My Review of Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

⭐⭐

Remember all the horror movies that claim they’re inspired/based on real events? This book is a written version of those movies.

The famous author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, is a character here, in a story much like the novel he is best remembered for. One of the authors of the book Dracul, is his great grandnephew, Dacre Stoker. I don’t know what he intended to do with this novel but I don’t think he succeeded in making a niche in horror genre like his great granduncle had done more than a century ago.

Dracul is very much like Dracula, not because the titles are 90% the same. Because the story is a fresh yet failed take on the old tale most of us love. That’s right. This novel is like old wine presented in a new bottle. The same old thing we found in Dracula has been retold, albeit not enough to stand out, in this novel. I even found counterparts of the beloved characters from Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.

Bram Stoker: a mixture of Jonathan Harker and Mina Harker née Murray.

Matilda Stoker: Mina Harker née Murray (though she is Bram’s older sister here)

Emily Stoker: Lucy Westenra

Thornley Stoker: Arthur Holmwood/Dr. John Seward

Arminius Vambéry: Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Count Dracula: Dracul

The only new additions to the cast is Ellen Crone and her tragic story. I was a bit skeptical of her storyline and her name (Crone? Seriously??). She was made to add a new aftertaste to the old wine, but the dominant taste remained. The story, down to its skeleton core, is very much the same with a very dissatisfying ending, unlike the original novel. Hunting down the scary, evil Count Dracula who is from some castle in Transylvania.

I was hopeful in the beginning, in part one, when Bram and the others were kids, and had Ellen Crone as their nanny. The strangeness with which she mesmerized the entire Stoker family and then the bizarre mystery behind her existence was very well done. In my honest opinion, this is the part where Bram Stoker’s life truly resembled, even though the supernatural parts made me doubt it actually happened.

But after part one, when we enter part two, the story begins to smell of the old tale Dacre Stoker’s ancestor charmed us with. Bram and his siblings are all grown up and most of them are established. Yet the mystery and horror of their childhood remains. Motivated by nothing but curiosity (not a good character motivation), Matilda and Bram begin to investigate about their Nanna Ellen and the death of a local they’d known in their childhood, Patrick O’Cuiv. Meanwhile, a side story happens with Bram’s older brother, Thornley, whose wife begins to exhibit strange behavior, similar to Lucy Westenra.

I won’t spoil anything here but I’ll tell you, this book tested my patience and made me wanna DNF it. The last time my patience was tested was when I read the long long very long novel, The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. If you’re a devout fan of Dracula and its retelling, go for this book. But after reading about Kirsten White’s superbly fresh and exciting new retelling of Lada, gender-swapped Count Dracula, in AND I DARKEN series, I don’t think Dracula retellings will do good by milking the same cow again and again.

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My Review of The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Death has always been a part of life, and has been used as themes in literature through many different angles. Sometimes from the point of view of the mourners (e.g. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE), sometimes from the dead (e.g. THE LOVELY BONES), even from the grim reaper’s point of view (e.g. THE BOOK THIEF). Never before did I read a book where the mourning relative of a dead person mourns through taxidermy, an art form I always found bizarre and somewhat related to cruelty toward animals.

Until I read this book.

THE ART OF TAXIDERMY is a verse novel written from the point of view of a preteen girl, Lottie, whose poignant narrative shows us how she copes with the many losses and deaths in her life, and how they shape her life.

I must confess something here. I am also a writer. My writing journey began as a way to cope with deaths in my family. In December 2013, I began to write, after struggling with death and mourning and grief and loss got almost two years. I put to words a story circling in my head and before I knew it, it became my most intense and passionate dream.

I began to write to cope with death, the way Lottie did. Here, I connected so strongly with her, I cannot express in words. Lottie, at a tender age, lost her sister, Annie, in a tragic accident, and then lost her Mother and her unborn/stillborn little sister as well. To cope with death and loss, Lottie began to find corpses of dead animals in the forest around her suburbia. To preserve the dead animals, she learnt to do amateur taxidermy. She could not resurrect her mother and sister. They were long gone. But she grieved through this.

Her passion was not well received by her aunt Hilda, who took over the household after Lottie’s father retreated to his study to cope with many more deaths in his life; of his own father, his twin brother, his wife and two of his children. Like Lottie, he didn’t let go of his deceased loved ones. Rather he clung to them. From him, Lottie received minor antagonism. Through him and Lottie and Lottie’s grandmother, Oma, and Aunt Hilda, the author shows us different ways of grieving and mourning for loss.

Alongside this, the author also sketched beautifully how racism plays its role in post WWII Australia. German Lottie and her dark skinned aboriginal friend, Jeffrey are isolated and alienated from the rest of the mainly white Australian school. For those who naïvely believe Australia has no racism should pick up and educate themselves through this book.

Overall, I’d recommend this beautiful and poignant coming of age verse novel about death and grieving and learning to live and love again after significant losses in life. Through taxidermy, the author shows us the dead might never come back alive, but the mummy of their memories will always be preserved among us, through the art of taxidermy, aka our love for them.

My Review of Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

⭐⭐⭐

This is the second most confusing book I’ve ever read, the first being The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. To be honest, both these began so amazingly, I considered, in both their cases, would go to my favorite books file in Goodreads. But in both cases, I decided to read until the end to make any firm decision. And boy, I was glad I waited. Because both these books confused me so much with their third acts, I couldn’t wait to finish the books, so I could get out of the story.

Spellbook began with very interesting way. The story is described by three narrators, Olive, Hazel and Laurel. Though Olive and Hazel later cross paths, Laurel never meets them. But what connects them is the titular spellbook. It all starts at one summer party, the town’s traditional summer bonfire party, where things begin to go lost. Small trinkets and junks at first, soon the lost things begin to impact the characters. The first to use the spellbook for their lost diary pages are Laurel and her best friends, Ash and Holly. Soon, the spell cast begins to affect the rest of the characters; Olive and her best friend, Rose; Hazel and her twin brother, Rowan and their best friend, Ivy. Soon, the town is fogged by the cast spell and people begin to go lost too. Olive and Hazel, once their paths crossed, decide to find the things they lost at the summer party and afterwards. And trying find the lost things, they begin to lose much more from their lives.

I won’t spill spoilers here but let’s just say, this book soon turns into a lesser confusing (but still confusing nonetheless) version of The Hazel Wood. The forest and the lake setting alongside the hallucinations and illusions cause confusions in both the characters and the readers. Like The Hazel Wood, many plot threads remain loose at the end, tied loosely by guesstimating. Though The Hazel Wood has a sequel now, this book doesn’t.

But one boost point I’ll give this book is its portrayal of diverse characters. Rose, Hazel and Olive are bisexual (Hazel may be pansexual, I’m not sure), while Olive is partially deaf and plus sized. Meanwhile Rose is mixed race. The book also shows a healthy portrayal of caring and present parents and also a stark and poignantly painful portrayal of neglecting, abusive parents. Which is why I give this book two more stars, making it three stars instead of one.

In the end, though the characters were well developed and diverse, and the book gave a delectable atmospheric feel, I still couldn’t give it more than three stars, thus writing this short review. If you cannot stomach vague and confusing stories, this is not your book.

My Review of Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Why, though, does it take

a mother, daughter, sister

for men to take

a woman at her word?”

Book Content warning:

Sexual assault, suicide contemplation

This is my first time reading a verse novel. And I’m so glad I started with this one. It’s one of the most poignant tales of a girl’s griefs and sorrows perpetuated by patriarchy, victim blaming, and female subjugation. I’ve never heard about artist Artemisia Gentileschi but I do know now and her story is one of the most inspiring ones I’ve ever heard about.

This novel is also structurally unlike most other novels. And its structure suited the story perfectly. I don’t think a simple prose novel would’ve fitted Artemisia’s story. The prose is simply marvellous and heartrending.

If you know or heard about Artemisia the artist, you should know about her story, how she was raped by one of her father’s friends, another artist, Agostino Tassi, who later refused to marry her. Some claim Artemisia had sexual relationship with Tassi after her rape by him but this novel shows anything but. Here, Artemisia is empowered and beatified by the prose, by her thoughts. Alongside Artemisia, we come face to face with the tales of Susanna and Judith, two more strong women born way ahead of their time. Susanna and Judith’s tales are told from common prose, not in verse however. But by drawing a parallel between their tales and that of Artemisia, author Joy McCullough is showing us the lost and hidden tales of strong women, brave women, women who weathered their morals against all the allegations and storms hurtled toward them by society, by family, even by their most trusted and beloved. Like Susanna, Artemisia’s virtue and morality were questioned and ridiculed, poked and prodded. Yet like Susanna, Artemisia does not cower and bow before the patriarchy. Rather like Susanna, Artemisia held steadfast, looking eye to eye in the face of the monstrous ugliness of patriarchy, of victim blaming. Here, while telling us the tale of Susanna in the most unique manner, Ms. McCullough does not hero Daniel who is said to have rescued Susanna from being stoned. Rather she upholds Susanna as the sole hero of her tale.

Similarly we find the tale of Judith. Unlike the men of her hometown, Judith, and her maidservant Abra, risked their lives to protect their homeland and their people. Yet in the end, the very people they protected, by risking their lives, were the ones who shied away from them in fear. Fear? Yes, because women brave and courageous as Judith and Abra are not human, at least not normal human, in their eyes. To them, normal women were supposed to be docile and subservient, meek and silent. They did as they were told, even if the orders were sinful. But like Judith, Artemisia also did not let the society’s ostracism affect her much. Unlike her own family, who cowered and bowed before the world, she singlehandedly beheaded the patriarchy. She suffered from PTSD like Judith and Abra did. Yet unlike Judith and Susanna, who had Rebecca and Abra as their female supports, sisterly supports, Artemisia found none. It is sad that she didn’t. And yet she did. Not in someone tangible but someone from her imaginations, her canvases, the bedtime stories her mother had drummed into her head.

Artemisia found two sisters in Susanna and Judith. What she didn’t find in Tuzia, her live-in maid/tenant, she found in her works. In her palette, her brush strokes, her canvases, Artemisia found her supports. When the patriarchy tried to take away even that, she held fast. Her fingers were smashed and yet she persisted. Her rapist got away with his crime and yet she persisted. People thought of her as a characterless woman. Nontheless she persisted. She was a warrior mightier than Alexander the Great. Alexander had his gallant army behind him to win his battles. Artemisia had none, at least no one tangible and real. Artemisia was a true artist. Unlike her male peers, she endured more and hence was immortalized by her works. Through her works we find strong sisterhood and female bonds, something she didn’t find in her own life.

Artemisia is a heroic artist. And no Caravaggio can equal her in any way, no matter what. Because her palette wasn’t only consisting of paint and pigments. Hers had blood of her wounded virtue, water of her shed and unshed tears, and paint of her broken hearts bleeding on her canvases.

Sad to say, nothing changed even 408 years later. Victims are still questioned and ridiculed, blamed and ostracized. Sexual assaulters still get away. Patriarchy still dominates.

Nothing has changed.

My Review of The Winter of the Witch (The Winternight Series #3) by Katherine Arden

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

O! M!! G!!!!

Did I just finish one of the most amazing finale of an equally amazing trilogy???

God damn! This book is just…I’m speechless, to be honest. It is so so so so so good!!!

I am extremely lucky that NetGalley and Penguins Random House trusted me with this ARC. I am so so mesmerized and also a little bit traumatized by this book. It tore apart my heart and also gave me one of the most thrilling and memorable finale to an epic trilogy. I am just a mess, a puddle of emotions right now.

Since the first page to the last, the author kept us up in our most alert state, giving us such a book which kept me devouring it entirely and wishing for more. Honestly, I flipped the pages in my Aldiko app looking for one more chapter, just one more chapter to live a tiny bit longer in this breathtakingly awesome world and get to be more with the coolest of characters.

Ms. Arden, I’m a huge fan now!!

So the book picks up where it left off in the previous book. Moscow is in a state of disarray, after the huge fire and the subsequent snowstorm left the general populace scattered and scared. And you know what happens when people are scared? That’s right, the Bear lounges. And boy does he do! Together with a certain character, he unleashes his utter scheme to terrify and overpower the humans, in order to establish a world where the Chyerti won’t be forgotten and forsaken.

Ms. Arden brings loose threads of both The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower in this epic conclusion. All the little breadcrumbs she had left behind in both the previous books are tied up in a prefect knot here. The first half of the book will tear apart your heart layer by layer until you are a sobbing mess.

But…in the latter half, you just get sucker-punched by so much awesomeness and exciting things you are left off gaping and eyes widened.

As for the characters, OMG I just wanted them to be real you know.

I mean, in the first half, our girl Vasya has her The Dark Night of the Soul moment, when everything goes wrong for our fierce little girl. But boy oh boy, she does turn out such badass in the second half. She just turns 180° in her badassery (dunno if that’s a word) and just smashes everything like Thor OMG!

I mean, forget the little village girl from The Bear and the Nightingale. That girl is gone! And it is for the good! From the recklessly lovely village girl who drew the wrong attention from Father Konstantin, she grows so much more into the fierce little fireball she now is. I cannot stop fangirling about her. She is the type of girl who makes mistakes but doesn’t whine or lament on it and thus waste time. She shakes off the embarrassment/regret and does her job to minimize or fix things. She is just so inspiring like OMG!!!

And Sasha? Oh my poor baby Sasha! He is the most adorable character here (okay, tied with Morozko) and he is the kind of big brother any girl would want. Protective, fatherly and brotherly, affectionate, forgiving, nurturing and what not. I just wanna hug him tight and pat him on the back saying “YOU ARE THE BEST BIG BROTHER A GIRL CAN EVER GET!!!!” And this is coming from someone who never had a brother and never wanted one.

And Morozko, our other cinnamon roll baby? Oh my God, I just love him so so much! As you know from book 2, he becomes much more than an ally to Vasya, but he becomes much much MUCH more here in book 3. He is just so cute! His humble yet adorable way of showing affection to those he love is just heartwarming. Gosh, I feel hot!

And the Bear? Although he is the antagonist, he is the antagonist you want. Equal amount the embodiment of horror and humor, he is almost like Loki, you know.

I dunno if Ms. Arden wrote the Morozko-Medved brother duo while watching Thor-Loki pair on MCU movies, but boy these two brother pairs are so alike!

And in the latter quarter of the book, the Bear becomes someone I like too! Never have I ever thought I’d say this though. But the Bear becomes one of the most interesting villains in young adult fantasy genre in my opinion.

Last but not least, I wanna punch and kick and throttle and torture Father Konstantin so so much! Ugh!!! He is the most intolerable and annoying character I’ve met so far, almost equalling with Dolores Umbridge. Gosh, he is insufferable! At one point, I really wanted to become the Hulk and smash him across the ground like in The Avengers.

As for the rest of the book, I loved how Ms. Arden brings in so many cool Chyerti characters who bring in both good and bad parts of the Chyerti world. Through the whole trilogy, she showed us good and bad sides of both humans and Chyerti and how much we resemble. These two parallel worlds are no different from each other. Gosh, I love it!

So there you have it. My long long fangirling review of this epic conclusion. I was in for a thrilling ride and every bit of it was worth it. If you have read the previous two books, get ready for this! And if you haven’t, gosh dang what are you waiting for? Pick this series up and immerse into a world of magic like never before.

Thank you NetGalley UK and Penguins Random House for trusting me with the ARC. I hope my review did this book justice.

My Review of To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

⭐⭐⭐

I started this book after hearing some rave reviews and gushing from both GR and social media. However, to be honest, my review of this book will be mixed.

I’m not saying I hated this book. It had its own uniqueness and qualities that set it apart. But to be honest, I found the book a bit disappointing. Here is how I starred this book:

Positive Attributes:

The romantic chemistry:

The chemistry of the main protagonists is superb. I could feel every bit of sexual tensions between the two. From the get go, I felt the tension building and building until it paid off in the end. The author established a healthy and passionate relationship between Lira and Elian, and I loved every banter and bicker between the two. The author truly knows how to develop the enemies-to-lovers trope.

Stakes:

The stakes were set and built brilliantly. I loved the way the author kept plot twists up her sleeves and unraveled them in the right place at the right time. The pacing of the book kept the stakes unforgettable and kept the tension running high.

The Negatives:

The world-builing:

I liked the world-building but partially. To be honest, any setting taken after real world by a white author is a bit of an icky situation with me. It has both its ups and downs, as you see it in Game of Thrones and other medieval Eurocentric fantasies. This book, though not Eurocentric, has a feel to it. When I was reading it, I confided to a friend who disapproved of the PoC/Asian characters, or characters who are inspired from Asian culture.

Okay let’s not beat around the bush. My friend is Japanese and they vastly disapproved of the portrayal of Sakura and her brothers. They didn’t like how the author just blatantly took Japanese characters and culture out of nowhere and set them in this fantastical world. I also found it a bit icky.

There was also a minor character called Pasha, which made me feel a bit more icky too.

Story:

Though there were plenty of action and twists and turns with a sizzling romance in this book, it somehow failed to grab me as its fan after I finished the book. It felt lacking something and after reflecting back on this book more, I somehow felt the book is sort of predictable. Though most of the plot twists were surprising, it didn’t manage to grab me as it should. The story is a bit of been-there-read-that type. I feel like I’ve found a similar, if not better executed, story in The Wrath and the Dawn series by Renee Ahdieh. Hence the book felt sort of lackluster to me.

Overall, I gave the book 3 stars which still feels generous to me. If you like sirens and pirates and enemies to lovers trope, I’d recommend it but if you are looking for and expecting a fresh story to make you fall head over heels in love with it, this isn’t the book, methinks. But it’s worth a shot.

My Review of The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Series #2) by Katherine Arden

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

O.M.G!!!

What have I just read??? This book is so freaking fantastic!!!

When I first read the first book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, 75% of that book was set in the beautiful confines of the Spring Court, and after the second book, the series takes a new turn, more of a serious turn to serious business, thus making the protagonist’s world bigger and more lethal and dangerous. Same goes for Vasya’s world and story in this book. In the first book, Vasya’s story was confined within the pastoral setting of Lesnaya Zimlya, a small village nestled in the middle of nowhere. Her fight with the antagonist was smaller scaled and she had only to fight a supernatural antagonist.

But…

In this book, author Katherine Arden takes it to the next level, by getting Vasya out of the pastoral little village setting and into the large and bustling setting of Moscow, where even walls aren’t just walls and danger lurks in every little nook and cranny. Alongside the supernatural antagonist there are human antagonists aplenty, making Vasya’s life thrice as hard and quadruple times more at danger. The stakes are higher and from here on, it will only get sky high. So hold your breath and feel your heart pound, if not stopped to skip a beat, at some plot twists and turns. Because by the time I was finished, I was left breathless and gaping. This book gave me all the reasons to hold my breath and get jumpy nervous for the characters.

The story picks up where it left off. After the tragic death of her father, Pyotr Vladimirovich, at the hands of the Bear, Vasya leaves her little life in her little village and sets out to travel the world, against the better judgment of her ally, Morozko, the frost-demon. Here, some of the previous characters such as Kolya, Alyosha and Irina are not brought in. They are absent 100% from the book but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any of her siblings in this book. Ms. Arden brings back two of Vasya’s older siblings into play, Olga and Sasha, and thus expand the story and take it to the next level.

Morozko also gets a better and larger role in this book, and I have come to love this adorable, mercurial, cinnamon roll frost-demon so so much. I’m certain most of the readers will come to love and root for this adorable cinnamon bun too *heart eyes*

However, you might find Konstantin Nikonovich here too, causing more and more trouble for our poor Vasya. I dunno what to do with this good-for-nothing, fanatically religious dude. He just can’t stop obsessing over our Vasya, loving her and hating her and lusting over her. Every time he enters a scene, even by mentions, I just wanna throttle him and bitch-slap him a lot. He is at the top of my “Characters I Wanna Kill” list. Can’t he just die already? Ugh ugh ugh!

More players come into play too, including Marya, Olga’s daughter and Vasya’s little niece; the Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitrii Ivanovich; and a mysterious boyar, Kasyan Lutovich, as well as several new demons such as Dvorovoi, Midnight and a Firebird. Solovey is as loving and cutie as before, if not more sassy and savvy. I just love this horse so much. Last time a horse character made me love them this much was Kamala, a flesh-eating demon horse from The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi.

Also, I love love love Vasya’s character here. She is tested like never before and pushed to her limits. Her personality both changes and remains the same throughout the book. She is still the tomboyish, hoydenish girl we all come to love and root for while she defies and destroys every bit of ridiculous and infuriating rules and roles for women in that society and time. Yet she becomes a more humble, more sympathetic and empathetic person who understands the plight of most of the characters around, even most of her antagonists. She grows as a person and in age and experience and I’ve never been prouder of her than now *proud tears*

Overall, I cannot stop gushing about this book. Ms. Arden has gifted us an amazing story with an equally amazing protagonist set in a dangerous world where one wrong step or breath may cost your life if not of those you love. Every moment took away my breath and made me an ardent fan of this book. I thought I cannot love the sequels any more than the first book and she proved me wrong. The story only gets better and better from here on.

I’d 100% recommend this book to any and all readers of young adult fantasy. You’ll love it.

Thank you, NetGalley UK and Penguins Random Horse UK, for entrusting me with an eARC of this magnificent book. I hope my review did this fantastic book justice.