Posted in book review

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein: Reviewed

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Genres/Descriptors: YA; retellings; historical fiction; horror; gothic; sci-fi (less so than the original, I think)

Pages: 304

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

Okay, I couldn’t do this justice, so here’s the description from Goodreads…

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.


Review:

I didn’t love Frankenstein, but I did enjoy it a lot. I picked this up on a whim, after finding the audiobook on OverDrive, and I could barely stop listening to it to go to bed. I still finished it within a 24-hour period, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

First of all, the narrator (Katharine McEwan) was great. I can be a little picky about narrators, but I thought she was a nice choice for this one. Her voice was just perfect, I feel, for the atmosphere.

I think you could read this without having read Frankenstein, but it will probably be a better experience if you have. *Also, this one needs some trigger warnings, so skip to the next paragraph if you think TWs are spoilers.* TW for: child abuse, animal cruelty, emotional and physical abuse, mutilation, murder.

I hate Victor Frankenstein. I’ve always hated him, and thought he was the true monster, no matter how brilliant his mind might have been. That’s one thing I think Penny Dreadful did really well, but he still ended up kind of redeemed by the end. I don’t want redemption for Victor Frankenstein, I want his monstrous inclinations exposed, without justification or letting him play at being a victim. This book delivered, by giving us the story from Elizabeth’s perspective.

Elizabeth has a home and relative safety in the Frankenstein household, but that stability depends on Victor and his desire to keep her around. She’s spent her life shaping herself into what Victor wants and needs, making herself indispensable to him, so she’s no longer quite certain how much of her is really her and how much is what she’s forced herself to be for him.

When she stops hearing from Victor, after he’s away at school, she gets worried and hatches a plan to track him down and bring him home. Along the way, she gets glimpses into what he’s been up to, and that really started to fill in some gaps and flesh out some bits from the original story. It was interesting, and deeply disturbing, following Elizabeth around as she begins to piece things together.

The first half or so of this one is a bit slow, but not boring. Getting to know Elizabeth, and how her mind worked, was slow in a good way, at least for me. She was a strong young woman, and a fantastic, sympathetic, morally grey character, capable of much more than her sweetly angelic visage might lead people to believe. Behind the curls and charming smiles was a sharp mind and a fierce determination to survive.

Her relationship with Victor was so… I can’t think of a word that works. It was disturbing and kind of terrifying. He was possessive and cruel, but had also convinced himself that he was acting out of something that at least resembled love in his twisted mind. It was realistic, and that was one of the scariest things about this story.

I loved the atmosphere of this book, and the writing. The entire thing had an unsettling vibe, the sense of danger just around the corner and fresh horrors to discover. (A+ for keeping the gothic vibe intact, and staying true enough to the original story, while still creating something new.) Even though this is a retelling, and I’ve read the source material, I honestly had no clue how this was going to wrap up. There was a constant sense of dread as I neared the end, fearing for Elizabeth, and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross Victor’s path.

I hope this doesn’t get spoilery, but I have to also take a moment to discuss the Creature. My heart has always hurt for him, and I think that’s why I loved him in Penny Dreadful. He was capable of such terrible things, but at his core, he was gentle and sweet. His character in this story almost made me tear up once or twice, for reasons I won’t go into because that would definitely have spoilers. Let me just say that I am so pleased with the way Kiersten White portrayed him.

This book is so hard to talk about without spoilers, because all I want to do is gush about the things I loved. I’m almost tempted to write a second post with spoilers, but I might be too lazy for that 😛

If you can handle this type of story, I highly recommend it. I’m strongly considering buying a copy, because this feels like a book I might re-read. This one is definitely going on my favorites shelf on goodreads.

I was torn between 4.5 and 5 stars, so I’m settling on 4.75 and rounding up to 5 stars.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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Posted in book review

Reviewed: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

First, let us take a moment to stare appreciatively at the cover.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)

Enchanting, isn’t it? ❤ Okay, moving on…

Goodreads Description:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


Review:

This book has been on my TBR for ages. Okay, that’s not entirely true, because I think it’s only been out for two years, but I added it to my TBR in late 2016, I think. I don’t know a ton about Russian history or folklore and fairy tales (if you have book recs, for the latter two especially, please leave them in the comments!), but I knew enough to know I needed to read this book. And then I kept putting it off *facepalm*

I just wrote out a super long thing, which rambled on and on, and then deleted it. This is proving to be a difficult book for me to review, so I think I’m just going to try to keep it short, and not go too in depth.

This was meant to be one of my last books of 2018, but it took me almost three weeks to finish it. Most likely, that was because I wasn’t really in the right mood. I knew that, as I was reading, because I kept thinking about how I should have been loving it, but I kept putting it down for days at a time. I’m almost 100% sure that was entirely me, and my mood, and had nothing to do with the book and writing style. By the end, I was enjoying it a lot, it just took me a long time to get there. So, if you’re looking for a book with a lot of action throughout, this might not be for you.

I loved Vasya. I didn’t even notice how fond of her and attached to her I was becoming, until I finished the book. I will almost certainly be picking up the second book soon, because I want to know what happens next. There are so many directions this story could go, and I’m curious to see how it will all play out. (I think I picked a great time to start this, because the last book was just released, if I’m not mistaken.)

For me, this was a quiet sort of story. It was atmospheric, and paired perfectly with the snow and harsh winds we’ve been experiencing this week as I’ve been reading the majority of this book. I feel like the story is going to stay with me for a while.

Morozko was probably my favorite character, regardless of how much I loved Vasya. I read somewhere that he’s more of a major character in the second book, and I want to spend more time with him. I’m familiar with the Father Frost (I believe it’s called) story, but I have no clue how I know it. I feel like I just read it, but I know I didn’t. Weird… Anyway. He’s the kind of character I usually find myself loving. He’s not really good, he’s not really evil. He just is.

As I said, I’m not well-versed in Slavic folklore and fairy tales, but I did recognize things in this book, maybe from other media (Baba Yaga, for example, has popped up a lot in, well, pop culture), which maybe added an extra layer of enjoyment. It probably would have been even better if I’d read a lot of Slavic fairy tales, but I haven’t 😦 Someday.

This is getting out of hand, so I’m going to try to reign it in and finish up.

By the end, I really enjoyed this one, but I don’t think it’s making my all-time-favorites shelf.

I liked the characters, both human and not human, even the ones who were not so nice. (I definitely had a “love to hate them” thing going on with at least one character.) The household spirits might have had me tearing up a few times…

The world wasn’t painted in such painstaking detail that I got bogged down and bored with it, but it was rich enough for me to feel like I was there. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember reading a ton of descriptive things, but I can still see everything pretty clearly in my mind. Sorcery!


Overall, I think I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars, and I’m probably going to start the second one soon. This one has definitely given me an extra push to seek out Slavic fairy tales, though, and I’m very excited about that.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Posted in book review

Book Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

32600721
Genres: historical fiction; contemporary; magical realism

Why I read it: Cottingley fairies! I’ve known that story since I was a kid, and I’ve seen the pictures loads of times, so when I saw the word “Cottingley” in a book title, it was immediately added to my TBR and I entered the ARC giveaway on goodreads.

Who I’d recommend it to: If you like the blending of old and new stories (switching between present and past with connecting threads), a teeny bit of magical realism, and/or the mystery of the Cottingley fairies, you might like this.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (3.5 stars)

Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Amazon


What it’s about:

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


Review:

This took me ages to get through, but it was not the book’s fault, it was me. I’ve been in this awful reading slump all year for specifically SFF books, and, while this one isn’t super fantasy-ish, it was close enough for my slump to prevent me from making it very far in. (Then my surgery happened and that made it take even longer. Ugh.)

Anyway… As I said, I entered the giveaway for this because I saw the word “Cottingley” and, paired with that cover, I was sure before I even read the description that it would be about the Cottingley fairies, which I had a bit of an obsession with as a child. If you haven’t heard of the Cottingley fairies, google it. If you have no interest at all in what happened, I’d say skip this book. But, if you’re even just a bit curious, you might like it.

The story alternates between present day with Olivia, and events from the early 20th century recorded in a memoir later in life by Frances Griffiths. Olivia is still reeling from the recent loss of her grandfather when she finds out he left her his bookshop, Something Old. But that isn’t all he left her. He also left her a cat, Hemingway (who lives in the bookshop), and a manuscript. Within the manuscript, Olivia finds links to an old photograph she had as a child, and, later, connections to her own family. As she reads the book, peculiar things begin to happen in her own life that may or may not have logical explanations.

Along the way, she learns not only about the people in the story, but also about her family and herself. She’s been dealing with a lot, and some of her indecision and uncertainty really annoyed me for a while, even though I guess it was kind of understandable. So, when she finally starts taking control of her life, I was happy for her. Olivia is not my favorite character, and I actually found her a little boring at times, but by the end of the book I was definitely rooting for her.

For those of you who don’t like romance, don’t worry, it’s not really a part of this story. It’s there, kind of, but it isn’t a major plot point or anything and almost no time is spent on it. This is mostly about family and connections and accepting who you are and learning to stand on your own.

I expected to really love the Cottingley parts of this book, but I didn’t. (I did like them, I just didn’t love them.) It was an interesting way to go about mingling past and present in a historical fiction novel, but some of it seemed to drag by (that could have been the slump, though). I can’t imagine what Frances’s life was like, dealing with her father being away fighting in the war, and having her entire life altered so drastically. So, I felt for her, but her narrative wasn’t as compelling as I hoped it would be. Elsie honestly kind of irritated me, and most of the other characters didn’t leave much of an impression (they were minor). The exception to that was Ellen. My heart broke for her and I wanted the fairies to be real, just for her.

I’d really love to read Frances Griffiths’s own book (books?) about the Cottingley fairies, though, to see how much of the truth made it into this book. I do know that at least some of the “memoir” in this book lines up with what Frances said after confessing about the photographs.

For those who don’t know or care to look it up, Frances and Elsie confessed in the ’80s that they had faked the photographs. Why did they wait over 60 years? Because they’d fooled the world. Even Arthur Conan Doyle was taken in by their story, and subsequently wrote a couple of articles about it featuring the now famous photographs. (Yes, that Arthur Conan Doyle. He was a spiritualist and actually wrote a book about fairies called The Coming of the Fairies, though not many people know about it now.)

Basically, even though we know it was a hoax now, it’s still fascinating to read about, if you’re into this kind of thing. As for the fifth photograph (“The Fairy Bower”), I like to think Frances was telling the truth about that one.

…perhaps believing in fairies was more important than seeing them. In belief, there is hope and wonder. In seeing, there is often question and doubt.

Whether you believe/want to believe in fairies or not, this is still a great historical fiction novel, and I do recommend it. The writing is enchanting all on its own, the story has just a touch of magic, and the characters are so alive and believably human.

Posted in book tags/memes

First Lines Fridays: August 11th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


Fairies will not be rushed. I know this now; know I must be patient. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

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The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

 

32600721What it’s about:

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


This was another goodreads giveaway win for me, and I’m so excited! I’ve always been fascinated by the Cottingley fairies story, and I’ve read a lot about it online over the years.

(I was actually supposed to start this last month and review it for release day on the 1st of August, but the unexpected ER visit and surgery kind of threw off my reading schedule :/ )

Posted in book tags/memes

First Lines Fridays: July 14th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

down-arrow

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

18295842
cover; links to goodreads

What it’s about:

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


I was on the fence about this for a while, but I kept seeing it around and finally just grabbed a copy when I found it on sale. Now that I’ve actually read the description, and heard good things about it, I’m kind of wondering why I didn’t seek it out sooner because it sounds like something I could love.


If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? If you haven’t read it, is it on your TBR, too?