured it…in about 4 hours. Quite a long time for my usual reading speed.

The first couple of chapters are a brief narrative of the events leading up to Chris’ journey “into the wild,” and then the events surrounding the discovery of his body. I was really shocked that part was over so quickly! I was expecting more of a lead-up. But as soon as all the bare facts are out (maybe the result of the Outside article that originally ran on McCandless?), Krakauer goes back in time to dig through McCandless’ early life, then his hobo life after college. I was eerily struck by how similar some of the descriptions of his known thoughts and behaviors were to my own. An introvert, a reader, a thinker – someone who lived inside his own head for long stretches of time – these were all things with which I can easily identify. It was creepy.

McCandless was either a visionary or a reckless idiot. It’s obvious that Krakauer feels he was the former, but I think the judgment could go either way. For someone SO intelligent, McCandless’ intentional self-sabatoge (throwing away the maps, refusing to take advice from seasoned hunters and hikers) is just ABSURD. No matter how pretty his prose, there is no way to explain that part of his adventure away. On the other hand, he made it 113 days, and from the photos and journal he left behind, he was actually doing pretty well until some infected berries made his body turn on itself.

Maybe he was both. The most intelligent people are often noted for their decided lack of common sense. He formed his views on wilderness at least partially from fiction – an extremely dangerous concept.
McCandless read and reread [b:The Call of the Wild|1852|The Call of the Wild|Jack London|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1452291694s/1852.jpg|3252320] and [b:White Fang|43035|White Fang|Jack London|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1475878443s/43035.jpg|2949952]. He was so enthralled by these tales that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London’s romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subartic wilderness.

The middle portion of the book delves a lot into other wilderness personalities. I found them interesting, but while in some ways similar to McCandless they are all different enough to warrant their own tales. They feel a bit like filler. Interesting filler, but filler nonetheless.

McCandless’ backstory is filled with drama between himself and his family. He seemed to be more than capable of making friends, yet has a nonexistent relationship with his parents. While purportedly close to one sister…he leaves her without any sort of goodbye. Loner, indeed. Again, I can relate…but cutting off one’s family entirely is almost never a good thing (cases of abuse and intolerance exempted of course). Like Ken Sleight, the biographer of another wilderness disappearing act, Everett Ruess, says:
“Everett was a loner; but he liked people too damn much to stay down there and live in secret the rest of his life. A lot of us are like that…we like companionship, see, but we can’t stand to be around people for very long. So we get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again.”

Again, that quandary is one I feel and have felt very often. Unlike McCandless, I’ve never felt strongly enough about any of it to just chuck my entire life and go off into the woods. Perhaps that’s a lack of backbone on my part. Or perhaps it just shows that I have one.

One of McCandless’ last journal entries:
I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books , music, love for one’s neighbor – such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps – what more can the heart of a man desire?

Still a bit on the melodramatic side. What, exactly, had he lived through? A spoiled white child from doting parents that GAVE AWAY his livelihood to wander like an outcast? At the same time…it rings a note of truth there that makes my heart ache. He seems to echo Oscar Wilde:
With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?

I’m giving 5/5 stars, based solely on how I felt immediately after finishing the book. Looking at it now I would probably say 4 because of all the extraneous information and meandering.

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The Sense of Death

The Sense of Death - Matty Dalrymple ~*Full review on The Bent Bookworm!*~

[b:The Sense of Death|19503672|The Sense of Death (Ann Kinnear Suspense #1)|Matty Dalrymple|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1416774789s/19503672.jpg|27620217] is a first novel, and while it's an enjoyable cozy mystery - it shows. There are several things about the styling of the story that I didn't care for, but in the end Ann's character was one with which I could sympathize (even if I don't sense spirits). The place descriptions are good. The premise is intriguing. I liked Ann and her relationship with her brother. I personally am intrigued by the idea of spirits or ghosts and the possibility of communicating with them, and I enjoyed how the author used the idea in the book.

I was really disappointed that the who-dun-it of the story is revealed in the first couple of chapters. Takes the mystery right out of it, takes the suspense away, and almost made me DNF it...but then there were more Ann chapters and I was more interested. A lot of the plot honestly seems very far-fetched, especially in the end. I was constantly reading with one eyebrow raised in skepticism. The plot is also a very common one in murder mysteries, but I guess there are only so many. While the deterioration of the culprit is believable, I didn't feel the motivation was convincing. Also, there are several chapters AFTER the climatic event, most of which were unnecessary.

The author struggles with POV. Even though it's written in 3rd person throughout, it's mostly limited 3rd person with random bits of popping into another minor or even walk-on character's head. That part was very jolting and annoying.

The old telling vs. showing that interferes with a lot of writing is EXTREMELY present. There are entire chapters of almost nothing but backstory, paragraphs going on and on and Ann's childhood or past experiences. Don't just TELL us how she felt, SHOW us! At a few points showing was successfully accomplished, but then it would lapse right back into a monologue of info-dumping and it was just a struggle to read.

All that said, I still enjoyed the book, but I'm undecided about whether or not I will read the second one. I was going to rate at 2.5/5 stars until the climatic chapter, and a certain event that actually brought tears to my eyes.

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I actually accidentally requested this from NetGalley and wonder of wonders, was approved. Why accidentally? Because I never request books that have already been published. Oops. So we'll give it a whirl anyway...

The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited - Becky Albertalli Preordered! Ebook, because I'll be in the process of moving when this comes out.