Friday, 29 April 2011

Review: Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

At the dawn of the Roman Empire, when tyranny ruled, a daughter of Egypt and a son of Rome found each other...

Selene's parents are gone, her country has been taken from her and she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had. 

Paraded as captives and brought to live among the ruling family, Selene and her brother attend lessons, learning how to be Roman and where allegiances lie. Devoting herself to her artistic skill and training as an architect, she tries to make herself useful, in hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. But before long, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire. 

But all is not well in the city and when the elusive 'Red Eagle' starts calling for the end of slavery, causing riots and murder, and the Roman army goes to war, Selene and Alexander, the children of Mark Antony, Rome's lost son and greatest rival, find their lives in grave danger. 

My review

Selene, only daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, certainly had an interesting life but I came away from reading this book with the feeling that Moran didn't really focus on the most interesting part of it. The first couple of chapters deal with Cleopatra's suicide and the taking of her remaining children to Rome by Octavian, but following that, the story takes on an 'after the storm' feel and mainly deals with how Selene and her brother Alexander handle settling into day-to-day life in Rome.

I rather liked the Ancient Rome: The High School Years aspect, as Selene meets and befriends the famous children of the imperial family while they are all teens and pre-teens. If you've seen or read I, Claudius, then it's certainly cool to read about Octavian's daughter Julia, Octavia's son Marcellus and Livia's son Tiberius all hanging out, going to school together, shopping, playing and flirting.

What the book is probably best for is an introduction to life in Rome. It's a first person narrative; we see everything through Selene's eyes, so we get the same newcomers' tour she does and the intricacies of what it is to be Roman explained. It only occasionally feels like the Exposition Fairy has wandered onto the pages and even then, Ancient Rome is fascinating so I'm not gonna complain about learning more about it. I've noticed that new tellings of the Roman world have sought to accurately portray the evils of slavery (I'm thinking of TV's Rome and Spartacus) and Cleopatra's Daughter uses real-life cases from the time to paint a chilling portrait of just how much it freaking sucked to be a slave in Rome.

Moran's writing is good and the story runs pleasantly along, but it still felt like a long time before anything really happened, plot-wise. Sure, plenty of stuff is happening on the political scene in Rome, but Selene is not involved in it, so we only hear about these things second-hand. Mostly we stick with the kids as they study Homer and buy material for tunics. Selene was part of one of the greatest marriages in history and I would have definitely preferred more focus on the build-up to that love story, but there's very little on it until the end.

I would also have preferred it if I'd liked Selene a little more, but after a while her sanctimonious attitude to the Romans really started to grate. I understand why she'd be biased towards her parents and why she'd hate Octavian, but after the hundredth time she thinks some variation of "Egypt/My mum and dad rules! Rome/Octavian drools!" I was rolling my eyes and wishing she'd just get over it already. Yes, I lost all sympathy for the girl who lost her country and her entire family. I actually felt way more sympathy for Julia in this version of the story.

There were definitely things I enjoyed about this book, but overall I was underwhelmed. I'd recommend it to a reader who doesn't know much about the characters and the time period and wants a nice read that's an easy way in to the era.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Review: The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Love is all you need…or is it?

Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating, so she vows: No more. She’s had one too many bad dates, and has been hurt by one too many bad boys. It’s a personal choice…and soon everybody wants to know about it. It seems that Penny’s not the only girl who’s tired of the way girls change themselves (most of the time for the worse) in order to get their guys…or the way their guys don’t really care about them.
Girls are soon thronging to The Lonely Hearts Club (named after Sgt. Pepper’s band), and Penny finds herself near legendary for her non-dating ways – which is too bad, since the leader of The Lonely Hearts Club has found a certain boy she can’t help but like…

What I liked

  • You know how the term ‘feel-good’ is applied to certain movies? I don’t know how often it’s used to describe books, but if any book were to fit the definition, it would be The Lonely Hearts Club. This is totally a feel-good book. I had a smile on my face almost the entire time I was reading it, laughed out loud in a few places and may have even punched the air once or twice. Mostly because of the… 
  • Female empowerment and solidarity! Woo-hoo! It was so great to read a book that promotes and celebrates female friendship. It perfectly captures why girls standing up together, girls sticking up for each other, girls encouraging each other and girls just hanging out and having fun together is one of the best things in the world. This book should be handed to every female who dismisses girlfriends and claims to prefer the company of men. Because they know not what they are missing.
  • Did I mention how funny this book is? Eulberg writes witty girls - gives Penny and Tracey some great lines.
  • Penny’s a fab heroine and I especially liked her when she was telling arseholes off.
  • Penny’s dad, to borrow a phrase from Eulberg herself, was ‘adorbs’.
  • All that and Beatles songs, too!

What I didn’t like
  • I’m not trying to single out Eulberg for this, it’s just a disappointing thing about mainstream YA in general, that in so many stories everybody is white, middle-class and heterosexual. I understand that is the experience of life for some people and that's fine, but it would just be nice to see all different types of people get included. I thought it would have fit in here if one girl in the Club had come to the conclusion that dating boys actually wasn’t for her at all and would probably never be.  

  •  Really enjoyable and a great message, too.

Monday, 18 April 2011

In My Mailbox #3

In My Mailbox idea is from Kristi @The Story Siren.

Something actually did arrive in my mailbox this week!

I received this in a swap from ReadItSwapIt. It's been on my wishlist for a while and I was reminded of it again recently, when Cat Clarke made it number 1 on her list of top 10 books of teens behaving badly.

I found this in a charity shop and, as I am informed that angels are the next vampires, I will looking forward to giving this angel tale a try.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Books I Loved BB

Before Blogging, that is. In between my new reviews, I thought I could post about some books I’ve enjoyed reading recently, before I started this blog. I might not remember every teensy detail, but I can remember why I liked them so much.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

I get the feeling this is an unpopular opinion, but I loved Fire way more than Graceling. I’d heard about Graceling and been anticipating it long before it was released, so my expectations were pretty high. I enjoyed it until about two-thirds of the way through, but certain plot developments I just found silly and the villain didn’t work for me. I did love the characters, though: Katsa, Po and Bitterblue. Anyway, having been slightly disappointed with Graceling, my expectations weren’t so high for Fire, so imagine my pleasure when I enjoyed it so much. And here’s why:

  • The romance between Fire and Brigan. I don’t always get into romances in novels, because the most popular pairings tend to be bad boy/good girl, while I prefer good boy/bad girl, which almost never happens (and my absolute favourite is bad boy/bad girl, which is rarer still and I can’t think of any other than Rhett and Scarlett and TV’s Chuck and Blair). Fire and Brigan aren’t technically good boy/bad girl because they’re both decent people, but they’re close enough, as everybody thinks Fire is a manipulative she-witch and Brigan is a brave, noble soldier and prince. The hint/appearance of wrongness is enough for me.

  • The relationship between Fire and Archer. Part of what makes Fire a quasi-bad girl. It’s so twisted – they’re like brother and sister and yet they sleep together. Their moments in the book vary between sweet and disturbing.

  • The character of Archer. I can’t help it; I love a no-good manslut. 

  • The family history and backstory. I love stories like these, where the characters have a history that spans generations. My favourite part of Harry Potter was the backstory of the Marauders and Snape and Lily and everybody. And my favourite part of Fire was the past drama between the parents and grandparents – it just gives it that sense of epic.

  • The trashy aspect. Another thing I can’t help – I embrace the trashy. How can I, who’s loved everything from Dallas to Melrose Place to Gossip Girl, not appreciate it when Fire has illegitimate children springing up from all over and two women impregnated by the same guy simultaneously? When a story has magical kingdoms, fantastical creatures, sword battles and throws in baby mama drama, that’s when I’m completely sold.

  • The physical descriptions of the monsters sound visually stunning. Humans and animals in colours of gold, purple and turquoise just sounds gorgeous to me.

  • Fire’s weakness becomes a strength. So often in fantasy literature, a strong, female character is one who is physically strong and her fighting skills make her equal to any man. Don’t get me wrong; I love and appreciate characters like that; I’m a Buffy fan, after all. But I thought Cashore did something very interesting with Fire, in that Fire has all the disadvantages a woman could possibly have, increased tenfold because of her fantastical nature. Fire is a target for other people’s hate, lust and jealousy and she has little physical strength. But she learns to use what she does have, to help herself and to help others. Fire can’t beat up a man with her bare hands, but that doesn’t mean she’s useless. The scenes of Fire training and stretching her mental abilities are to me, just as ass-kicking as actual, well, ass-kicking would be.

So those are my reasons for loving Cashore’s second book. It’s not perfect - I’m still not really feeling Leck as a villain - but it's a damn good read.

In My Mailbox #2

In My Mailbox idea is from Kristi @The Story Siren.

Nothing actually in my mailbox this week but I did stop by Putney Library and picked up 3 books.

Flirting with Pride & Prejudice edited by Jennifer Crusie
A series of essays on Pride & Prejudice. Jennifer Crusie also edited a book on essays about Gilmore Girls, which I read a couple of years ago and was light and fun. I'm expecting this to be, too.

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Well, Hush, Hush was addictive, wasn't it?

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
I first heard about this book on the Pub Rants blog, in a discussion post about book covers. Well, I guess this proves it's a pretty good cover because I remembered it and picked it up as soon as saw it, even without knowing much about the book's plot. Hope it's as good as it looks.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Review: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

High school senior Meg revels in being a rebel. She sports choppy blue hair, and tight t-shirts, cuts class, and is often found where she's not supposed to be. Like hanging out on a railroad-tracks-covered bridge that's off-limits to trespassers. When she and her friends are busted for trespassing and underage drinking, she's sentenced to spend her spring break riding along with a rookie police officer on his nightshift patrol. Compounding the punishment is the fact that the cop, John After, is only two years older than Meg, and a former classmate to boot. He thinks he has Meg's number and has nothing but contempt for her childish rebellion. Meg in turn has nothing but contempt for Officer After's straight-laced, by-the-book attitude. But Meg has her reasons for lashing out, and John has his reasons for his need for law and order. And they're about to discover that they have a lot more in common than either one of them could have dreamed... 

What I liked
  • This book was completely different to what I expected - in a good way. I thought I knew YA romances: they were either the paranormal kind, where the heroine meets a supernatural boy, falls madly in love at first sight and then has to fend off the outside forces that want to keep them apart. Or they were rom-coms, which involve some embarrassing encounters and a wacky misunderstanding or two, before our adorable leads realise they are meant for each other. Going Too Far is a fun read and has characters you root for but they aren't too cute or too melodramatic: They're just messed-up teens who have to learn how to treat each other right. But that is compelling in itself, because the conflict comes from the characters and their own hang-ups - not from contrived situations.
  • Meg is a three-dimensional heroine. She's flawed, says and does the wrong thing a lot, but you can always understand her and where she's coming from, even if you don't agree with her. She's also got blue hair. That's just cool. 
  • This book is actually about working-class folks, who have to plan realistic life goals which are within their means to have. TV, movies and yes, unfortunately some books, can often make it seem that teens are either choosing between Harvard and Yale or working at the local McDonalds. Meg wants to run restaurants - it's an ambition, but it's also plausible and attainable given her background. 
  • Echols really knows how to write a kissing scene. And a touching scene. And a staring scene.  And a (gulp) naked scene. Some of these will be getting a re-read.

What I didn't like
  • There wasn't really anything I disliked about this book. I have a thought that isn't entirely positive, but it doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the story: I think, ultimately, Meg and John probably wouldn't last more than 3 months as a couple. Still too much baggage and still a lot of growing up to do. However, I do think they'd always think of each other fondly. Just like me and this book.

  •  Sexy, fun, romantic but realistic.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson

A seventeen-year-old girl wakes from a year-long coma and is told her name is Jenna Fox. She doesn't remember the accident; she doesn't remember her life; she doesn't remember herself. Her parents show her home movies of her past, but is she really the same girl she sees on the screen? When the memories start to come, they come with questions – questions no one wants to answer. How did the accident happen? Why does her own grandmother hate her so? And why does she feel her parents are hiding her away? Who is Jenna Fox? 

What I liked

  • The pacing of the book is great. The intrigue is established from the very first few pages: Why are Jenna’s parents trying to keep her hidden? Why does her grandmother Lily appear to dislike her? What happened to everybody else in Jenna’s life? I wanted to know, so I kept reading and got my answers in a timely fashion. If you’ve read or watched any sci-fi before, you’ll have some idea of what's happened to Jenna, so it’s a very good thing that Pearson gives you the big revelation about a third of the way in and doesn’t drag it out unnecessarily. However, Jenna’s discoveries about her parents and her past life don’t end there and there are enough new twists to hold your interest to the end.
  • The writing is lovely; some of it reads like poetry. At the end of each chapter there’s a passage printed on a silver page – I'm not sure what it’s supposed to represent (Jenna’s coldness and detachment?) but it’s a very pretty effect.
  • It’s set in a future/alt universe that feels plausibly real. A man-made virus has wiped out millions of lives and now medicine is heavily controlled, as it is believed that science has gone too far – and the book makes a good argument that it has. This is a novel that asks philosophical questions: What is it that makes us human and what makes us the people we are?
  • Jenna’s relationships with her family members are layered and interesting. Jenna’s parents are helicopter parents of the worst kind and I’m sure many teens today would relate to the pressure Jenna has grown up with; feeling the need to be perfect. And at the beginning of the book, grandmother Lily seems like a cold bitch, but you really come to understand her position and why she treats Jenna the way she does. By the end, Lily was my favourite character.

What I didn’t like

  • What is it with YA novels and totally unnecessary epilogues? After Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, The Adoration of Jenna Fox is another book that makes this (IMO) misstep. I thought the book ended perfectly with an open ending, but the last chapter wraps everything up tidily. Like I said, the book asks intriguing questions about humans and science and to me, the last chapter seemed to answer them instead of leaving you thinking. Me no likey.

  • Beautifully written, developed characters and a plot that will get you musing on the meaning of life. Definitely worth reading.

Note: This is my first review for my blog! I've written in the way I think, if that makes sense and I'll carry on with this style and see if it works. If not, I'll adapt it.

Monday, 4 April 2011

In My Mailbox #1

In My Mailbox idea is from Kristi @The Story Siren.

In fact, the entire idea of my creating my own blog is from Kristi/The Story Siren, who inspired me by being so fabulous and having such an obvious and wonderful love of books. Thank you, Kristi.

Anyway, I thought that due to my rule of "No New Books Until my TBR Pile Decreases", it would be ages before I could take part in IMM. But then I remembered how I flout this rule every week and voila! I did get new books this week and here's what they are:

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
I already have about 12 library books out and I'd said "no more", but Marylebone Library happened to have the 3 exact books I'd been thinking about this week, so I figured that was a sign for me to go down there and grab 'em. Why this book? Well, there's been talk about a new Cleopatra movie, starring Angelina Jolie and directed by David Fincher. Interesting, right? Especially if you're a Classical History geek like me. Anyway, I think the movie is still just rumoured/in development but the supposed source for the rumoured movie is this book by Stacy Schiff and apparently it is excellent source material. The good thing about me and non-fiction books is that I read them alongside fiction books (whereas I never read more than one novel at a time) so I foresee getting this book done quite quickly and not having to renew it 6 times.

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
Also from Marylebone Library. I spoke about why I wanted this one in an earlier post. Another reason is that I'm getting back into historical fiction after a long run of YA paranormal/fantasy. The Amazon link has the new paperback cover, which I much prefer and it's now the same image as the US cover but with different colouring.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Also from Marylebone Library. Westminster libraries have started issuing some books without the plastic protective covering; I don't know what that's about; I was thinking maybe they don't want to look like library books, in case some people are prejudiced against them. Maybe some people will only let library books use separate water fountains or sit at the back of the bus, so these library books are trying to 'pass' as bought ones. Anyway, I'm going to take extra care not to damage it in any way, 'cause Lord knows I hate when I get damaged library books.

Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter
I bought this one! I have a Sainsbury's Nectar card and whenever I hit 500 points on it, I use that to get a £2.50 Amazon voucher and put that voucher towards a book. Yep, I've got a whole system going.

My TBR Pile

OK, so now I've starting posting Not sure at all how this blogging stuff is going to work out. I don't have much hope of attracting many (or any) followers and even less that an actual author might deem me worthy of an ARC. But...I don't care. I just wanna talk about books, even if no-one is listening.

So as I've nothing to post until my next (first) review, I thought I'd share some pictures of my TBR pile. I used to think it was a lot, but I've seen some others now and mine looks minimal compared to them. Mine is a mix of library books, books I've bought new, books I've bought second-hand and books I've swapped. Any suggestions on what I should hop to reading would be appreciated. No, your eyes don't deceive you, that really is Memoirs of a Geisha and some of these books have been in my TBR pile for 10 years or more. *hangs head in shame*

My Next 5 Books

I frequently like to make lists of my upcoming books in reading order. This list is subject to even more frequent changes of my mind.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson

I heard about this one from other bloggers and picked it up from Wandsworth Town Library. The copy I have looks brand-new and never read and I love when that happens with library books. "I am the first, may all others follow after me".

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

First book I got from ReadItSwapIt, the UK book-swapping site. Jennifer Echols is a YA author who a lot of other reviewers really love, so I must try her. Her publisher is MTV Books and I've read another of their authors, Jenny O'Connell (don't think you have to be called Jennifer to be published there!) and enjoyed her books, so I'm trusting the publishing house here.

Petals on the Wind by Virginia Andrews

Though I indulged in all manner of cheesy reads in my youth, for some reason Ms Andrews eluded me. But I read Flowers in the Attic this year and she eludes me no more. Yes, I have the bug, the addiction and it will not leave me until the entire Dollanganger saga is read!

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Bought this off Amazon; I've heard many good things from other reviewers.

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

I actually heard of this book when I saw a review for Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray and I thought "A historical novel about Mark Antony and Cleopatra's children? What a great idea!" Then I discovered that Dray's book was not the first about this, that Michelle Moran had also done a retelling and, while I will definitely read Dray's book, I thought I should read Moran's first.

My First Post and Other Disasters

Lord help me, I've done it. I've started a blog. The story of how this came to be is as follows:

So, I'm an avid reader and I've gotten into book blogs recently - YA book blogs, specifically. But there are plenty out there, so I didn't think I needed to add to them.

Then I started getting extremely envious of all the shiny, pretty books these bloggers always had. And I wanted books, goddammit. I WANTED ALL THE BOOKS! So I thought setting up a blog would help me get books - I'm being honest here. I want books. Because I love books.

However, pretty much every blogger says that starting a blog in order to get free books is The Wackness. And I worked out that between my membership to every library borough in London and my own compulsive book buying habits, my TBR is currently at 50+. I'm not exactly short of books. Trying to get more books is madness. So I changed my mind again to 'no blog'.

What finally convinced me to start one, was that last night I started talking to myself in my bathroom mirror. Talking to myself about books. TALKING TO MYSELF, as in the 1st sign of madness. I was just that desperate to gab about the books I just read, the books I'm currently reading and the books I want to read in the future.

I remember when I was 10/11 and my best friend and I used to talk together about the books we read all the time. Being children, we had the exact same amount of time to devote to reading (i.e. lots), we'd swap books back and forth and we would even hang out and read side-by-side. This never happens anymore - the friends I have either don't like reading as much as I do, or have less time to read or don't read the same things. But I want to talk to someone about the books I'm reading and so, the internet is going to be my surrogate best friend. As it is for so many.

So I'm going to have one of those blogs, that submit reviews and participate in memes and promote good books. I hope it's going to be fun. I hope that it will get me doing something and get invested in something that I enjoy. I really hope it's not going to become another excuse to procrastinate. I really, really hope it doesn't become another thing I procrastinate about, rather than do and add to my feelings of guilt and utter helplessness.

And on that cheery note, WELCOME TO MY BOOK BLOG.