A Natural History of Dragons

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“Entomologists trap insects in their killing jars and then pin their corpses to cards, and no one utters a single squeak of protest. For that matter, let a gentleman hunt a tiger for its skin, and everyone applauds his courage. But to shoot a dragon for science? That, for some reason, is cruel.”

Lady Trent is a world-renowned dragon naturalist, having traveled all over to document and study the creature, bringing knowledge to all. And it is about time she wrote her memoirs. In A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, readers follow Lady Trent, formerly known as Isabella, to her first exploration in the mountains of Vystrana, where discoveries, both scientific and political, are made.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I’ve never been what one would call a huge fan of dragons. Hell, even the ones in GOT don’t have my interest (well, except for the new Viserion, he’s pretty cool) but I’ve been meaning to just read up and learn the basics, you know? And that’s what I assumed this book might end up being.

The beginning half was great. The initial premise had my attention immediately; it gave plenty of context and solidified Isabella’s reasons for wanting to go on the exploration. When they reached Vystrana I was geared up for epic encounters with wild dragons, and learning their anatomy, biology, and habits.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

There were probably two, maybe three, moments where any of the above occurred, and even that’s iffy. At most all there was was ‘we know nothing about these creatures!’ and dragons attacking anything that moved.

The main problem was despite Isabella’s personal studying of dragons and basic animal anatomy she knew nothing coming into the entire exploration, and basically, BS’d her way through. In fact, she kept calling herself a ‘scientist’ when that was hardly the case. She sketched a single dragon and looked under a microscope once.

I started comparing her to Jane from Disney’s Tarzan before I finished, but, thankfully, I thought better of it because that’s a rude thing to do to Jane.

This whole ‘scientist’ thing might have worked had it not been for the most glaring, obnoxious reason of all time: Isabella lives in a world where Victorian morals rule and women aren’t supposed to do shit even though we’re in a world with freaking dragons, and possibly magic. All I could think was, “WTF.”

Initially I was glad Brennan set this in a time other than medieval, but when the main character complains time and time again about how ‘women can’t’ and ‘women aren’t’ nonsense it makes you want to throw the book to the ground, yelling, ‘Then fucking do something about it!”

Which led to the second half of this book accomplishing nothing pertaining to the original plot yet it’s apparently important to know it’s a freaking miracle Isabella hasn’t died from her clumsiness or been abandoned by everyone since she’s completely unaware her actions affect them just as much as they do her.

Also, that ‘major’ death was total bullshit, and that’s is all I’m going to say on the matter.

I’m trying to hold back on ranting, but it’s just so easy when you spend over 300 pages on a book that falls flatter than the horizon.

I did enjoy the older version of Isabella, Lady Trent, and it’s the only thing making me somewhat interested to read the other books in this series, hopeful Isabella gets some sense knocked into her head and the dragon stuff finally takes off.

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Every Heart A Doorway

Doorway

“We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”

Eleanor West’s Home For Wayward Children is for those who have traveled to magical lands, some fairy tale, others horror infested, and have come back to the real world whether they wanted to or not. Nancy is one of these children and arrives at Eleanor’s school as her parent’s last resort though she, like most at the school, is determined to go back to her real ‘home’. But when a student is murdered Nancy and her new friends must find the killer before they become victims and are unable to go back ‘home’ permanently in Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

*Review may contain spoilers*

How cool is this premise?

When I think of children traveling to fantasy lands then coming back to the real world I assume they’ve learned their lesson and are able to carry on with life, such as with Narnia or Book of Lost Things. But, McGuire flips the stigma on its head, showing readers children who aren’t quite so lucky. And, damn, does it work like a charm.

This entire concept had me by the heartstrings and I found myself almost begging to learn more about the other children’s travels and worlds. I secretly wanted it to be like Hogwarts, where these unique kids go and learn about every aspect of these worlds, but it was more of a Miss Peregrine style school than anything else.

Of the worlds mentioned, Nancy’s Halls of the Dead and Jack and Jill’s Moor were most intriguing to me. I wish there had been more time spent on each, but I’m grateful for the existence of Down Among The Sticks And Bones and am eager to read it in a heartbeat.

Representation was such a vital part of this book and though I wish Nancy’s asexuality hadn’t been blurted out in the manner it was I really appreciated having her as the main character. The discussion about the difference between asexual and aromantic was done nicely as was Kade’s personal story as well.

There were two issues I had though.

First, Jack was…overbearing at times. I understand she’s this super, smart scientist, but I often found myself feeling the book was more about her than Nancy, especially when the other classmates begin to suspect her as the murderer (whose reveal wasn’t all that surprising) and how her skills were needed regarding the bodies. McGuire forced her, and her ‘creepiness’, too much for me to like her on my own.

Secondly, I simply wish there had been more. More story, more development, more murder mystery, more everything. It felt as if McGuire didn’t want to ruin her idea with too much, ultimately letting it end too soon, never letting it live up to the potential it craved. Maybe that’s why she wrote Sticks and Bones, but that doesn’t help this one.

Despite my issues, I know this will stay with me for some time now, and since I plan to read Sticks and Bones I won’t be parted from these characters for long and am excited to continue the stories of these wayward children.

The Stranger Beside Me

Bundy

“The stalking, predatory animal cuts the weakest from the pack, and then kills at his leisure.”

Ted Bundy was executed by electric chair on January 24, 1989 after being convicted for three murders. However, before his death Bundy would confess to killing 36+ women over his long career as a serial killer. But, who was Ted Bundy? Was he really the calculated killer everyone believed him to be or a troubled young man who could have chosen a different path? The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule tries to uncover the truth, and whether the man Rule herself knew was the true Ted Bundy.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Ted Bundy is a household name for all the wrong reasons.

I can’t say when I was introduced to the story of Bundy, but, for the most part, I’ve known the basics for a while. Such as, he was tried and convicted for murder, becoming one of America’s top serial killers, was charming and attractive, and the real number of victims was, and still remains, undetermined.

As I said earlier I’ve decided to read more true crime than in years past and regarding the hype over The Stranger Beside Me I figured I should read it now than later, becoming the first of Ann Rule’s books I’ve read.

The version I read had the original story (1980), the afterword (1986), the last chapter (1989), the 20-year update (2000), and the final chapter (?) (2008), which, ultimately, created a 625 page book.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t draining at times.

Ann Rule, before writing TSBM, used to be a policewoman and later became a crime reporter for the Seattle, Washington area, allowing her access to information and having connections among the police. However, in 1971, Rule was working as a freelance writer, and for extra cash, began working at a crisis hotline. Her coworker, Ted Bundy, a 24-year-old college senior, quickly became her friend.

She had no idea what was in store for the next 18 years.

I enjoyed the story, from when Rule meets Bundy, his actions before, during, and after his trials, and finally to their last correspondence. The style wasn’t overflowing with police jargon nor did it exclude the slightest of information (hence why I felt drained after a while) and yet there was a deep, emotional aspect that caught my attention and made me think, ‘How would I feel in Rule’s place?’ Rule also tried to be objective when it came to Bundy’s guilt or innocence though it was shaky for a majority of the book.

It was Ann Rule herself that I didn’t much care for.

My dislike started when she began insinuating that she, and only she, knew the real Ted Bundy. Not Stephanie, his first serious girlfriend, not Meg, his girlfriend for a number of years, or Carole Ann Boone, his wife and mother of his only child, all because she was never romantically interested in Bundy nor him her.

In fact, Rule makes it plainly obvious she finds fault in the numerous women who supported Bundy throughout his life despite the evidence and everything in between. But, the thing is, Rule does the exact same thing. Maybe not romantically, but she sure supports him by sending him checks for cigarettes and stamps every time he asks or giving him police information from the Washington crimes. She even tried to get him into a mental institution at one point. To me, Rule was just as wrapped around Bundy’s finger as the other women in his life and she has no right in calling the others out for something she did too.

She tries hard to make reasons why she can’t possibly believe Bundy would ever harm, let alone kill, women yet it’s pretty obvious when he not only runs away from police twice, but also escapes custody twice, that something isn’t right. Yet, Rule, a competent crime writer and former policewoman, continues on, defending Bundy because the ‘smart, young man’ she knew wouldn’t possibly commit these crimes.

When Rule does realize Bundy committed the crimes (not because of the dental evidence or the witnesses, but because of the picture of the bodies at the Florida trial) she proceeds to push herself away from Bundy, clearly horrified, (though more upset over the fact that he would lie to her) until he contacts her again, after TSBM has been published and she’s begun writing books full time, and proceeds to keep in touch with him.

Rule, much like Bundy’s admiring, and loving women, goes back to him time and time again, not seeing the irony in it all.

Yet, it’s her attitude toward the victims I can’t stand the most.

It’s around when Bundy leaves Washington for Idaho when Rule decides to casually mention that the victims up until now are usually smart, shy, and cautious individuals. However, she berates them for not being ‘smart enough’ to avoid Ted Bundy, concluding that that’s why they were kidnapped and murdered. Basically, it wasn’t Ted Bundy’s fault the women were easy prey. This attitude not only ends up weighing down Rule’s opinions, but also lurks about when the rest of the victims are introduced.

In the end, shaming the victims was the wrong move to make me feel sorry for Rule when Bundy was who the public believed him to be.

Had the later updates not been included I wouldn’t have been able to see Rule mature later in life, not only in her writing, but her attitude toward Bundy. Granted, the attitude toward the other women wasn’t cleared up, but Rule clearly has more control over her feelings in the future and maybe, had she not passed in 2015, could have updated the story so the true victims weren’t ignored for the overhyped story of their killer.

Misery

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“I am your number one fan.”

Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, saves best-selling author Paul Sheldon from a near-fatal car accident and takes him to her home to take care of him, and keep him prisoner. Claiming to be his number one fan, she dots on Sheldon. That is until she learns he’s killed off the beloved heroine, Misery Chastain, and demands he brings her back. Misery by Stephen King shows how Sheldon might just create his greatest novel with the persuasive methods of his captor as he waits for a chance to escape in rural Colorado.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I’ve found myself on the start of a King movement.

To be fair, Misery has been on my to read list for a few years now simply because of the movie, which I’ve only seen bits of so I wasn’t spoiled by anything before reading this. But, I mean, who can say no to Kathy Bates?

Throughout the entire book the only two characters we get to know are Paul and Annie, and sometimes that was a good thing and other times not so much.

Annie is interesting. Her mood swings and violent tendencies were what kept the book going because who knew if she would be happy, angry, or sad when the page turned. Like most ‘Angel’s of Death,’ she doesn’t scream murderer until the layers are pulled back. She was in charge, from pill giving to cutting off limbs, a nice change, as it was different to see a woman be brutal and I loved it.

Paul was lifeless. And not just in a ‘dying because of brutal injuries’ sort of way. He just didn’t sit right with me. It might have to do with the way he describes Annie, being heavy and surprised she could ever get a husband, or just his overall attitude of ‘poor me, a famous author who can’t get away from famous character.’

Yes, I do support authors trying new things (look to my last King review) but Paul just…complained. If there was more insight as to why he hates Misery so much, perhaps background as to why he wrote about her in the first place or ideas leading up to her creation, I might have been a bit more sympathetic. But, in the end, Paul is just a very unlikeable character.

I think my problem came from knowing that this was King’s personal story to complain about how he couldn’t get away from the horror genre. He put too much of himself into Paul and I couldn’t care less after halfway through.

King’s ability on setting was as lovely as ever. Having lived in rural Wyoming, as well on the border of Colorado, I understood how Annie was living and the days on end without seeing anyone else or being able to get into town. He knows how to isolate his characters and uses that to every advantage.

Had none of the horrible, body crushing, or creepy, murderer tendencies been there I doubt I would have finished this one. Annie was the true hero, saving this book from drowning in the self-pity of Paul Sheldon even if she took drastic measures to do so.

 

The Eyes of the Dragon

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“Guilt is a like a sore, endlessly fascinating, and the guilty party feels compelled to examine it and pick at it, so that it never really heals.”

King Roland, old and fragile, has two sons, Prince Peter and Prince Thomas. Peter, his favorite, is the heir and determined to be a good King. But someone in court has other plans in mind and, suddenly, King Roland is found murdered and with all evidence pointing to Peter as the culprit he is imprisoned. Will Peter be able to prove his innocence and save the kingdom from crumbling into ruin or will he be forever locked away, his only legacy being regicide? Find out in Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Oh, hey, a Stephen King book not full of horror and murder? What is this world coming to? I’m just kidding. It’s kind of the reason I picked it up in the first place. Sue me.

As usual, I was looking online for good recommendations and this one popped up, describing it as a ‘medieval murder mystery’ subsequently how could I not be intrigued?

This entire book was written as if it were meant for children, or like, the original Grimm fairy tales. Vocabulary is toned down; as are the descriptions, and the magic within has limits. It’s definitely more of a tell than show story, which lost its charm after the 20th chapter.

King isn’t known for his fantasy books (there was so much outcry over this book when it came out that it inspired King to write Misery) and I give him so much credit for trying something new. It takes guts, especially when you’re a seasoned author.

But, that doesn’t mean throwing everything to the wind and hoping something happens.

Though it was King’s 19th book the entire story just felt meh. The characters were nothing special, the villain wasn’t all that horrible, and the ending was extremely generic. When I finished it I put it down and honestly couldn’t say what the main point really was. Focus darted about, making it hard for me to concentrate and connect with the characters, so why I should care about them? There were moments that worked, but as a whole, it didn’t come together quite right.

I’m glad King tried to step out of his comfort zone and I read it, but I feel I’m going to have to read more of his popular stuff to appreciate TEOTD more than I am.

Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe

Poe-land

“So, in a way, we can do more than just learn about Poe. We can go see him. We can live him. It just takes a few road trips.”

Edgar Allan Poe may be considered one of America’s priceless authors, but for a man who died young with mystery and tragedy surrounding him before and after the grave, does anyone really know who, or what, made Poe, well, Poe? Author J. W. Ocker decides to follow the life of Poe, not chronologically, but geographically, in order to understand the man and the legacy he’s left behind in Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe.

*Review may contain spoilers*

Given to me as a birthday present by, you’ve guessed it, the bestie; she described this book as an unusual biography. And, Poe boy, was she right.

Like most, I was introduced to Poe through school, sometime during elementary, but most definitely in 8th grade when we read The Tell-Tale Heart. I wish I could say I’ve explored his lesser-known work, but damn it, The Raven and Annabel Lee get me every time.

The same goes for his life history. I’ve always meant to read up on it, learn the true facts and what not, but something’s always kept me back as if I felt it would ruin his writing.

So, when Poe-Land entered my life I knew I couldn’t push it aside any longer and went on the many road trips to know Poe and his legacy.

First off, this was undeniably not what I anticipated.

I figured it would be more text-bookish, cleaner, cut information about Poe’s life history, the places he lived, his works, etc., not about the people he’s impacted, the author’s every thought, and the future of Poe collections.

And, fair warning here, but if you don’t know much about Poe I suggest reading up on the basics before starting this book. Because Ocker darts about Poe’s life causing major overlapping and confusion at times. I also suggest keeping a list of people he interviews because Ocker doesn’t remind readers who are who, assuming we’ll recall who Price is and his work three chapters after he’s been introduced.

If I had to choose a favorite chapter it would be Chapter 2: Rhode Island, which is basically the chapter that isn’t solely about Poe, but heavily shared with H.P. Lovecraft.

Poe influenced Lovecraft to such a degree that Lovecraft often fangirled about Poe the way we do now. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Lovecraft before I read this book and it made me go check out a book of his stories in a heartbeat.

Of all the chapters it was the most like how I imagined the book being: information, textbook stuff. And, I loved it. The focus was entirely on Lovecraft and Poe.

The rest of the book though…

I’m going to be quite frank: I don’t like Ocker.

He’s one of those people that crawls under my skin and I can’t stand to hear the man’s voice, written or spoken.

Problems began around Chapter 3 and I don’t specifically know what ticked me off, but I wasn’t having it, making the rest of the reading difficult. In fact, this took me over a week to read just because I didn’t care to listen to him.

He has the attitude of a pompous nerd, thinking his jokes are worthwhile, and that readers want to hear his every interjection of ‘modern jargon’ so they’ll know he’s with the times. My final straw was learning he dog-ears his book pages.

I haven’t had this much difficulty with an author, since, well, ever and it perplexed me to no end. How could someone writing non-fiction be so annoying?

Then it hit me.

In the beginning, Ocker describes this book as exploring Poe and the life he led, but it later turned out to be more of a personal experience outlook on things, making Ocker, and the overbearing fans, the main focus, not Edgar Allan Poe.

I don’t mind hearing the experiences of fans and what Poe means to them, but after the third one the trope became worn out. They basically came to the same conclusion and nothing new became present. And it seemed Ocker disregarded their Poe fanatics as subpar, compared to him that is (even though he’s hardly what I would call a diehard Poe fan) until the last two interviewees blew him out of the water and he finally accepted it.

Honestly, there was too much Ocker for this to be enjoyable.

I also found multiple grammar and spelling mistakes littered throughout this book. As if Ocker barely did a redraft, confident the only spelling mistake within was when he mentioned spelling Allan with an e in college.

Personally, I enjoyed the information, the pictures included, and finding out where Poe’s presence still lingered. In fact, I want to do a Poe tour myself one day just because of this book. But it won’t be anytime soon because I’d rather not have Ocker’s tainted taste in my mouth the entire time.

The Book of Lost Things

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“Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”

David is 12 when his mother dies, leaving him her collection of books. David, angry and alone, tries to understand why his mother had to die while taking refuge in fairy tales until, one day, he is thrown into an unknown land with talking wolves, screaming flowers, and a creature David calls The Crooked Man. In The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, readers follow David through his journey of not only returning home but the journey into adulthood and the challenges he’ll face by shedding childhood innocence.

*Review may contain spoilers*

I’ve never read John Connolly before and from what I gathered from his online bibliography his preferred genre is crime and mystery, not fairy tale fantasy. I honestly don’t know if I should have read his other stuff first, but I was pleasantly surprised with The Book of Lost Things either way.

First off, I was hit with a nostalgia for The Chronicles of Narnia with The Book of Lost Things being set in WWII and in an old, family home with the entrance of the new world only showing up every now and then. The talking wolves didn’t help deter it either.

Thankfully, this story diverted from being too similar with the darker tone and unapologetic harshness of the fairytale land. There’s blood, gore, and death straight on, letting readers understand this is heavily inspired by the first editions of well-known fairy tales, such as Red Ridding Hood and Snow White.

However, instead of keeping to the original stories, Connolly rewrites them to keep the focus dark and disturbing. Of the stories, my personal favorite was Red Ridding Hood and its explanation of how the talking wolves, or Loups in this case, came to be. It read very much like the myth of Pasiphae.

Other than Red, Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin, I’m not quite sure if the other tales were also rewritten or invented by Connolly himself, such as the Knight Alexander or the Beast David faces when it destroys the village.

The writing embraces the style of fairy tales and does well-keeping pace, having multiple dangers pop up while David is heading to see the King, and showing his cleverness in getting out of a tight spot. It allows a wide array of characters to be introduced, from the Woodsman to the Crooked Man, to keep the story flowing as well.

However, though I understand the ‘evil’ women in the fairytale land represent how David sees his step-mother, Rose, I wish there had been at least one woman who helped him through the story. Honestly, the only ‘woman’ who isn’t enchanted or wanting to kill David is the horse, Scylla.

There was also the representation of Roland, which I appreciated to a point, but something didn’t sit right with me and I wish Connolly had chosen a more considerate manner instead.

The biggest disappointment with the characters was the reveal of the King, which was, for my taste, a bit predictable. And Crooked Man’s backstory wasn’t all I thought it would be either. Especially at the end when we’re told instead of showing how he came to be, and the explanation of who he used to be.

Generally, the idea and progression of the plot are what kept me going. I only wish the characters had been hashed out a bit more and given longer time in the spotlight. Though it might not be my favorite of fairy tale retellings The Book of Lost Things is an endearing story of growing up and the struggle to do so.