Dracula by Bram Stoker, a review

Dracula by Bram Stoker is a well known Gothic classic, and the basis of much of pop cultures view on vampires. So of course I had to start this one in October!

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I had expected this to be just fine. An acceptable classic, nothing special. I was proved wrong, because I really enjoyed this book!

The beginning of this book, I will admit, doesn’t reflect the rest of the novel. The first 7 or so chapters were what I had expected from a classic. But I will say I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly we jumped into the vampire storyline! With my familiarity with classics I’d assumed this wouldn’t happen until later! Although the word vampire actually isn’t used in the book until surprisingly far in.

Mina is by far my favourite character, she’s a strong woman who is written well with Stoker proving that men can write accurate portrayals of women since 1897 *cough* Ken Follett *cough*. She’s tough and intelligent, enough so to impress the male doctors around her, whilst also reacting with realistic distress to the events (rather than being overly “strong” about them). Additionally the men in the group are also written very well, I enjoyed seeing their responses and how their views altered over time. Stoker does a very good job at writing realistic and empathetic people.

I was aware of the basic outline of the plot, but never the actual details and so it was a lot of fun for me to experience that for the first time here. I thought that it was paced very well, with realistic set backs and wins, and I was hooked for each set of events.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 9, Enjoyment: 10 meaning an average of 9 and a 5* rating.

Highlight here for content warnings: abduction, character, death, fear, inprisonment, murder, paranormal creatures, trichotillomania (brief).

This has immediately been added to my list of favourite classics. Bram Stoker is a feminist and I dare to you tell me otherwise 😂 I really do recommend pushing through the first 7-9 chapters of this one if you’re not immediately enjoying it. The payoff is (in my opinion) more than worth the effort of those few chapters. Now to find some more of Stoker’s work!

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, a review (Deathless #1)

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna is the first book in a trilogy, with the second book only being released recently. With that, I thought it was finally time for me to pick up book one.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

This book follows young girls who, at 16, have their blood tested to see if it runs pure. Runs red. If it doesn’t? If it runs gold? They are impure in the eyes of their god and must be killed. But the King has a new decree, one that states that those who are impure will instead be taken and trained as soldiers, intended to fight the Deathshreiks that terrorise the land.

I adored this book so much. The character development throughout is absolutely fantastic, how we see our main character alter from initially believing what she was taught to instead questioning this status quo and radically altering her perspective.

The world building is also done amazingly in this book, how the religion of the country is established as well as the history of the attacks. I also liked how the character backgrounds were developed, with the intricacies that were present and added a lot of depth to each individual.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 9, and Enjoyment: 10 giving an average of 9 and a 5* rating.

Highlight here for content warnings: The following warning is found in the book: “The Gilded Ones includes scenes of violence, including some graphic violence, which some readers may find distressing. Additional trigger warnings: death, disownment, loss of a parent/loved one, mutilation, paedophilia, rape, starvation, trauma, torture.

This is an absolutely beautiful YA fantasy book and I am incredibly excited to carry on with the series, with book two The Merciless Ones. With where book one ended off I need to know where the story is going next!

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, a review (Tales of the City #1)

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin was gifted to me by Alex from On This Gay Day, and I thought that it wasn’t going to be for me. It’s very different to my usual reads, but I wanted to give it a shot. And I’m so glad I did!

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

This book is set in 1976 San Francisco, and follows multiple POVs of people living their lives. Like I said, not usually my vibe (I’m a heavy SFF kinda gal) but I ended up falling in love with these people and being so invested in their stories!

We start out by following a naïve young secretary, she has just moved away from her home to SF and is very much not expecting the life that is about to come her way. Laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, and it seems every nice man in this city bats for the other team. This LGTBQ+ book has fantastic representation in it. Especially considering it was first published in ’78, when we tend to assume things are white, straight, and cis, instead this book has a wide cast of characters which is so refreshing to read.

I adored learning about all of these characters too. Not all of them are good people, in fact most of them aren’t and make pretty big mistakes through the book. But at the same time, I just felt like I knew them so intimately. Maupin manages to place you headlong into their lives and I very much felt like a fly on the wall, in the best way. There is a plot lacing through this book, but it’s not the primary focus, instead very much being a character based read. Despite that? The plot is a really interesting one, and my one issue is that I wish it was developed just a little further! That’s totally a personal preference thing though, for those of you who completely go for character based reads? This is perfect.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 7, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 7, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 8 giving an average of 8 and a 4.5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: mentions of paedophilia, adultery, death.

This is an absolutely fantastic modern classic and I’m so grateful it was introduced to my life! I am of course going to be continuing with this series and I’m excited to spend more time with these characters! Also, there’s a Netflix series adapting this book that stars Elliot Page and you best bet that’s going on my watch list!

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a review

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction set during World War II, following POVs from both sides of the war. This is a book that had been on my owned tbr since 2016 so I was glad to be able to get to it thanks to the MiddleEarthAThon and the Mary-Shelley-A-Thon!

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

As mentioned there are 2 POVs in this book (as well as the occasional other POV to add context). The first is a young Parisian girl, Marie-Laure, who went blind at around 6 years old, her father made a detailed model of their area of Paris so that she would be able to learn her way around. The second point of view is from a young German boy, Werner, who is an orphan living in a rural coal town. Both end up being more involved in the second World War than they had expected, just trying to survive.

The character building throughout this novel, as both of our main characters grow from young children to young adults, is done so well. They are both growing up under awful circumstances which shape who they become, and it’s fascinating to see how their thoughts alter and change over time. Marie-Laure’s POV is crafted carefully, because she loses her sight early on her navigation of the world around her is done through her other senses. Doerr writes this so fantastically that you don’t even notice the lack of sight. Werner’s POV is a lot more naïve, he believes a lot of the traditional values that he was taught and seeing the world through this lens is incredibly interesting.

The core of the plot is one we all know, but the intricacies are done incredibly well. I was so invested in the personal lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and those they’re close to. I wanted to know how their lives were impacted by the war and this was done in a more unique manner than I’ve read before. I don’t want to ruin anything, so no spoilers here! But I do think this was done beautifully.

This book is also incredibly readable. The writing is engaging, with descriptive sentences packed into very short sections. Two pages is the average length for each section, and so you feel like you’re absolutely flying through the book despite its 500+ page length. I didn’t want to put this book down.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 10, Atmosphere: 10, Writing: 9, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 9 giving an average of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death, violence, war, genocide, rape, antisemitism, bullying, child death, gun violence, sexual violence and assault, torture, racism, religious bigotry, death of parent, murder, ableism, xenophobia, grief, body horror, cancer, child abuse, confinement, gore, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, terminal illness, psychosis.

If you couldn’t tell? I adored this book! It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read and I am so mad I left this on my shelves for SIX YEARS!! But now it lives on my 5 star shelf of fame 😍 Thanks MiddleEarthAThon and MaryShelleyAThon!

Have you read this book, or anything else by Anthony Doerr? I definitely want to grab Cloud Cuckoo Land now!

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi, a review (The Ending Fire Trilogy #1)

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi was my Goldsboro GSFF box book, and it is absolutely stunning in its slip case. I was super excited to delve into this African and Arabian inspired fantasy that explores a world divided by the colour of ones blood.

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi, standard UK cover

There are three blood types in the Empire. Red of the Embers, the ruling class. They have access to magic and complete control. Blue of the Dusters, the working class. They work on plantations and in factories and are treated as though less than human by the Embers. Clear of the Ghostings. They have their tongues cut out and their forearms cut off in penance for an uprising over 400 years ago.

First of all, the representation within this book is fantastic. Unless I’m mistaken every single character in this book is Black. There is also great LGBTQ+ representation, both in romantic and sexual relationships (enemies to lovers anyone?) and also in having transgender and non-binary/multi gendered people. And just to top it all off there is disability rep from the Ghosting characters who have been mutilated. However, they have developed their own language and have adapted their tools to work for them. Now I know that representation doesn’t make a good book, but in a good book? Well it just makes it even better!

We follow a drug addicted woman who has red blood but was raised as though she was a Duster. She was supposed to be the chosen one, but things don’t go her way and she misses her chance. She struggles with her addiction and also with her place in this society. She was raised to hate those with red blood, but that includes herself. We also follow a young woman living a life of plenty, the daughter of one of the most powerful women in the Empire. But she is hated by her mother, and lacks skills in the BloodWerk magic that other Embers can do. Finally, we follow another woman, this time one with transparent blood. She is a slave, as are all of her kin, but with how little the Embers notice her she is able to slip in and out of places she should never be. There is a lot more to her than meets the eye.

So not only is there the conflict present between the different classes of people, but there is the tidewind. It blows each night and is strong enough to rip the skin off of a person. If you get caught in it? You’re dead. It used to follow a pattern, you could make sure you were inside on time. But lately? The tidewind has been getting more powerful, more unpredictable, and more dangerous.

I adored the character development within this book, it’s pretty strong from two of our main characters and seeing their change and growth throughout the book is incredibly satisfying (as well as allowing us to learn more about this world along with them). I also need to know more about this world. I don’t want to spoil anything but there are so many secrets partially revealed and mysteries to unravel and I just need the second book already!

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 10, Atmosphere: 8, Writing: 9, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 9, and Enjoyment: 10 giving an average of 9 and a 5* rating!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: addiction, violence, slavery, blood, classism, death, racism, torture, murder, child abuse, confinement, grief, ableism, alcoholism, emotional and physical abuse, genocide, police brutality, suicide attempt, colonisation.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I adored this book. We have politics, characters, a slow burn romance, and fights for human rights along with a mystery about the rest of the world. I LOVE IT. Please let me know if you have read this or if you’re thinking about it. Because I need to chat with people about this book!!!

This Vicious Cure, a review

This Vicious Cure by Emily Suvada is the final book in the This Mortal Coil trilogy, and one that I’ve been wanting to pick up for a while, but I finally got around to it and boy is this trilogy just perfect for me!

If you want to you can check out my thoughts on This Mortal Coil and This Cruel Design. I probably should’ve done this before I read TVC because I really struggled to remember what was going on with this one. 100% my fault because I didn’t reread the series and first read the other books back in 2018/19! I tried to find a recap but none were forthcoming… maybe I should make one? Anyways!

Despite the confusion, it only took me around 20/30 pages to get back into the swing of things and then I was back into loving this book and series. We follow two POVs in this book, Jun Bei is a stubborn little shit and honestly, if she wasn’t one of the main characters it would get her killed! I disagreed with her actions 90% of the time, but I did understand why she made all of her choices.

Cat I vibed with more. She has developed so much over this trilogy and is such a fighter. Seeing her try to survive and to save others within her major limitations was so gripping and I couldn’t put her sections down! I did also enjoy seeing Cat and Jun Bei communicating together and actually working together, rather than against each other, for once.

The resolution for this was, for me at least, a really good one. But I won’t tell you anything about that because it’s major spoilers! I think it brings together all of the elements of the series in a satisfying way, and yet I’m still disappointed that we don’t have more in this series!

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 8, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 9, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 9, and Enjoyment: 8 giving a score of 8.43 and a 4.5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: gore, gun violence, blood, medical content, medical trauma, violence, cannibalism ,death of parent, violence, discussions of confinement.

I am so glad that the novella These Precious Stars is still on my tbr, because I really don’t want my time in this world to end! Suvada uses genetic manipulation and a society hell-bent on doing what individuals think is right for everyone in a fascinating way, and although this was published in Jan 2020, and written even before that, I think recent events have shown that Suvada knew the human psyche well!

Have you read any of the books in the This Mortal Coil series or do you plan to? If you’re on the edge I highly recommend them, they’re a wonderful YA dystopian that I am ridiculously glad made its way into my hands.

Wild and Wicked Things, a review

My Goldsboro GSFF book for April, Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May, is set in 1920s England in a world which banned magic after it was used to manipulate soldiers during WWI. Magic in this universe is herbal, added to teas, chocolates, and drinks. But there’s an island where people flout this rule. And this is where our main character, Annie, is headed.

This book was absolutely fantastic. It was full of twists and turns, witchy magic galore, darkness, blood, and I found myself reading as my eyes fluttered shut. I didn’t want to stop reading but I couldn’t stay awake!

The magic system I found absolutely fascinating. There is both the herbal magic, and also blood magic, both of which act in similar ways but seem to garner different results (and take different amounts from the people who enact them). In addition, I thought that the background of the banning of magic, and of the island’s proclivity for it, was really interesting. It’s not the focus of the story, but it definitely adds another dimension to this not-quite-reality world.

There is some beautiful character development throughout this novel. Our main character starts out as an incredibly shy girl who has never left her home village, and who tries not to disturb the status quo. This, if it wasn’t obvious, changes. But we also see some significant changes in our other characters, from those we have as POVs as well as those in the background. If you’re looking for LGBTQ+ rep, then you’ve come to the right place. We have non-binary representation, as well as gay and lesbian characters, who are the primary focus of the story.

I did see this touted as a Great Gatsby retelling, and whilst I can see the influence that Gatsby had, it’s definitely more of an inspiration situation rather than a direct influence. We do have parties, and longing after someone who is taken now (and in an unhappy marriage). And there is disaster that strikes. But this is, at least to me, a backdrop to the magical plotline. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! I adore the magical components of this book. Just be aware of what you’re going in to.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 9, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 10, Logic: 9 and Enjoyment: 10, which gives a score of 9.25 and a 5* rating!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: alcohol/drug use, anxiety/panic attacks, visions/hallucinations, parental death, death of a loved one, murder, domestic abuse, forced name change, discrimination against masculine dress, body dysphoria, gender/appearance dysphoria, gore (blood), parental neglect, emotional abuse, pregnancy, abortion, rape, self harm.

Overall? I adored this. Oh god it was so good. Honestly whoever is picking out the books at Goldsboro for their GSFF box seems to have my taste down to a T! One or two more amazing books like these and I’ll trust them completely.

Have you read Wild and Wicked Things? Do you want to? Let me know! If you like witchy magic and dark vibes then I totally recommend this one.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy, a review

I listened to the audiobook of the first novella in this series (Binti) previously, and then the wonderful Kari from Kar-ing for Books gifted me the bind up of the whole series. Considering the issues I’d had with the audiobook, I thought it was worth rereading the first story and so I read this bind up in its entirety.

It took me a little bit of time to get into this world, despite it being a Sci-Fi that’s based off of our world there was a lot here that was new to me. Primarily because this is based (on Earth) in Africa rather than Europe or North America. But once I got into the swing of things and understood the culture more, I adored it! And I was genuinely so sad when I finished the last novella and realised that there wasn’t anything else from this world for me to read!

It’s a beautifully done discussion on xenophobia, racism, cultural norms, misogyny, not feeling like you belong in any specific group but being a part of many, and following your dreams. All in three novellas and a short story. The way this series wraps up is so gorgeously done, I adored the character development and relationship developments between characters and how this had a major impact.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 8, Atmosphere: 8, Writing: 8, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 9, and Enjoyment: 9, with an overall score of 8.57 and a 4.5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: animal death (mentioned), blood, death, gore, mass burder, racism.

I’m so glad I was able to read this whole series over a few days, it’s solidified that I really enjoy Okorafor’s writing and I definitely want to pick up more from her! Have you read anything from Okorafor before? And if so what did you think of it?! I need more!

Long Way Down, a review

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds is a book I’ve heard about on the internet for years now, and yet I’d never gotten around to picking it up. When I was looking for a new audiobook I felt like this was the right choice and finally dove in!

We follow a Black teenage boy who is on his way down the elevator in his building to avenge his murdered brother. He was shot, and Will plans to shoot his brothers killer in revenge. That’s one of the rules. However, as the lift moves down people join him. People who should be dead. And they try to change his mind.

This is such an incredibly powerful story. Before I read it, I forgot that it was in verse, and I’m really glad Reynolds himself was reading the audiobook as it meant the inflictions were all in exactly the right place like he intended.

It’s quite hard hitting too, so I would recommend checking the trigger warnings down below. But this is all I’ll chat about the book because it’s a short one and I don’t want to spoil anything!

On CAWPILE I gave this: Characters: 9. Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 9, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 10, and Enjoyment: 9 which is a 9.14 score and a 5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: absent parent, blood, branding (with cigarette), claustrophobia, death (child, sibling, parent, others), drugs (selling), gang violence, guns, murder.

Have you read this book in verse, and if so did you read it via audiobook or physical/ebook? It’s absolutely beautiful and in my opinion worth all the hype I’ve seen about it.

Living Planet, a review

Living Planet: The Web of Life on Earth by David Attenborough, is a republication of a title first published in 1984. It’s not just a reprint however. Attenborough has updated the book, firstly to represent the scientific developments that have come about over the past (almost) 40 years, and also to ensure that this book is actually different to the first. Attenborough went through and altered the examples of flora and fauna he used. He mentions instead less commonly known species, which I really appreciate as it means the “old” book is still worth reading in it’s own right as well as teaching me about more species!

But now onto the actual book. This is, if you weren’t aware, an environmental non-fiction written by a beloved Naturalist. The book is split into 12 separate chapters which all discuss different aspects of our planet. These all interlink with each other and culminate in a final chapter on how humans interact with this environment.

This first chapter was all about volcanism so I was obviously in my element here! I loved learning more about the ecology present at volcanic sites and about some species I’d never heard about before. It does also discuss volcanoes themselves, nothing new for me here but I still love reading about it (cause I’m a giant nerd 😂).

Chapter two is all about frozen climates. I liked learning about the similarly evolved to penguins birds in the north (auks). I didn’t realise that the sea level would rise about 55m if Antarctica melted! I enjoyed the discussion on how the Inuit survived the harsh climate. Of course this section had a fair bit of discussion around global warming, a lot has changed.

The third chapter was on slightly less northern climes, this time focusing on northern forests. It was really interesting to learn more about the similarities across continents and also the slight differences that appear as you move towards the equator!

Chapter four was on jungle environments in Asia, Africa, and South America. I’ve been in the South American rainforest and it was so cool to read Attenborough talking about some animals and birds I was able to see in real life as well as their companions on different continents!

For the fifth chapter it was all about the grasslands and the animals that developed there. That naturally then lead to discussions on how colonisers massacred many species when moving into these areas, despite the native populations being able to maintain equilibrium for centuries. It’s interesting to see how these species develop the same characteristics separately from each other across the planet.

Chapter six was about desert environments across the planet, super interesting to learn about the different adaptations in the different variations of desert and the Tassili paintings are amazing and the evidence they give us is invaluable! I can’t believe I’d never heard of them before.

Chatper seven now and this chapter was on the creatures that spend their time in the sky. I loved Attenborough explaining how the flight mechanics of birds is so similar to that of airplanes. I also had no clue that little butterflies could be swept so high up into the sky! And now I really want to go in a hot air balloon and experience that world for myself!

Sweet Fresh Water is chapter eight, this chapter was all about the life that’s supported by rivers and lakes. I *really* am not keen on aquatic life (phobia level not keen) so this wasn’t my favourite chapter, but it was super interesting and I loved learning more about otters, beavers, and birds that utilise the rivers and lakes.

Chapter nine was on The Margins of the Land and as someone who’s studied (a little) about mangroves at university, I found learning about their environments and revisiting them really fun. These creatures that live in the margin worlds are able to tolerate such a vastly changing environment that it’s fascinating to learn about them.

Chapter ten was “World’s Apart” talking about island nations and landmasses with uniquely evolved species. I loved learning about this unique adaptations from places like New Zealand and Hawai’i to remote atolls barely touched by humans. I also appreciated the discussions on how humans impacted these environments when they reached them, both from European colonisers but also the people who first reached these land masses.

A fascinating but (for me) deeply disturbing section: Open Ocean is the eleventh chapter. Despite this chapter being filled with my phobias, it’s still so incredibly interesting to learn about. Especially the comparisons between “similar” environments on land, and also the various adaptations of the deep. But I can’t lie, I’m glad the fish-y sections are over!

The final, twelfth, chapter was on new worlds, all about how humans have altered the species around us for all of our existence. 10,000 years ago all the way up until now. I enjoyed learning more about the ancestral changes (which were bigger than I’d expected) but also appreciated the discussion about the havoc we’re wrecking on our planet in the modern day.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Research: 10, Uniqueness: 9, Readability: 10, Personal Impact: 8, Intrigue: 8, Informativeness: 9, Enjoyment: 10, giving a score of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

I’m so glad that I deeply enjoyed reading this book and I definitely want to pick up more of Attenborough’s non-fiction in the future. Have you read anything from David Attenborough? Or even watched his documentaries? I highly recommend them!