Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Reivew: Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

#3 in the Cleopatra Selene series
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Publisher: Berkley Trade 
Pages: 576
Received: ARC from author
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a review for the final book in a trilogy. There are NO spoilers, but if you're worried, you can read my reviews of the first two books instead: 


Cleopatra Selene and I have been on this journey together for a long time. I started reading her story when she was a child, and by the time Daughters of the Nile comes to an end she has grown into herself as a woman in her thirties.

I've laughed, cried, sympathized, swooned, and raged alongside her as she struggled to grow up under the expectations set by her famous parents (Cleopatra and Marc Antony) and the yoke of the conniving emperor Augustus.

Daughters of the Nile was a satisfying conclusion to Selene's story. Much of it felt like a wrapping up and winding down, and by the final third of the book I definitely felt like Stephanie Dray was gently prying my fingers away and letting me know it was time to let go. The last time I had felt such author awareness to my reader needs for growth and closure was when reading Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows, so, kudos and thank yous to Stephanie Dray.

While I feel like I emotionally came to a positive end, the journey there was mixed. I feel like the way things played out was the right and necessary way. The only way. And so I'm very satisfied.

But, I missed Selene's sparring with Augustus. This installment lacked the tense rage and battle sparks I felt when reading the first two books. Part of this is because Selene is growing, and while I miss those interactions, I feel their loss in this sense is a necessary and correct change for Selene's character and life.

Except, Augustus! If I have one complaint, it is that he became a shadow of himself. Stephanie Dray's Augustus in Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile set the bar for me when it comes to historical interpretations of this man. He was a force to be reckoned with. Cold, calculating, wickedly intelligent and always scheming.

Not so in Daughters of the Nile. Here, he's diminished and changed to the point that he seems almost a parody of himself. His lust for Selene made sense at first, but devolved into deranged obsession I'm not sure sits well with me from both a characterization and historical standpoint.

Then there's the romance. Again, part of me is extremely satisfied with the way things played out. There were scenes of such tenderness and watching these two people grow, come together, falter, learn about one another and themselves, and come together again was everything I want out of a romance.

And part of me can't get over what he did in the previous books.

That Selene was equally conflicted made things better. Trying to take an objective view and see things from his perspective and development helped further, even if that's a really, really hard thing to do (especially since I've been experiencing all of this through Selene's eyes, and she is NOT an objective, forgiving kinda lady).

And that's part of the beauty of the book. It's hard because life is hard. No character is perfect, and none of the situations they find themselves in are perfect either. They make do the best they can, finding joy where and how they can. There were multiple scenes where tears were streaming uncontrollably down my face, both in sadness and joy.

Bottom line

I may have been disappointed with Augustus, but it wasn't a deal breaker. I may have wished some things were different, but the book would have been less had I gotten what I thought I wanted. Ultimately, I love what Stephanie Dray did with this story and that is why the series overall has secured itself a place on my Special Shelf. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Daughters of the Nile that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Books I Got

It's been established so clearly that I can't even lie about it: I have no self-control when it comes to books. I acquire them at a much faster rate than I can actually read and review them, but hopefully these posts will help those books get some exposure NOW instead of waiting until I actually manage to find time to, you know, read them.

This post is for some of the books I've gotten in the past LONG TIME or so.

For Review

Girl on the Golden Coin
by Marci Jefferson

I don't usually love Restoration England books, but this one takes a slightly different approach on the topic, so I'm curious. I've been trying to expand my historical fiction experiences, too. Plus, there's the pretty dress on the cover.

Requested and received via NetGalley.


Keeping the Castle
by Patrice Kindl

A comedy of manners? Yep, I'm up for that. It hits on a personal pet peeve of mine that some of the names are really obvious (Lord Boring?), but I'll try to get over it. Because, castles. And romance. And a comedy of manners.

I read Patrice Kindl's Goose Chase, and while I didn't love it, I did think it was a fun way to spend a few hours. I'm hoping Keeping the Castle proves at least as enjoyable.

All Our Yesterdays
by Cristin Terrill

Ok, so this was a total impulse buy. Impulse check out? I was at the library picking up a book for my husband and had ZERO intentions of getting anything for myself. Actually, I had mentally banned myself from getting anything because I already have a big review pile and other books that I need to be reading.

Obviously I have no will power, because I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it. I had read the first few chapters through NetGalley and loved them, but couldn't finish the book in time. I'm gun shy about time travel books, too. They can confuse me, but I've heard this one is done well, so here's hoping I love it!


Wolf Tower
by Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee is one of those authors I consider "classic fantasy authors I should have read" alongside people like Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce. I had store credit to a used book store and saw this pretty hardcover containing the first three books in the Claidi Journals series. It was a no brainer.

But I don't like it. It's written in diary-style and I don't like that style. So, readers, please either tell me it's fantastic and I should stick it out (I've read about half of the first book) or I'm totally open to trades if you want my copy!

The Summoning
by Kelley Armstrong

I've had so many bad experiences with paranormal books lately that I'm not convinced I'm going to like this one. It was a quarter at my library's book sale though, so I couldn't pass it up. It also comes highly recommended by Ruby, so there's that, too.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci
by Diana Wynne Jones

This is another Book I Should Have Read. At least I think I should have read it. It feels like one of those fantasy classics, and I'm trying to fill in the voids in my reading history so I can more assuredly call myself a Fantasy Fan.

Plus, I liked Howl's Moving Castle. And is there a talking cat? You can't go wrong with a talking cat (unless it's Alice in Wonderland, which I loathe. But that's the one exception).

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?


Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Release Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books 
Pages: 368
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

From the acclaimed author of PLAIN KATE, a new novel about what lurks in the shadows, and how to put it to rest...

In the world of SORROW'S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?


I adored Plain Kate, mostly because Erin Bow created a rich world with depth, culture, history, and texture, filled it with people (and one very important animal) who completely claimed my love, and then she spent the entire book ripping my heart out with the beautiful heart-smashing loveliness of her harsh, cruel world.

Plain Kate was the best kind of fairy tale. It was gorgeously written, but those pretty words breathed life into her characters, vitality into her world, and substance into her plot.

So, of course I set my bar for Sorrow's Knot pretty high, and, in some ways, it almost rose to the challenge. In others...well, Sorrow's Knot is no Plain Kate. 

The Yays

Sorrow's Knot has really, really pretty writing. I was totally drawn into the book in that life-sucking way that makes you neglect the things around you because "MY BOOK" *hand flap everything away*

The evocative, storytelling writing smothered me in that book fuzz that blocks out the world, but what kept me there was the mystery that I felt supernaturally compelled to unravel (sorry, I had to get at least one pun out of my system).

I love books with story mythology, and Sorrow's Knot is definitely a book that relies heavily on story mythology. The White Hand creatures were both creepy and tragic, and the final reveal surrounding them was devastating. I only wish this aspect had been delivered with fewer holes and loose strings.

And, the sobbing disappointment

I'm a concrete kind of person. I like artwork that painstakingly recreates reality. I'm not a fan of poetry unless it's the epic kind of poems where they're basically novels with weird line spacing. If a blurb says something like "profound metaphorical journey," I run the other way. I actually like long and clunky info-dumps.  

Sorrow's Knot makes sense in that dreamy profoundly half-logical way episodes like Buffy's dreamscape Restless or Frank Herbert's Dune series make sense. Everyone walks around sagely spouting off nonsense and half-sentences. Most things don't have a fully reasoned explanation and we're just supposed to accept them, because. But the characters say it all with a miasma of authoritative wisdom! So, it's all deep and stuff!

And, oh lord, Sorrow's Knot is pretty much one giant convoluted mess of double speak, vague metaphors, and fuzzy half-explanations. It's also set in a fictional Native American tribe of She-Ra Men Haters Club inductees, so with that double dose of cliche you know it's super extra profound.

And, I don't know, maybe I'm extra bleh about the whole thing because the Magical Indian and the Wise Woman tropes are particular Do Not Want points for me (I'd rather have female and Native American characters who are wise because they're actually wise and not because it's somehow an implicit character trait brought on by their race and sex), but after Plain Kate, I expected something more original from Erin Bow.

And, yes, I know a significant point of the story is actually going against the established and promoting growth to a less insular, rigid society, but that falls flat when the rigid world is the better developed, more memorable part of the story and the push for change is wrapped in convoluted, thin explanations.

The fact that the whole "We do what we do, because." traditional approach is challenged by "We shouldn't do what we do anymore. Just because it's bad and stuff. Yeah!" kinda undermines the whole story. It comes across more like teenage rebellion, ignorant of the whys behind the way things have developed (explanations never given, but unlikely not to exist), instead of a story of logical growth and development.

Also, spoiler if the problem was that they were binding too tightly, then why did they stop binding completely? Was there something inherently wrong with binding in general? If so, then why does the tightness matter? If not, then, again, why stop binding at all? Was there ever then a purpose to binding? And, if so, then why is that reason suddenly gone?

Plain Kate had me crying from the opening chapter (and don't even get me started on the double whammy scenes with Taggle), but Sorrow's Knot never once made me feel. The difference is that Plain Kate made me care about the characters because they had depth and personality. They were nuanced and alive.

Sorrow's Knot's characters were stereotypes. Really worn out stereotypes. Even worse, their characterizations relied almost completely on the stereotypes and never developed beyond them. One character is even switched out for another partway through the story, and it makes no difference because they're almost exactly the same.

They're also constantly dropping dead. Sorrow's Knot has a near-Shakespearean tragedy body count, and yet I couldn't muster up a single care.

Add in a dash of "inexplicable" and a heaping of "bleary sagacity" and not only were the characters thinly developed, but their actions and motivations didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Which brings me to the plot, which also didn't make a whole lot of sense. Now, when I was in the story, this didn't bother me as much. I was wrapped up in the mystery of the White Hand creatures and the lore and mythology of the world and trying to figure out how they all connected.

All with a nagging feeling that, "NO, THAT MAKES NO SENSE" mixed with "oh please don't let that actually be the explanation." Except it was. The big reveal was that awkward, obvious, and filled-with-holes explanation I was desperately hoping (from very early on in the story) it would not turn out to be.

Add in the rushed ending with its sloppy resolution, loose ends, and 11th hour (and totally unnecessary) romance, and I felt cast adrift without a paddle by the time I turned the final page. 

Bottom line

My initial feeling is that I liked this story a whole lot. There really is a lot of talent and potential in here, even if it never coalesces. And, I wonder, would I have liked it more if I hadn't read Plain Kate first? I'd say maybe yes, but then I remember all the logical inconsistencies and plot holes, so, maybe not.

But, Plain Kate was so much more, whereas Sorrow's Knot is so worn, and my crushing disappointment is near overwhelming. Both contain underlying messages of growing up, grief, and letting go, but one does it with subtle finesse and tenderness, expertly balancing the comfortingly familiar fairy tale frame with stunning originality. The other relies on stereotypes, cliches, and muddy allusions, none of which resonated with me.

This is a standalone, though there are possibilities for more.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Sorrow's Knot that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Series Review: Rebel Angels by Gilian Philip + Giveaway (US/CA)

#1 in the Rebel Angels series
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 368
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#2 in the Rebel Angels series
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 400
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a review for the first two books in the series, and there are NO spoilers!


I can't really explain why I like these books, but I definitely do like them. Even though I should hate them.

They're filled with fairies. Really enigmatic, brutal, inhuman fairies. That I would normally hate, but I don't.

They do and say things and I have NO CLUE why or what they mean. Part of that is because they're fairies and I guess that goes with the territory. Part of it is their language, which is all Highlander and slangy. The rest is because I think the author has a whole lot of explaining left to do.

Some of this is revealed in bits and pieces as the story progresses (which I like a whole lot), but mostly I don't think I'm going to be getting any convenient info dumps to help explain the world. This is one of those cannon-bomb yourself into the world and hope you manage to swim kind of situations.

And I think I'm kinda doggy paddling.

Reading these books feels like watching the Spanish channel where I can sort of piece together what's going on, but there's a whole lot I have to shrug off and admit I have no clue what they're going on about.

At least there's Conal, who is main character Seth's brother and a significant character in his own right, and he's clear as crystal. And saintly. He's kind of like an Aragorn with his whole beloved-by-all do-gooder morality and rough appearance that does absolutely nothing to hide his halo of wonderfulness. And, just like Aragorn, I can't help but love him.

But his brother Seth, he's not really a nice guy, even though Conal always looks out for him and has an inexplicably unwavering faith that Seth can redeem himself. And he kind of does.

See, the thing about Seth is he's like a dog that is always peeing on your carpets and stealing your last slice of cake and ripping up your favorite sweaters. But then it turns around and does something super sweet like cuddle when you're sad.

I can't wrap my head around Seth, but my general feeling is that I really want to like him and I keep latching onto all the glimmers of goodness he occasionally let shine through. Either way, he's caught my interest for sure.

The glimmers are my first favorite thing. Gillian Philip does a great job crafting little relationships that are full of tenderness and awwww. Seth and Conal have that whole "brothers in arms" thing going on that I LOVE. It's made even cooler by their matchy match pets of awesome (each brother has a wolf and a waterhorse, and I'd probably read this series solely to spend more time with these creatures). Dog lovers will appreciate the relationships with their wolves, especially.

I'd mention some of the other relationships, but they'd be huge spoilers so I won't. But just know, there are relationships with humans that are tender and beautiful and heartbreaking.

My second favorite thing is the world. Now, again, I don't fully get this world. There are all kinds of rules and history and motivations and creatures and I'm not sure how they all fit together and what they all mean. But I'm having a ton of fun figuring it out.

Finally, my third favorite thing is villainess Kate. She has creepy henchmen (SO ewww), inexplicable power, and a game plan that I only partially understand.

What I DO understand is that this lady is full of secrets, she is totally NOT what she appears to be, she is EVIL of the best kind, and her nefarious plotting is the long-game kind (which I LOVE). The series spans centuries, and Kate's plots slowly unfold in a cat-and-mouse game against Conal and Seth who are trying to bring her down in a razor's edge dance to which only Kate seems to know the steps. It's tense, it's heartbreaking, it's confusing, and it's a lot of fun.

Bottom line

This series is strange, but also strangely beautiful. Gillian Philip reminds me of authors like Rachel Neumeier and Sharon Shinn, with the authorial chops to overcome things that would normally send me running.

Don't expect concrete. Don't expect the traditional approach to storytelling with a linear plot and a clear framework for the story. Time jumps by centuries. Characters appear and disappear. Connections are not always readily apparent. The story is as harsh and bewildering as fairies themselves, and her fairies may be the most convincing to me as a result.

This is a hard series for me, but it's a rewarding one. The glimmers, the characters, the moments between them. The losses and triumphs. The determination of war and the crushing defeats.

I may not be sure exactly where I'm going or who I'm going there with when reading these books, but I'm certainly in for the long haul.

* This review is for Firebrand and Bloodstone. The third and final book of the trilogy Wolfsbane will come out July 2014, and I'm having a hard time waiting.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about the Rebel Angels series that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Interested in my interview with Gillian Philip?


  • What you can win: Two winners will each received a finished copy of Bloodstone, book two in the series
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is open to US/CA addresses
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on December 31st 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DNF: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

DNF Explanation

Read: 117 of 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley

I thought a book about witches (with actual magic) set in Tudor England during the tenuous reign of Mary (as in, Bloody) would be filled with all sorts of excitement and intrigue.

Unfortunately, no. Maybe this is a case of misplaced expectations, but if I had to pick one word to characterize Witchstruck that word would be "boring."

The characters rarely did anything useful with their magic, which I never understand because if I had magic I'd use it for everything. But, I don't know, maybe the magic in this world can't be used like that? It was all very "cast the circle, bring out the ritual knife" kind of magic, which was super serious and kind of sapped the sparkly joy out of magic. Except for when it wasn't and Meg could just do things with her mind. So, yeah, I'm not really clear on the rules of magic in this world.

And, yes, I know the fact that witches are considered evil and tracked down by witch hunters to be killed in horrific very Tudor-esque ways may be somewhat of a deterrent to using said magic, but, seriously, YOU HAVE MAGIC. Can't Meg figure out a way to use her powers (powers to alter the perceptions and thoughts of those around her, by the way) to manage to both be a magical witch AND stay secret?

Apparently not.  

I probably would have been able to get on board even with the frustrating misuse of magic if I had a compelling main character but Meg never struck that best friend chord with me. Her characterization was so wishy washy that I'm not even sure what character traits I'd assign to her.

In one breath she seemed like she had significant magical powers, and then in the next she's talking about how she really doesn't. She's totally on Elizabeth's side, but she doesn't want to stick her neck out to help Elizabeth in a plot to overthrow Mary.

And, I mean, I can see why she'd feel that way what with all the people losing their heads during that time and all, but a timid do nothing main character is a boring main character. Even if it's the smart thing to do (and Meg has already shown that she rarely does the smart thing).

Then there's the romance. Sure, Meg won't get involved to help Elizabeth, but she sure will get involved with a priest (sorry, "soon to be warrior priest" whatever) who has been sent by Mary to spy on Elizabeth. Because that's not stupid or anything.

Also, I had a hard time mustering up a swoon for a priest. Especially a bland priest.

Sorry, "soon to be warrior priest." Whatever.

By the time Meg found herself in a dangerous situation with witch hunters, I disliked her enough to root for the witch hunters. She was only in that situation because she didn't understand the importance of stealth (and then she couldn't figure out how to outwit a "simple" child kitchen maid. Really), and for a witch living in Mary's Tudor court as Elizabeth's pal, well, that's just dumb.

Bottom line

Does the intrigue pick up? Does the magic play a better role? Does Meg learn the value of sneakiness? Does the priest ditch his Catholic calling and transform into a dashing romantic hero? Does Elizabeth DO anything?

I don't know, but that would certainly improve things.

Do you have any questions about Witchstruck that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Did you finish this book? What are your thoughts? Should I pick it up again?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Books I Got

This post is for some of the books I've gotten in the past LONG TIME or so.

For Review

A Breath of Frost
by Alyxandra Harvey

I haven't read Alyxandra Harvey's oft praise Drake Chronicles books yet, but I have read her historical fantasy standalone Haunting Violet. I wasn't totally blown away by it, but it was that type of book that's serves as a great light escape. A Breath of Frost is another historical fantasy with witches and romance and it sounds like it will hit the same mark. I just wish it weren't so long! (Almost 500 pages)

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Becoming Josephine
by Heather Webb

So, now that I've read all about becoming Marie Antoinette, I'd like to continue on with that timeline and read about Napoleon's first empress Josephine. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.


So, I went on a little buying spree...

The Decoy Princess
by Dawn Cook

I ADORED this book! Special Shelf kind of love. Crown Duel kind of love! Scarlett recommended this duology when I asked for court fantasy recommendations, so HUGE THANK YOUs to Scarlett for introducing me to these books! I bought book 2 immediately after, but I haven't read it yet (I'm "saving" it).

The Bad Queen
by Carolyn Meyer

I've been kind of unimpressed with Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series (okay, pretty good, meh), but there are a few gems in it and The Bad Queen is the brightest of them (also, best cover by far). I thoroughly enjoyed The Bad Queen (complete with crying at the end) and so I couldn't pass it up when I saw a bargain copy.

The Queen's Daughter
by Susan Coventry

I've wanted to read this book for a while, mostly because it's historical fiction about figures I haven't read much about yet (Joan is Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughter) and because, well, isn't the cover pretty? Finding out that Sierra of Yearning to Read recommends it, after also recommending my already-loved The Bad Queen was enough to convince me to buy the bargain copy I found.

Bewitching Season
by Marissa Doyle

Spunky twins, historical fantasy, magic, witches, adorably swoony romances, and a Queen Victoria I actually liked! I saw a used hardcover in great condition and couldn't resist adding it to my personal library.

World After
by Susan Ee

After gobbling up Angelfall (I'm still swooning, chuckling, and horrified), I couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel. Except, now that I have it, I'm absolutely terrified to read it. Has anyone read it yet? Is it as good as Angelfall? I haven't had much luck with sequels/author's second books lately, so I'm pretty gun shy.

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Blast: Daughters of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Daughters of the Nile slide

From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra's daughter.

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?
Read the Reviews

"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray's crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews
"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned..." ~Modge Podge Reviews
"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.

And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"

The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.

If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."

Daughters of the Nile cover

Available now in print and e-book!

Available now in print and e-book!

Stephanie Dray Headshot
STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Friday, November 29, 2013

DNF: The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

DNF Explanation

Read: 101 of 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley

I don't know what it is about icy fairy tales, but they don't seem to work for me. I was hoping The Wolf Princess would break that streak, but no such luck.

It started out ok enough, though it definitely reads as a middle grade book. That could have been fine, if everything else hadn't hit all the wrong marks for me.

First off, the main character Sophie Smith never grabbed me. She's one of those wallflower "normal" types who either instantly grab me as a kindred spirit or bore me to tears. Sophie obviously had the latter effect on me.

Her one defining feature was that she felt an inexplicable connection to Russia, which was strange, had no actual grounding in the story (yet), and made Sophie mildly irritating.

Oh, and did I mention she's an orphan? Usually orphans and me totally get along (Anne Shirley, Annie (, Little Orphan), Harry Potter, Ponyboy, I could go on), but, nope, even that sure bet feature couldn't muster up even an ounce of bosom friendship between us.

Then, the plodding plot. I kept telling myself, "Read until you get to the part where the story actually starts and then decide if you want to DNF" except that part STILL HADN'T HAPPENED by page 101 when I allowed myself to finally stop.

Ok, ok, fine, I guess SOME things had happened. They were just boring. Most of it was filled with boring interactions between Sophie and her two stereotypical friends (Bookish and Beautiful) and even more boring memories and woe is me thoughts from Sophie.

Also, the plot was totally illogical in a weird "what not do to" example for a school sponsored stranger-danger assembly. I mean, really, the premise was absurd.

Bottom line

This is a fairy tale, so the fact that Sophie is pretty one dimensional isn't an auto-killer. Readers less impatient than myself might enjoy The Wolf Princess, especially if the wolf and princess-y parts redeem things (I never got to them). Also, readers more interested in "poignant journeys and a coming of age tale" might like this more than me, who wants "sparkling adventure with a dash of romance!"

Do you have any questions about Ink that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Have you read The Wolf Princess? What did you think about it? 

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

#2 in the His Fair Assassin series
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Pages: 385
Received: Bought
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


I am super disappointed with Dark Triumph.

Grave Mercy made my Special Shelf and I've loved everything I've ever read by Robin (three Theodosia books, all four of the Nathaniel Fludd books, and GM), so I thought I was safe to buy Dark Triumph before I read it.

Apparently not. 

If I hadn't read Grave Mercy first, I probably would have enjoyed DT more. Most of my complaints come from DT not stacking up to GM in some way. Such as...

WHAT happened to Sybella?!

I first met Sybella in GM and she was a mess. There's no nice way to say it, the girl was wild, crazed, and erratic in that remove-sharp-objects kind of way.

Flash forward to DT, and Sybella is insufferably normal. I guess that made for an easier narrative (lucidity is always a bonus when it comes to first-person narratives!) but I'm disappointed. GM Sybella was so intriguing! She was unpredictable, exciting, and different.  

DT Sybella was effectively Ismae (minus the early trust in the convent) to the point where I had trouble distinguishing their voices. Sure, Sybella talked a big game about being so unstable and worrying that she's BAAAAD. *YAWN* Nothing she did, thought, or said backed up any of these fears. They felt thin and grew real old after hearing them repeated a few times with absolutely no evidence to back them up.

So, I got gypped on experiencing her off-beat narrative that I'd been looking forward to for over a year. Fine. I'll get over it.

What I can't get over is how inconsistent this makes her characterization. Not only is she totally different from the woman present in GM, but her psychological development doesn't make sense within the context of her story. I found out all kinds of backstory on what happened to Sybella, and while that makes perfect sense for the woman I saw in GM, it makes NO sense for Sybella in DT.

Robin LaFevers is more than capable of writing consistent characters with depth and growth across multiple books, so this just feels sloppy.

And the historical background?? The intrigue??

This is going to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, but for me, I LOVED the historical detail in Grave Mercy and I was really looking forward to continuing the story in Dark Triumph.

Anne of Brittany's story is tragic, but it is also filled with danger, deceit, intrigue, secret alliances, and war. All good things, at least in novels. GM touched on all of this, and I was totally caught up in all the court secrets and backstabbing.

So where was the intrigue in DT? Where was anything even remotely historical?? Sure, fine, I got to see Anne for a few brief scenes (in which she was bland and gag-me angelic), and the French were mentioned a time or two, but for all intents and purposes this story could have taken place anywhere.

What does actually happen is just fine, and if it weren't for my GM expectations I probably would have been fine with most of it. Mostly.

DT never really finds its stride though, pacing in fits and starts, dragging in the beginning, then racing with excitement, only to flounder again. Some parts were excellent (on the road, fighting) and others seemed predictably contrived. Overall it lacked a cohesive story progression and so, again, this felt sloppily thrown together. 

Do I even want to get started on the romance?

I'll say this, some parts were perfection. There were a few choice scenes and bits of banter that are totally worth re-reading and the mental images Robin LaFevers created of those two going back to back fighting together against their enemies were fist-pump amazing.

And that's the positive.

The rest of this romance came off like a thin copy of every other insta-love romance that felt especially out of place for someone with a past like Sybella. Beast is unwavering in his love, and yet I'm not convinced why. Sybella clearly thinks he's ugly (she mentions his ugly face more times than a Dalmatian has spots), but outside of a clingy need for acceptance, I don't understand why she loves him either.

Sybella's relationship with her brother, while icky, had MUCH more emotional depth and nuance.   

Bottom line

I could go on, but I'm tired of complaining about a book I still want to be able to love. Dark Triumph was unexpectedly rough. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I'd have to go with "sloppy."

On its own, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. In comparison to the skill with which Grave Mercy was written and the premise set in that book, I just can't help but feel Dark Triumph falls flat.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Dark Triumph that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mini Review: Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne

#0.5 in the Midnight Thief series
Publisher: Lion's Quill Press
Pages: 47
Received: review copy from author
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Mini Review

Poison Dance is a novella, and it's a short novella (unlike Bourne), so there's only so much going on.

That said, there's A LOT going on in Poison Dance.

- There's a dancing girl with a secret past and a secret assassination mark for a secret reason

- There's a dead assassins' guild leader and the fallout that brings

- There's a budding romance

- And the world building! I'm gobsmacked by how clear a picture I already have of this world, and how many layers I want to unfold to learn more about it

Then there's the characterization, which is fabulous and deep and detailed. (New book boyfriend? OH YES). Especially when considering the large cast size and how few pages Livia Blackburne had to develop them in.

Bottom line

If this is what Livia Blackburne can do with 47 pages, I cannot wait to see what she does with Midnight Thief. I was already highly, highly anticipating that book (thieves, assassins, vengeance, enemies working together and maybe falling in love), but now that I've read Poison Dance, wow, Midnight Thief is now one of my top most coveted books releasing in 2014!

FYI, Midnight Thief will be published by Disney, so I'm guessing it'll have an appropriately Disney rating. Poison Dance is NOT a Disney rating kinda book. While it's not outright graphic, it's more along the lines of Maria V. Snyder, Robin LaFever's content. So, YA appropriate, but upper YA.

On a totally unrelated note, I love the author's posts on learning how to write in a male voice (brilliantly titled Operation Chest Hair!)

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Poison Dance that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mini Review: A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron

#2 in the Dark Unwinding series
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic 
Pages: 352
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Mini Review
(no spoilers)

You know how it's harder to write a positive review than a negative review? Yes? No? Well, it is for me. I don't know why, but whenever I dislike a book I have a clear list of reasons why the book did not work for me.

But when I love a book, gah, my brain goes all mushy and all I can come up with is, "I really loved it!" which isn't particularly helpful or reviewy.

That pretty much describes my reaction to A Spark Unseen. I really loved it.

Protagonist Katharine remains one of my absolute favorite book best friends ever. She's pragmatic. I know readers usually exclaim over characters who are bold or tough or strong or funny, (and Katharine is ALL of those things) but my favorite thing about Katharine is that she's pragmatic.

I have all sorts of visions of us sitting on our sleeping bags calmly making lists and organizational charts together, and I am in heaven.

It just so happens that the subject of all of Katharine's meticulous plans is a desperate quest to Paris with the dual purpose of:

  1. Absconding with her autistic uncle before the authorities can snatch him away and use his super genius to make weapons, AND 
  2. Seek out her spy-lover who has gone missing and is presumed dead by all but the ever-devoted Katharine (warning: I teared up, a few times)

Does that sound like a lot? I know, it is. But it's also only scratching the surface of what goes on (more spies, intrigues, double crosses, murders, inventions, society ladies, gossip, swoon!).

Of course that means the book is fast-paced (yay!), but Katharine's practical, orderly nature helps keep things from feeling like a runaway horse ride.

Though, given the twisty nature of the way Katharine finds out stuff (due to the lying and spying and so forth), I highly recommend reading without distractions (or you may have to re-read some sections for them to make sense, like I had to do).

For those who want a ton of historical details, sorry, you're not going to get them. Of course the setting is all properly historical, but there aren't a TON of tiny details about Napoleon III, current events, common fabrics used and food eaten, etc. (though Sharon Cameron definitely knows her stuff).

Which is totally fine, because the historical setting is clearly defined without taking away any focus from the plot. And, yes, I say this as a complete and unabashed history nerd.

And, one final word on the romance: this is how I want it done. Katharine's interactions with the man she loves make me love her even more. I get why they love each other, I appreciate the pacing (slow but determined) and how it motivates Katherine without monopolizing the plot or making her seem silly. And the final declaration scene, aaahh LOVE IT.

Bottom line

As a sequel, it really is important that you pick up The Dark Unwinding first (aside from being lost whenever events reference those previous happenings, you'll totally miss the significance of the hilarious scenes with a certain society gossip). Like the first book, A Spark Unseen ends well and could be seen as complete, but the door is also left open for more.  

Katharine is such a unique voice in YA fiction, and I hope to be able to read more of her adventures. Sharon Cameron strikes a brilliant balance of plot, character, mystery, and history. I am eagerly awaiting her next book, whatever it may be.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about A Spark Unseen that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mini Review: The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

Series: Prequel book 2
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 347
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Stars: 4
Goodreads Page

So, this prequel still wasn't living up to The Riyria Revelations, but it came a lot closer than The Crown Tower. This one had more of the adventure, political intrigue, and heart I was hoping to see in the first prequel but didn't quite get.

Hadrian and Royce have been working together a little longer at this point, so their relationship is closer to what I knew and loved in The Riyria Revelations. 

More characters from the main series are introduced here, and I did love getting to see this "early years" look at them. It gave another layer to these characters who I had already grown to love and care for.

The culmination of events was also even better than I had imagine. Like The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn takes hinted-at events from the main series and fleshes them out, finally telling the "whole story" for events that had until this point been campfire stories of long ago escapades.

While it was a lot of fun seeing these well-known stories acted out, it was even more amusing to read because the full story was even better than my imagination. Royce's actions are both more tender and more awesomely cutthroat than I had surmised. The whole culmination of events was a spectacular moment for Royce. 

Bottom line

I'm less impressed with the prequels than I was with the main series, but part of that is because the bar was set SO high by the main series. There's just more to the main series, though there's also literally more to them being a six book series and so that might account for the difference in depth and scope.

Regardless, I'm still a huge Michael J. Sullivan fan and I hope he continues to write more books about these characters.  

Looking for another book like this? 

 Click on the pictures to go to Goodreads.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Books I Got

So, I've been going on a book buying spree lately, but I haven't actually made one of these posts in a long time. The result? I have well over 30 books to talk about.

A bunch of them are adult historical fiction books. Is there any interest in them? If so, then I'll make another post about them. In the meantime here are the review books I've collected...

This post is for some of the books I've gotten in the past LONG TIME or so.

For Review

Palace of Spies
by Sarah Zettel

Spies! Historical fiction! Palaces! That's enough to grab my attention for sure. Add in court intrigue, a possible murder, impersonations, and (of course) a touch of romance and be still my heart!

Invited and received via NetGalley.

A Spark Unseen
by Sharon Cameron

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book The Dark Unwinding, so I jumped at the chance when I was approached to participate in a blog tour and review of the sequel.

Though less Gothic-house-exploring as the first book, I think I might actually have enjoyed A Spark Unseen even more! I won't say more now since I'll have a review posting soon, but fans of the first should definitely check out this sequel.

Sorrow's Knot
by Erin Bow

So, this is another one of those high expectations books because I LOVED Erin Bow's first book Plain Kate so, so, so much.

It was dark, lyrical, beautiful, and absolutely tragic with one of the best animal-human friendships I've ever read. I still want to sob just thinking about that book.

But will Sorrow's Knot be as good? I don't know! And I've had three years to agonize over the possibilities and send myself on an emotional roller coaster of hype. Guess I'll find out soon enough!

Requested and received via NetGalley.

These Broken Stars
by Amie Kaufman

Honestly, I'm not much into space books. Star Wars and Star Trek love aside (and it is a massive love), the idea of being cooped up in a space ship with a void of airless death surrounding me is...a little suffocating (this is the main reason I have yet to read the Across the Universe books).

BUT, the idea of a crash landing on a remote planet, two bickering opposites, survival, and peril, well, I'm coming around to this whole space opera thing.
Requested and received via NetGalley.

by Victoria Lamb

Tudors plus witches. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn't it? 

Well, I'm finding that isn't quite the case. I'll elaborate in my review, but so far I'm a lot more bored with the whole thing than I should be. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Daughters of the Nile
by Stephanie Dray

The conclusion to Cleopatra Selene's story! I cannot wait to read this book! I rank the first two books Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile among my favorite historical fantasy books (with Stephanie Dray's portrayal of Octavian as my FAVORITE fictional portrayal of him ever).

*sigh* Yet another book surrounded by high expectations and hype. Hope it lives up!

ARC from author.

The Wolf Princess
by Cathryn Constable

I think this is a fairy tale retelling, but it could be an original fairy tale. The blurb reminds me a little of The Snow Queen, but I don't see any mention of a guy character (and don't think I'm not a little disappointed by that omission).

I've had poor luck with icy-fairy tales (East, Winter's Child), but I'm really hoping this one will work for me. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

by Gillian Philip

I read the first book Firebrand and was conflicted enough that I couldn't form my thoughts coherently enough to write a review. The characters were both likable and unlikable and they're all fairies, which I found both worked and didn't work for me.

But the writing was beautiful. Dark and much more adult in tone (think Sharon Shinn) with a world that was intriguing, if not wholly appealing (fairies!). It has scope, though, and I'm very interested in seeing where Gillian Philip is going to take the story next.

And, yeah, the guy on the cover IS a motivating factor. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Poison Dance
by Livia Blackburne

Adding "Poison" to the title of anything makes me instantly want it more.

Normally I don't really go for novellas, but this one is a prequel for a series I'm highly anticipating. It's called Midnight Thief, which includes yet another word that make my I WANT drive kick in ("thief").

And then the plots of both books include the words "assassins," "vengeance," "enemies (in the context of reluctant allies)," and "intrigue" and it's all I can do to hold myself together until the July release! Thankfully I now have this novella to tie me over.

Pitched by author.

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?

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