Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays (10)

Happy Tuesday everyone! This week's teasers come from Rosalind Miles' I, Elizabeth, the epic story of Queen Elizabeth I as told from her own perspective.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

"Yes, yes, I knew how she had suffered in that marriage from the King's tyranny and cruelty, his turning against her even to take her life. And then his vile gross bulk, that festering hulk of evil-smelling lard, his rotting leg--as welcome as a slug's his bed embraces must have been!..." (147)

--I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis


Adult Historical Fiction (506 pgs.)


Vivacious Sancha of Aragon arrives in Rome newly wed to a member of the notorious Borgia dynasty. Surrounded by the city's opulence and political corruption, she befriends her glamorous and deceitful sister-in-law, Lucrezia, whose jealousy is as legendary as her beauty. Some say Lucrezia has poisoned her rivals, particularly those to whom her handsome brother, Cesare, has given his heart. So when Sancha falls under Cesare's irresistible spell, she must hide her secret or lose her life. Caught in the Borgias' sinister web, she summons her courage and uses her cunning to outwit them at their own game.


After watching Showtime's new series, The Borgias (which I loved), I knew I had to try this book out. For those of you who are Tudor junkies, behold... their Italian counterparts; just as intriguing, just as scandalous.

This period in time, the late 15th to early 16th century, has become one of my favorites as far as history is concerned. I so wish I could have lived during this time period, and yet at the same time, I am really glad I didn't. Life--especially court life--was just so volatile. You had to play the cards you were given perfectly, or else you were dead. Quite literally, dead.

Jeanne Kalogridis did an excellent job of capturing the capriciousness of life in Pope Alexander VI's court. The setting really draws you in, and at the same time, repels you. There's nothing candy-coated about it, and I'm glad Jeanne Kalogridis kept her story true to the time period.

I very much enjoyed Kalogridis' portrayal of Sancha of Aragon. The constant turmoil she faces inside herself was really refreshing, and really human. Just because she was the heroine of our story doesn't mean she was exempt from being sucked into the Borgias' mad world. It was really enthralling to read just how such a life full of intrigue and betrayal can affect a human being, both mentally and physically.

Sancha's relationship with her brother Alfonso was really well-written. It was all the more powerful coming from a world where love and caring came second after power. I really think her love for her brother Alfonso was what kept Sancha alive.

And then there's the Borgias. It just doesn't get more corrupted and evil than that. Incest, murder, conspiracy... it's all there; and it's so interesting to read! Their lives were so twisted and corrupt, but they're so intriguing to read about. I enjoyed Jeanne's assessment of the incestuous relationships between Lucrezia, her brother Cesare, and her father the Pope. It's so sickening, but it makes you wonder... what would drive a person to do something like that?

All in all, this was a really great read. Jeanne Kalogridis' style is easy to read, but doesn't lose any of its power. The story really draws you in and keeps you itching to turn the page. What Phillipa Gregory did to the Tudors, Jeanne Kalogridis is doing to the Borgias, and let me tell you, I can't wait to read more!



Appropriateness Factors

Definitely some semi-graphic sexual matter in this one folks. With a good bit of incest and rape as well. Take it for what it's worth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


Classic Literature / Historical Fiction (127 pgs.)


The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal--a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss.


I picked up this title at my local bookstore because it was a required read; not for me, but for my younger brother. Let's just say he is quite the opposite of me when it comes to reading... he will rarely read a book, and if he does, it's almost always required. So, I told him we would tag-team read this, making it much less painful for him.

I was very surprised by this little book. And believe me, it is little. If it were just me reading it, I probably would have finished in a few hours. But I am glad I got to tag-team this read; it gave me just a bit more time to savor Hemingway's classic work.

I think the beauty of this novel resides in its simplicity: the prose is plain, unadorned, and very easy to read. But this contemporary prose holds so much power over the reader. It makes you really focus on the story, which is a masterpiece in its own right.

The old man's story is one full of triumph and loss, elation and sadness. He is such a simple fisherman struggling against something so much bigger than himself. It is the classic "man vs. nature" story. The old man realizes what it is to be human, and in turn, so does the reader.

So many lessons can be learned from this little novel... patience, humility, perseverance. It was really quite a good story, and beautifully written. And it's so short, you'll be done in no time.



Teaser Tuesdays (9)

Happy Tuesday everyone! This week's teasers come from Jeanne Kalogridis's The Borgia Bride, the intriguing story of Sancha of Aragon and her marriage into the notorious Borgias of Rome.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

"Behind the pale, upward-curving lips, behind the gentleness emanating from this Lucrezia's gaze, I saw at once the jealousy hidden there--and the powerful intelligence. And at once I believed every story I had heard of Pope Alexander's deviousness and cunning, for here it was, reflected in his daughter." (162)

--The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner


YA Historical Fiction (347 pgs.)


Hunted... Overnight, every aspect of Nefertiti's life has changed. She is no longer living at the royal palace as the intended bride of the crown prince. Instead, she is being chased by the prince and his soldiers for a crime she did not commit.

Hidden... Traveling with two of her dearest friends, including the crown prince's brother, who helped her escape, Nefertiti takes shelter in the wild hills along the Nile's west bank. She must rely on her own resourcefulness and skills (all those secret archery lessons prove very useful) as the fugitives fight to survive.

Haunted... But the need for justice gnaws at Nefertiti. She is determined to plead her case to the Pharaoh and set things right. As she begins to question long-held sacred beliefs--a questioning that could alter the fabric of Egyptian society--her extraordinary journey from commoner to royalty brings adventure, intrigue, and romance.


Esther Friesner has to be one of my favorite YA Hist. Fic. authors. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Sphinx's Princess, and this sequel was no exception to Esther Friesner's standard of literary gold.

Nefertiti is such a complex, robust heroine, you can't help but root for her to win. Definitely one of the best female leads I've ever read. She possesses such a passion for life, it's infectious! It really helps her come alive in the story and on the pages in front of you; she's not just a face in a history book anymore, she is a living and breathing human being, with a wonderful spirit.

Ms. Friesner has such an incredible talent when it comes to plot. She writes such an incredible story... I literally could not put this one down! As soon as you think you're sure of what's going to happen next, something incredibly unexpected happens, and you'll be dying to turn the next page.

The historical setting was fantastic, as usual. It feels like you're standing in Ancient Egypt, following Nefertiti around as her story unfolds.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was how Ms. Friesner built her story on the rock that is the power of forgiveness. Even after all the horrible things that Nefertiti has been put through, she learns to forgive those who have done wrong against her (and trust me, if I were in her shoes, I don't know if I could be as forgiving as she turned out to be). Nefertiti's forgiveness made the story all the more special and touching to the reader.

Ms. Friesner also knows how to play up the part of being a human being... that is, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. We can be manipulated, cheated, framed... but it is all part of life, and the key is, we have to learn from those mistakes. That fact alone made the story all the more relevant and believable in the 21st century.

All in all, this was a wonderful book. Esther Friesner really has a talent for breathing life into historical figures we don't know much about. I think if the real Nefertiti read this book, she would be proud of the work Ms. Friesner put forth.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen


YA Historical Fiction / Arthurian Legend (349 pgs.)


Newly crowned King Arthur rules the kingdom... but not the people's hearts. Unless he proves his worth, his power will always be in question. Too many want him dead, and treachery is everywhere.

So the wizard Merlinnus secretly creates a test for Arthur...

A sword in a stone is discovered--a stone that bears a legend promising that whosoever draws out the sword will rule England. If all goes as planned, King Arthur will draw the blade from the stone (with the help of magic from Merlinnus, of course), and the people will at last rally around the young king.

Except someone pulls the sword out first...


Yet another retelling of the Arthurian legend? Sign me up! I found this title when I was perusing through my ordering options on PaperBackSwap.com.

I cannot even begin to tell you how glad I am that I ordered this book, and how glad I am that Jane Yolen shared this incredible story! So far, out of all Arthurian re-interpretations, this is one of the best interpretations of Arthurian legend I have read. Yes, it was that good.

Two things really stood out to me as I made my way through this story... characters and plot.

Don't expect the traditional Arthurian characters in this book. Ms. Yolen gave them such fresh traits and stories, it was remarkable! It was so refreshing. The best thing about that was that the characters didn't hurt the story of Arthur in any way... in fact, they enhanced it, and made it even more of a joy to read.

The dialogue between the characters really kept the story moving, and lent so much more dimension to these familiar faces. Each character has their own voice, their own motives.

OMG the plot. I want to tell you about it so bad, but I don't want to ruin it! I can only say that it's not Arthur who pulls the sword out of the stone. And that one of the characters isn't who you think they are... But even so, the plot was excellent. It kept me on my toes throughout the entire novel. After a while of reading, you just have to learn to let go of your pre-conceived expectations, and relish in this new retelling.

Ms. Yolen did such an excellent job of telling this story, I cannot even stress that enough! There are so many twists and turns, it's completely unexpected! But still wonderful at the same time. She's made me fall in love with Arthurian legend all over again, and for that, I have to thank her. This was just a fantastic story!

In the back of the books, there is a short Q&A with Jane Yolen. One of her answers I absolutely loved:

"I am an Arthurholic. If a story is about Camelot, I am there! Quite simply, I think it is the greatest story ever told, or more accurately, the greatest collection of stories ever told." (354)

I couldn't agree more!



Teaser Tuesdays (8)

Happy Tuesday everyone! This week's teasers come from Jane Yolen's Sword of the Rightful King, a re-imagining of Arthurian legend.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

"And, as Arthur himself had said, no harm done. The assassin died, the king slept, and a larger magic was about to be unfolded. When the sun rose, the old mage went to bed. No wiser, but wise enough." (188)

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (20)

Greetings everyone, hope you are all doing well! Just wanted to share some exciting news... I've gotten a few e-mails from authors regarding me reviewing their ARC's (advanced reader copies)! So stay tuned for some sneak peeks from some great new authors!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey in which we bloggers share what we have read in the past week, and what we're currently tearing through this week.

Last Week I Read

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton (Check out my review here!)

Currently I'm Reading

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Blogger Hop (13) + Follow Friday

It's finally the weekend, which means time for another hop! Hosted by the lovely Crazy-For-Books.

Book Blogger Hop

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!

This week's question:

Let's talk crazy book titles! Highlight one or two (or as many as you like!) titles in your personal collection that have the most interesting titles. If you can't find any, feel free to find one on the internet!

Wow, what a great challenge! I actually found 3 books out of my personal collection that I think meet the requirements...

1. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Gemma Doyle isn't like other girls. Girls with impeccable manners, who speak when spoken to, who remember their station, and who will lie back and think of England when it's required of them.
No, sixteen-year-old Gemma is an island unto herself, sent to the Spence Academy in London after tragedy strikes her family in India. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma finds a chilly reception. But she's not completely alone... she's been followed by a mysterious young man, who warns her to close her mind against the visions.
For it's at Spence that Gemma's power to attract the supernatural unfolds; there she becomes entangled with the school's most powerful girls and discovers her mother's connection to a shadowy group called the Order. It's there that her destiny awaits... if only she can believe in it.

2. A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell

Cora Bradley dreams of escape. Ever since her reckless older brother, Nate, died in a car crash, Cora has felt trapped in her small town. Her parents are increasingly over-protective, and even her best friend, Rachel, has begun to slip away.
So Cora seeks solace in art, drawing elaborate maps and envisioning herself in exotic locales. Then Cora's maps lead her to some place unexpected: to Damian, the handsome, brooding boy who was in the car with Nate the night he died. Cora forms a tentative bond with Damian--himself an artist--who reveals to her the truth about who her brother really was. As Cora begins to piece together the fragments of her life, she finds herself falling for Damian. But will she have the courage to follow the chart of her heart?

3. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought back more with him than war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in post-war Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him... until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

Q: How have your reading habits changed since you were a teen? or If you are still a teen, what new genres are you in love with currently?

In my earlier teenage years, I definitely did not appreciate books as much as I do now. Especially the classics. Maybe it was because I didn't understand the centuries-old diction. But now I can see these books for what they truly are: treasures of literature that have stood the test of time.

-To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
-(Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Host { Parajunkee.com } and any one else you want to follow on the list
-(Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers - Steph Likes Books
-Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing.
-Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments
-Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
-If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
-If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!

Happy Friday!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton


Adult Historical Fiction (310 pgs.)


The Caribbean, 1665. A remote colony of the English Crown, the island of Jamaica hold out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, its capitol, is a cutthroat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses.

In this steamy climate there's a living to be made, a living that can end swiftly by disease--or by dagger. For Captain Charles Hunter, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking, and the law of the land rests with those ruthless enough to make it.

Word in port is that the galleon El Trinidad, fresh from New Spain, is awaiting repairs in a nearby harbor. Heavily fortified, the impregnable harbor is guarded by the bloodthirsty Cazalla, a favorite commander of the Spanish king himself. With backing from a powerful ally, Hunter assembles a crew of ruffians to infiltrate the Spanish outpost and commandeer El Trinidad, along with its fortune in Spanish gold. The raid is as perilous as the bloodiest tales of island legend, and Hunter will lose more than one man before he even sets foot on foreign shores, where dense jungle and the firepower of Spanish infantry stand between him and the treasure...


If you know me and my pirates, then you know that as soon as I saw this book at my local library, it was in my hands and I was out the door.

I had heard of the author Michael Crichton before. (Who hasn't?) As the writer of the mega-blockbuster hit Jurassic Park and the creator of the hit TV show ER--one of the longest running primetime TV shows, if not the longest--I went into this book expecting quite a lot.

I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed by this book. I don't know how you could write an underwhelming book about pirates, but Mr. Crichton managed to do it somehow.

But I do have to be fair. Pirate Latitudes was published posthumously, after the complete manuscript was found in Crichton's files after his death in 2008. I think that if Crichton had more time with his manuscript, time to tweak it and make it really great, it would have been a much better book. But sometimes, fate has other plans.

Onto plot. As I was reading, I kept waiting and waiting for the real sense of "piratey" adventure to hit me, that wonderful feeling that I absolutely love about pirates... and it never did. All the action was just kind of... there. It didn't pull me in, get my blood pressure up the couple points I'm used to.

There was nothing special about the characters. Absolutely no character development to be seen whatsoever. In the end, Crichton provides what fate the characters met in history, and as I read the author's note, I kept thinking to myself, "I really don't even care what happened to these people." Crichton never built that strong character-reader connection.

Historical accuracy was okay. Nothing elaborate or special. Researched, but not well-researched. I actually think this would be a good book for a guy who's not so into reading and is kind of testing the waters of historical fiction. It's definitely a guy's book.

Overall, I think whoever found this manuscript should have left it alone. I just can't imagine the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER wrote this. Obviously, if the manuscript was fully completed, Crichton would have published it himself much earlier.



Appropriateness Factors

I like to describe this book as an R-Rated version of Pirates of the Caribbean, just sans the adventure and cool characters. A few bedroom scenes, some graphic violence.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley


Fairytale Retelling / YA Fantasy (287 pgs.)


"It is the heart of this place, and it is dying," says the Beast. And it is true; the center of the Beast's palace, the glittering glasshouse that brings Beauty both comfort and delight in her strange new environment, is filled with leafless brown rosebushes. But deep within this enchanted world, new life, at once subtle and strong, is about to awaken. Twenty years ago Robin McKinley enthralled readers with the power of Beauty. Now this extraordinarily gifted novelist retells the story of Beauty and the Beast again—but in a totally new way, with fresh perspective, ingenuity, and mature insight.


Beauty and the Beast is by far my favorite fairytale of all time. I freely confess that I am completely enchanted by the power this tale wields, and I think in today's day and age, it is so much more relevant in a world where beauty and looks are so powerful. Beauty and the Beast reminds us that in the end, all else falls away, except for the power of pure love.

I had previously read Robin McKinley's other retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Beauty, and I was extremely pleased with that book. I actually found it quite odd that an author would revisit a past subject, but then I thought, for a fairytale like BatB, I can completely understand.

First of all, the prose of this novel... wow. Completely infused with the magic that surrounds the story. The scenery is just so lush and breathtaking. Every detail seems like it is right in front of you, just waiting for you to reach out and touch it. I very much enjoyed how much Robin McKinley focused on the roses in this story. Not only are they an integral part of the plot, they are beautiful, both in what they represent and how they are described.

The only down side I noticed about this wonderful prose was that at times it did drag just a bit, and felt a little too over-"padded" at some points. But this was only a minor and rare occurance.

I really enjoyed how Robin McKinley used many of the details of the original fairytale in this new retelling. It just made her retelling all the more powerful and viable to the reader. And it made the twists in her plot all the more refreshing and unique.

I think my favorite part of the book was the ending. All I will tell you is that it is definitely not your typical BatB ending, and I found it so much more powerful. Beauty's love for the Beast is really put to the test in the end, and how she proves herself is just beautiful.

The characters were all well written, and all had something special to add to the story, which I love. The only thing I could have maybe asked to be different was for Ms. McKinley to have given Beauty just a little bit more... spirit, I guess. I don't know, maybe this is just me comparing this book too much to the Disney movie.

All in all, this was an excellent read. Robin McKinley took the most powerful fairytale of all time and turned it into something new, refreshing, and most importantly, beautiful.


4.5 ****/*


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