Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

(Book #1 of the Heroes of Olympus Series, the second series set in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians world)
Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 553 (hardcover)
Published: October 2010 by Disney/Hyperion
Recommended for: anyone who loves the Percy Jackson books and Greek/Roman myth

Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?

Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunk-mates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

My Take:

Why has it taken me, a huge Percy Jackson fan, so long to read The Lost Hero?  I guess I was half-afraid to read it after the disappointment that was The Red Pyramid (Riordan's Egyptian-myth book).  But I'm now re-convinced of Rick Riordan's power-- he writes as brilliantly as ever so long as he sticks to Greek and Roman mythology, it seems. 

This new book is the epic first in a second series featuring the demigod heroes and heroines of Camp Half-Blood.  We have three new main heroes: Jason, who claims to be the son of Jupiter (Zeus's Roman incarnation) and cannot seem to remember how he learned his awesome fighting skills or how he ended up at on a reform high school field trip to the Grand Canyon with a super-hot girlfriend and no knowledge of anything (including his own last name *Carrie Underwood music plays*).  His amnesia doesn't make him any less of a likable, all-around great hero.  Leo is the Grover of this new series-- a funny guy whose mouth works about ten times faster than his brain, which happens to be better wired for tinkering and building incredibly powerful tools and weapons.  He is, after all, the estranged son of Heptaestus, Greek god of the forge and tools.  Piper's the daughter of superstar actor Tristan McLean and a notorious kleptomaniac.  What she doesn't know is that her strange ability to easily convince people to do as she says is a power courtesy of her goddess mother.  The trio arrive at Camp Half-Blood via a rainbow-pony/pegasus-drawn chariot and are immediately swept up in the conspiracies and secrets going down at demi-god summer camp.  Percy Jackson, hero of the Second Titan War and the first series, has mysteriously vanished and the camp is in uproar trying to search for him.  And Piper keeps having nightmarish visions of a new villain whom hails from the very oldest and most sinister Greek myths.  The three campers soon set out on a quest to try and head off this mysterious evil before the world (and Olympus) all goes to hell in another calamity like the Titan War.

I was happy to see plenty of characters from the Percy Jackson series in this book, though none of them really stole any spotlight from the new characters.  Thalia, Annabeth, Chiron, and even Clarisse make brief appearances, though we see nothing of Percy himself.  I also like how the books are delving into the Roman side of mythology now and the gods' various Roman incarnations and myths.  If you love the fast-paced plot and smart, hilarious retellings of myths and characters from Greek myth from the first book series, then you'll love The Lost Hero-- it follows pretty much the exact same storyline centering on a quest.  Throw in a half-dozen jaw-dropping revelations, a trash-talking satyr who masquerades as a track coach, a lot of trademark humor, and an enormous, flying bronze dragon, and you've got a heck of a fun book.  I think it's definitely better to read after the original Percy Jackson series, though, in order to completely 'get' the whole Camp Half-Blood thing-- it's explained way better in the first books.

Cover: 4/5 
Premise: 5/5 
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interview with Stephanie Dray: Author of Lily of the Nile

Today I'm so excited to have Stephanie Dray, author of the amazing new historical fiction book Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter in for an interview at A Myriad of Books. Welcome, Stephanie, and thanks so much for stopping by!

The Interview: 

(Bold: Kat
Normal: Stephanie Dray)

--Could you please tell us a little about your novel, Lily of the Nile?

Lily of the Nile is based on the true life story of Cleopatra's daughter, who was orphaned at the age of ten when her famous parents committed suicide, captured by the Romans, and marched through the streets in chains. But Rome's first emperor spared her life, and forced her to live as a hostage in the midst of his dysfunctional family. It was in the midst of this dangerous court of intrigue that Cleopatra Selene so impressed the emperor that he would go on to make her the most powerful queen in his empire.

-- You've written paranormal romances as Stephanie Draven in the past-- what made you decide to write historical fiction?  And why Cleopatra Selene?

I've always loved history but I was inspired to write about Selene for three reasons. The first is that her contributions to the Pax Romana and religious history are overlooked by historians. The second reason is that, like me, Selene comes from a long line of strong-willed women. And the third reason is that she moved me. This is a little girl who lost both her parents and all her family; she was the last Princess of Egypt, the last Ptolemaic Queen. To curry favor with the emperor, she had to hide her feelings for much of her life, but she seems never to have forgotten Egypt or those she loved. The relics recovered from her reign show that she was a woman struggling to preserve her illustrious dynasty, all while forging a life in a new nation. She forgot nothing, and I don't want us to forget her.

-- In Lily of the Nile, magic comes to Selene as a powerful and mystic force, as well as messages from Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess. What made you decide to have magic as a very real part of your novel?  Did your experience writing the paranormal help inspire you to make your historical debut a fantasy as well?

For ancient peoples, magic was real. It was a part of their every day life, and explained what the scholars could not. The Egyptians embraced magic, but the Romans feared it; they were forever banishing fortune tellers and witches from the forum. It was this clash of cultures that helped me frame the ongoing conversation in the book between Cleopatra and Rome, between East and West.

--Do you think you've found a new home in historical fic for the future, or will you continue to write in different genres wherever inspiration strikes?

I would like to continue writing historical fiction, if possible. I still have the third book about Cleopatra Selene's life to complete, and then I'm considering a novel about Dido of the Carthaginians or Olympias of Macedonia. There are so many ancient women whose lives I'd love to tackle!

-- How long did it take you to write Lily of the Nile?  What would you say your greatest challenge was in writing it?

It took me at least three years to complete it and that's before all the years of editing, polishing and submitting. The biggest challenge is that most of the evidence of Selene's reign has been lost, or is in foreign languages.

-- Have you ever visited Egypt or Rome? 

I visited Rome when I was eleven years old--the same age that Selene was when she first arrived there--and I have very vivid memories of the olive trees and the old stonework and iron gates. It's a beautiful, special place. The center of Western Civilization. I've wanted to visit Egypt for a very long time, and perhaps in the next year I'll have the opportunity!

-- Do ever you indulge in other books, TV series, movies, etc about Ancient Rome, Egypt, and the Age of Augustus?  (Me, I love the HBO series Rome and Michelle Moran's Egyptian books.) 

Are you kidding? All the time! HBO's Rome was one of my all-time favorites, in spite of what they did with Cleopatra. I just finished watching the movie Agora, which was excellent. And I recently finished reading Michelle Moran's Nefertiti, which I adored. I'm a sponge for all things ancient. If it has a gladius in it, I'm likely to watch it!

-- Fact and fiction are a long way from being the same thing.  How were you able to use 'gray areas' in what we know about this time in history to make the story exciting and give the characters unique personalities?

One of the most significant mysteries about Selene's life is why the emperor placed so much trust in her and why she was able to get away with a number of provocative acts as Queen of Mauretania--things that would have resulted in severe consequences for other monarchs. She minted coins on her own as an effective co-regent with her husband, Juba. And some of her coins implied that her mother had been a goddess, that Egypt was or should be unchained, and that Isis should be celebrated--all things that Augustus disapproved of. That she seems never to have suffered the slightest censure for this suggests that Selene had an extraordinary relationship with Augustus. The question is, what kind of relationship? That's the area in which a historian must tread very lightly but a historical fiction writer can really flourish.

Once I embraced the idea of an emperor who transferred his obsession with the woman who was his enemy onto her young daughter, a number of ancient mysteries seemed to solve themselves quite neatly, so I went with it!

-- One of my favorite characters, besides our narrator Selene, was her twin brother Alexander Helios.  I'd never read much about him before in history, and loved how he came to life in Lily of the Nile as a fiery, indomitable character reminiscent of his namesake, a sun god.  Which of the characters was your favorite to write and which one would you say was the most difficult to write?

I'm so excited that you liked Alexander Helios. I wanted him to be an effective counter-balance to Selene--and also, to show a little of the brilliance and good-nature of his father, Mark Antony, which is often ignored. I fell in love with Helios, in spite of the fact that he was such a troublemaker, and I hope readers will too. But when it came to my favorite character to write, that would have to have been Augustus. He was a ruthless but complicated man, and imagining all those virtues and depravity all wrapped up in the same man led me to delight in every scene in which he was the delicious villain. The most difficult character to write was Philadelphus, Selene's youngest brother, because a character who has glimpses of the future is ultimately so otherworldly that I felt myself shying away.

-- Selene's story is one of a young woman who gains power in a time where women had little power.  What else do you most want readers to 'come away with', having read your book?

I want people to realize that in some respects, ancient women had advanced further than women today. The progress of women's equality isn't a straight line. There have been setbacks in the past, and there may be again in the future. Just a few days ago, legislators in my own state went on record to say that women with children shouldn't be in the was as if they were channelling Augustus, two-thousand years later. So, we need to remain vigilant and determined to honor the legacy of Cleopatra and her daughter.

-- Can you reveal a little about Song of the Nile-- the sequel?  Is there an official 2011 release date yet? (I can't wait!)

I don't have an official release date beyond Autumn 2011, but I would love to tell you a little bit about it. Whereas Selene was a young and helpless girl in Lily of the Nile, she's now come into her own. Song of the Nile covers the mysterious years of Selene's life between the time she is believed to have married King Juba II of Numidia and when she was officially recognized as a co-ruler and Queen of Mauretania on the coinage of the realm. This was a crucial time of transition both for Selene as the young bride of a man who intended to rule in her name and for Rome as it endured the last dying gasps of the Republic.

As a nominal member of the imperial family, it's possible that Selene spent all those years in Rome, in the home of Octavia--certainly, she would have visited, if only to appease Augustus. But given the way that the new capital of Mauretania was transformed into a miniature version of Alexandria, I suspect that she was there--in her new kingdom--helping Juba to make peace with the tribesmen and build a new nation state. It can't have been easy for her to assert power as a young woman, but she seems to have made her influence felt, and some argue that during her lifetime, she overshadowed Juba entirely.

The single most interesting thing we know about Selene is that she would go on to have a son named Ptolemy. Now, in the ancient world, you would never name your child after the mother's side of the family in this manner, which leaves many questions open. Song of the Nile attempts to address them.

I thought I'd share a little snippet:

(from Song of the Nile)
My wedding day dawned rosy as the blush on a maiden’s cheek. I watched the sun peek between pink clouds, and knew that I must also shine for Rome. It was early yet in the emperor’s household; only the slaves were awake, bustling about the courtyard, trimming shrubbery and hanging lanterns for the evening festivities to come, too busy—or to wary of me—to acknowledge my presence where I stood beneath the overripe fig tree. Pulling myself up into the seat of its branches, I leaned back so that the cool bark was against my neck, then peered over the wall to survey Rome’s seven hills. All the vainglorious villas and middling monuments stretched to the Tiber River beyond, the pink diamonds of dawn sparkling on its surface. And as morning broke over the sprawling city of terra cotta tiled roofs, I tried to see this day with my mother’s eyes.
She was Cleopatra, Pharaoh of Egypt, a woman of limitless aspiration. And I was her only daughter. She had wanted a royal marriage for me. She may have even hoped my wedding would be celebrated here in Rome. But could she have conceived that this wedding would come to me through her bitterest enemy? In her wildest dreams, could she have imagined that the same man who drove her to suicide—the same man who took me and my brothers prisoner and dragged us behind his Triumpher’s chariot just four years ago—would now make me a queen?
 Yes, I thought. She could have imagined it. Perhaps she had even planned it.
Around my neck I wore a jade frog amulet, a gift from my mother, inscribed with the words I am the Resurrection. On my finger, I wore her notorious amethyst ring, with which she was said to have ensorcelled my father, Mark Antony. It was now my betrothal ring, and I hoped it would strengthen my resolve. I didn’t have my mother’s audacity nor the brazen courage that allowed her to so famously deliver herself to Julius Caesar wrapped in bed linens. I didn’t inherit her knowledge of heka, of magic. Neither did I have her wardrobe, her gilded barges, nor the wealth and might of Egypt. Not yet. But I had her charm and wits, the Romans often said. And the day she died, she gave me the spirit of her Egyptian soul.
Today, I would need it.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Stephanie!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez

Genre: YA contemporary romance, LGBT
To Be Published: April 2011 by Simon and Schuster
Pages: 224 (hardcover)
Recommended for: readers maybe 15 and up, teenage and adult
Lance has always known he was gay, but he's never had a real boyfriend. Sergio is bisexual, but his only real relationship was with a girl. When the two of them meet, they have an instant connection--but will it be enough to overcome their differences? Allie's been in a relationship with a guy for the last two years--but when she meets Kimiko, she can't get her out of her mind. Does this mean she's lesbian? Does it mean she's bi? Kimiko, falling hard for Allie, and finding it impossible to believe that a gorgeous girl like Allie would be into her, is willing to stick around and help Allie figure it out.
Boyfriends with Girlfriends is Alex Sanchez at his best, writing with a sensitive hand to portray four very real teens striving to find their places in the world--and with each other.
My Take:

Officially the most fun book I've read in a long, long time.  Not only are the characters are endearing, the friendships and romances sweet, and the 224 pages nowhere near enough-- Boyfriends with Girlfriends is just the kind of book that makes you smile.  There are so many one-liners which, besides being funny, speak volumes of the characters' awkwardness and uncertainty.  Gay, straight, bi, whatever-- this is a short contemporary novel of teenage love and 'maybe-love' which anyone 16 to 100 can enjoy.

The story is told from four different alternating, third-person points of view.  It stars two pairs of friends: sensitive and easygoing gay guy Lance and his best friend, sweet, straight, beautiful Allie; confident and funny Sergio, who's bisexual, and his best friend Kimiko, a Japanese girl whose traditional family and 'Tiger' mother can't seem to accept that she's lesbian.  The guys hit it off immediately and bring their respective female friends along to their first date at a restaurant.  Allie, far from being the stereotypical, out-of-your-league preppy girl Kimiko first takes her for, turns out to be a total Japan-phile and Otaku, and the girls hit off as well, becoming great friends very quickly.  I loved the girls' different references to manga and anime (being a bit of an Otaku nerd myself), and the way their friendship progresses from happy chatter and texting to the beginnings of a romance.  Meanwhile Lance, doubts that Sergio is truly bisexual.  (The whole on-one-side-of-the-fence-or-the-other theory.)  The conflict eventually tears a rift in their fresh relationship, but I'll leave you with no doubt-- this book has a happy ending.

The story is very dialogue-driven, and that's fine, because the dialogue is great and feels absolutely natural.  The characters' complexities and depth make them seem like flesh and blood, and I absolutely can't wait to check out some of Alex Sanchez's other books.  I have to say my favorite character was Kimiko, but Boyfriends with Girlfriends is one of those rare novels where there is no weak link in the storytelling-- I loved all four characters' POVs, and would love nothing better than to see a sequel out sometime soon.  (Well, not too soon, considering the book won't be released until April.)  Anyway, definitely mark this one down on your ever-expanding to-be-released list!

Cover: 5/5 
Premise: 5/5 
Characters: 5/5 
Plot: 4/5 
Overall Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Balefire: The Complete Series by Cate Tiernan

(Bound edition of Balefire Books #s1-4: A Chalice of Wind, A Circle of Ashes, A Feather of Stone, A Necklace of Water)
Pages: 974
Published: December 2010 by Speak
Recommended for: fans of Cate Tiernan's other books and the Sweep series

The whole Balefire series by Cate Tiernan is now in one edition.
After seventeen-year-old Thais Allard loses her widowed father in a tragic car accident, she is forced to leave the only home she's ever known to live with a total stranger in New Orleans. New Orleans greets Thais with many secrets and mysteries, but none as unbelievable as the moment she comes face to face with the impossible — an identical twin, Clio.

Thais soon learns that she and the twin she never knew comes from a family of witches, that she possesses astonishing powers, and that she, along with Clio, has a key role in Balefire, the coven she was born into.
Fiery Clio is less than thrilled to have to share the spotlight, but the twins must learn to combine their powers in order to complete a rite that will transform their lives and the coven forever. 

My Take: 

Cate Tiernan's books all seem to be endowed with this incredible addictive factor-- they're the kind of stories that make you want to turn through the pages as quickly as possible and give you withdrawal whenever you're inconveniently separated from them.  The Balefire series is no exception.  These books were first published a few years ago, and now are all bound in one pretty little (correction: pretty big) volume, so it's four fairly awesome books and 974 pages for the price of a paperback.  A pretty sweet deal.

The series is set in New Orleans and delves into the city's deep historical French roots.  Clio has spent her whole life learning a form of peaceful French witchcraft as an apprentice to her beloved grandmother.  She's a hot-headed society darling who just happens to know the magickal uses of pepper and mugwort and studies the principles of magick in her spare time.  It's always been just Clio and her grandmother, but suddenly witches are streaming into New Orleans from all parts of the world.  Enter Thais, Clio's twin sister, who never dreamed she might run into her Southern clone after she was forced to move to New Orleans with her bizarre new guardian, Axelle.  Another thing Thais never knew: she, like Clio, is a witch.  And a fairly powerful one, if only she could learn to control her latent magick.  Together and separately, the twins must harness their magic to head off the mysterious disasters threatening to kill their newly-formed family.  Not to mention a two-timing heartbreaker, Luc, whose treachery-- and  enigmatic affections-- threaten to turn the sisters against each other for good.

Balefire has a huge cast of important characters-- I can count about twenty off on my fingers right now.  It takes a book or two to get the various members of the Balefire coven-- most of whom have been roaming the earth for about two hundred years, seeing as they're immortal-- all straight in your mind, but once you do, it's worth it.  The characterization is as awesome and elaborate as the pacing is fast and the romance hot.  Cate Tiernan knows her magick and Balefire picks up where Sweep left off in terms of enchantments, covens, and betrayal.  Overall, I loved this series, especially being able to read it straight through.  The ending of the fourth book seems wide-open, making me wonder whether Cate Tiernan ever planned to continue the series.

Cover: 5/5 
Premise: 4/5 
Characters: 5/5 
Plot: 4/5 
Overall: 4.5/5

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (18)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly blogging event hosted at that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  This week I'm waiting on...  

Wildefire by Karsten Knight 
To Be Relased: July 26th, 2011

 (from Goodreads):
Ashline Wilde never received an instruction manual on how to be a 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess. If she had, it might have contained helpful warnings such as:
• Dreaming about your (thankfully) mortal boyfriend may cause your bed to spontaneously combust
• Oven mitts should be worn at all times during heavy make-out sessions

Instead, Ash has to learn these life lessons the hard way as her dormant powers erupt at the most awkward times. In the wake of a hometown tragedy, Ash transfers to Blackwood Academy, a boarding school nestled in California’s redwoods, where a group of fellow gods-on-earth have mysteriously convened. As if sophomore year couldn’t get any worse, her storm goddess older sister, the wild and unpredictable Eve, resurfaces to haunt Ashline. With a war between the gods looming over Blackwood, Ash must master the fire smoldering within her before she clashes with her sister one final time, which leads us to life-lesson #3:

• When warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm. 

 This book sounds incredibly fun-- like chic-lit Percy Jackson with a Polynesian flair and a cover I could stare at for an unhealthy amount of time. :)  

So, what are you waiting on this Wednesday? 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

(Book #2 in the Leviathan Trilogy)
Genre: YA steampunk
Pages: 485 (hardcover)
Published: October 2010 by Simon Pulse
Series recommended for: Uglies fans, steampunk and science fiction fans as well as history buffs

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what's ahead.
My Take: 

Scott Westerfeld is pretty much my YA literary hero.  I've never read a single one of his books that I didn't absolutely love, and Behemoth is no exception.

The book is the sequel to Leviathan, a fast-paced and infinitely clever steampunk novel set in an alternative and decidedly steampunk-ed era of World War I.  The Central Power countries are all 'Clankers'-- they harness advanced war technology in the form of enormous and sometimes android-like war machines designed to devastate their Entente enemies.  The Entente powers-- specifically the UK, Russia, France, and apparently Japan-- are the sworn enemy of all Clanker nations.  They are Darwinists, whose genius genetic scientists have engineered incredible biological weapons as in the speculations of Charles Darwin.  Cutting out all my nerd talk-- Darwinists battle using powerful and incredible animals specifically designed for war.

In this latest installment of the trilogy, our royal-born hero Alek and gutsy heroine-in-disguise-as-a-hero, Deryn, fly on the gigantic ecosystem ship Leviathan to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire (aka Turkey).  The Empire is a melting pot of Clanker mechanics and Darwinist animals and thus far has remained neutral in the war.  But they may not remain so for long if Dr. Barlow, granddaughter of the great Charles Darwin and Alek and Deryn's fellow passenger on the Leviathan has anything to say about it.  For Dr. Barlow has a gift for the Ottomans: a triad of mysterious eggs which she believes can turn the course of the war and save the world from further destruction. But the Germans are in Istanbul, too, and they're determined to make Alek, son of the murdered Austrian archduke and heir to his empire, vanish from the eyes of the world forever.

This is another book which involves history, and, as those of you who've read my reviews of historical-type books before know only too well, I tend to go a little crazy with the political summaries and war-era rants and yada yada.  *Winces*. Yeah, I really am sorry.  All blabber aside, I really enjoyed Behemoth every bit as much as the phenomenal Leviathan.  The books have such a wide audience, from adults to kids younger than twelve.  The weight of Deryn/Dylan's secret as a girl posing as an airship man makes a reader turn the pages as quickly as the constant suspense, war action, and intrigue.  We have a new kick-a female heroine thrown in the mix in the form of Lilit, an Ottoman revolutionary's daughter who is five hundred kinds of awesome and strong.  It's easy to see a love triangle forming between Alek, Lilit, and Deryn-- and it's not the one you would expect!  I was delighted-- that's not a word I typically use, but yeah, I was delighted.  Wholeheartedly recommend this one-- and Leviathan if you haven't already read it, of course.

Cover: 2/5 (not impressed-- I'm not even entirely sure if this is Alek or Deryn, but the blush is an odd effect)
Premise: 5/5 
Characters: 5/5 
Plot: 5/5 
Overall Rating: 5/5

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In My Mailbox (9)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Alea of Pop Culture Junkie.  The idea behind IMM is not only to put new books on our radars but also to encourage blogger interaction. IMM explores the weekly contents of our mailboxes: books bought, received, won, and borrowed, along with other goodies and swag. 

My mailbox had a lot of empty spaces in it this week (I detected a slight echo), but I was so excited to receive both of the books I did get:

What I Got:


-- Delirium by Lauren Oliver 
-- Balefire (the bound volume of all four books) by Cate Tiernan

Cool.  So, what's in your mailbox this week?

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Genre: historical fiction; Egyptian
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: January 2011 by Berkley Trade
Recommended for: readers who enjoy reading history as told from the womens' point of view and fellow Egyptian-philes especially.

Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers... 

To Isis worshipers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?

My Take: 

Lily of the Nile was a book which captivated my attention as soon as I discovered it.  Last year I read and absolutely loved Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran and this novel immediately called out to me as a read-alike.  But although both Michelle Moran's book and Lily of the Nile tell the seldom-told story of Cleopatra Selene, the infamous Cleopatra VII's daughter who was brought to Rome by her mother's conquerors, I was pleasantly surprised by the way author Stephanie Dray made the world as ruled by the Roman Empire her own and through Selene gave this exciting time in history so many new and fascinating dimensions (not to mention storylines).

Cleopatra Selene and her twin brother Alexander Helios are revered as saviors in Egypt, where they study and thrive as kings and queens, the crown children of the ambitious Queen Cleopatra VII and her Roman lover Marcus Antony.  But when Egypt is conquered by their parents' Roman enemies and their mother kills herself to avoid capture, Selene and her brothers are taken to Rome and marched in chains.  Selene is forced to adjust to a Roman world of politics and deception where women are married at a young age and treated as little better than manicured slaves.  But even Augustus Caesar, great emperor of Rome, cannot drive Egypt-- and the mark of her beloved goddess, Isis-- from Selene.

Cleopatra is without a doubt one of the most intriguing and best-known 'bad girls' of ancient history.  She has only a brief part in Lily of the Nile, but in many ways Selene learns to harness the cleverness and charm (and occasional brutality) of her mother as she navigates treacherous Roman politics and must hide her contempt for tradition while struggling to maintain her faith in Isis.  I loved Selene as a character and absolutely cannot wait to see how she grows and becomes more powerful, as history promises, in the sequel Song of the Nile.  Stephanie Dray has taken several liberties with Selene's story that other historical fiction writers have not, and personally I really enjoyed her alternative (and sometimes actually plausible) take on Selene's brothers Helios and Philadelphus.  In Moran's book, the brothers both perished with little influence on the world of their conquerors, but here Alexander Helios is as fiery and indomitable as his sun god namesake.  Rebellion sparks up around his character, infuriating Rome even as Selene struggles to make peace with the emperor.  I also loved the book's portrayal of other historical figures like Augustus/Octavian, his sister Octavia, Prince Juba, and the Roman general Agrippa.

Perhaps the biggest twist of all is the Egyptian magic (heka) which blazes within Selene even as she doubts her faith in Isis and is a prisoner in Rome.  Hieroglyphics emblazon themselves in her own blood and magic and danger lurk in the form of the Isiatic Cult who wish to make Selene and Helios the messiahs of their Golden Age even as Egypt and her influence seem to be falling.  I swear, I'm such a history geek(and a book geek, but you all know that;), and really could rave about Lily of the Nile all day.  But I'll do my best to sum the book up in two-words: Must.  Read.

Overall Rating: 5/5 all around

Heads-up: Author Stephanie Dray will be making an appearance at A Myriad of Books for an interview about Lily of the Nile, her writing, and all those intriguing, wacky people of ancient history sometime in the near future.  Be sure to check out the interview!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu Winner Announcement!

The giveaway for a copy of Daughter of Xanadu-- generously provided by author Dori Jones Yang, who I was lucky enough to have on my blog for an interview-- has come to a close at last.  Thanks to everybody who entered the giveaway and helped to spread the word with all the extra entries! says our winner is entry #27...

Ava at Book Infinity!

Congratulations, Ava, and once again thanks to everyone who entered.  Stay tuned for my next giveaway-- not sure what book(s) it/they will be, but I can't stand to not be giving away something at any point in time!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Weekend Blog Hopping: Follow Friday + The Book Blog Hop

 Happy Friday! Hello to anyone and everyone stopping by my blog via Follow Friday (hosted by paranormal-blogging queen Parajunkee) or the Book Blog Hop (hosted weekly by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books).  And a big hello to any of my followers dropping in to say hi. :)  Thanks so much for visiting-- leave me your links and I'll be sure to hop on over to your blogs and follow you back later. 
This week's featured blogger over at FF is Ruby of Ruby's Reads . Be sure to check out her blog and follow if you haven't already. 

The question over at the Blogger Hop isn't quite a question at all, but an awesome opportunity all the same: 
"Tell us about one of your posts from this week and give us a link so we can read it (review or otherwise)!"

My answer: I'll sum it all up fast! This week I reviewed and gave 5 stars to the fabulous dystopia Wither by Lauren DeStefano; I pondered which characters' names I might possibly use for a kid (or a cat) with Top Ten Tuesday; and I compared the many bizarre and beautiful covers of Holly Black's Modern Tales of Faerie series. 

I wish you all an awesome weekend and Happy Hopping! :D 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

 (Chemical Garden Trilogy #1)
Genre: YA dystopia
Pages: 356 (hardcover)
To Be Published: March 22nd, 2011
Recommended for: older teens and adults who like edgy dystopia novels

What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home. 

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

My Take:

I was so excited to find Wither in the mail.  I'm talking night-before-Christmas excited.  Like a lot of readers, I've long been in love with that beautiful, intriguing cover, which I just adore.  And the gritty, enthralling story behind that cover far from disappoints.

The concept of Wither sounds similar to a lot of YA dystopia novels I've read or seen lately, but trust me when I say that this book stands out among the masses like a lighthouse beacon above the waves.  Our heroine Rhine has lived her entire life in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, years after a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the young generations of North American people (the rest of the world has been obliterated) to die prematurely and horribly of a terrible sickness soon after reaching adulthood.  Rhine is only sixteen, but has only four years to live.  The story begins in the midst of action, as Rhine is kidnapped along with other young girls and taken from New York to the deep South, where she and two other girls are chosen to become the new wives of a wealthy young governor in a luxurious mansion.  Her new husband Linden is mild and distant, and now at all the chauvinistic villain you would expect the husband of three unwilling sister wives to be like.

All of the characters, save Rhine, make their entrances as distant and somewhat flat names and characters, but as the story continued I grew to love every single one of them.  Character development is the gem at the heart of Wither, the aspect of the novel which made me love it.  I especially loved reading about the three sister wives and their dynamic relationships, their pasts and their fears for their very uncertain futures.  The science isn't the strongest I've read in a dystopia novel, but the science behind the drastically shortened lifespans of these generations isn't at all the main focus of the story.  The book is often sad, just shy of somewhat depressing, and always a gritty tale of bleak futures, terrible secrets, and love found in the most unlikely places.  And yet somehow, I found it to be a message of hope more than anything.  I'm not sure exactly what makes Wither so.  Perhaps the lyrical writing and the lingering feelings of the deep friendships and love among the characters, perhaps the remarkable strength of Rhine and several of her sister wives quite literally in the face of death and ruin.  I'm happy to report that this one lives up to expectations and, in fact, surpasses them.  Definitely recommended.

Cover: 5/5 
Premise: 4/5 
Characters: 5/5 
Plot: 5/5 
Overall Rating: 5/5 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday (17)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly blogging event hosted at that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.  This week I'm waiting on... 

Divergent by Veronica Roth 
To Be Released: May 3rd 2011

(from Goodreads):
One choice.
One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs, and determines your loyalties . . . forever.
Or, one choice can transform you.
In Veronica Roth's debut novel, a perfect society unfolds into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking betrayals, and unexpected romance.

Is this the next epic dystopian series in the spirit of the Hunger Games? A lot of reviewers seem to think so.  This is one heck of a book at nearly 500 pages, and I'm on pins and needles waiting for it.
So, what are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Ten YA Characters I'd Name My Children After

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created and hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.  It's a simple and absurdly fun meme featuring one of my favorite things ever: lists.  About books. ..  OK, two of my favorite things.  So check it out if you haven't already.  
This week the topic is Top Ten Characters I'd Name My Children After.  I'm somewhat infamous for wanting to name pets after characters from Greek and Egyptian mythology or nerdy movies (ie the cat becomes Bast, and the horse Epona or Shadowfax), but as for favorite YA book characters as namesakes... 

1.  Katniss from the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I know a lot of people actually dislike this name and thought it was kind of random, but I positively adore it and most of the other unusual, futuristic Hunger Games names.  To me, Katniss is such a brave and admirable heroine and really the kind of person girls could strive to be like.  Maybe it's the similarity to my own name, on second thought... Kat... Katniss.  OK, I see it now.  ;) 

2.  Felicity from the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

Felicity is a name from Victorian times, proudly borne by Gemma's headstrong, outspoken best friend in the fabulous Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.  Felicity is by far my favorite character in the series, and her name is just beautiful.

3.  Ethan from Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

The only somewhat common name on this list.  Ethan is one of my favorite male narrators in YA.

4.  Lyra from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

 Lyra is such a brave and clever little heroine.  I always loved these books when I was younger.  Lyra is also the name of a harp constellation... go figure.  Her daemon's name is Pantalaimon... now there's a male name with possibilities... (Kidding! ;)

5.  Luna from the Harry Potter series

I wish my name was Luna.  It's so beautiful, what with the moon and moon goddess connotations... and the Luna Lovegood ones, of course.  Luna is just awesome-- her wackiness and quotes are all priceless.

6.  Zane from the Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

 Uglies has some pretty bizarre character names running through it, but every once in a while Scott Westerfeld hits on a futuristic name that actually sounds pretty cool.  Zane was one of my favorite characters.  *sobs* Scott did wrong by him.  Honorable mention from Uglies: Shay (girls name).
7.  Rue from the Hunger Games Trilogy 

Another Hunger Games name.  Rue is named for a herb, not 'you'll rue the day you met me'.  I like the simplicity and uniqueness of it.

8.  Isabelle, Jace, or Alec from the Mortal Instruments series

I cheated.  I love all the names from the Mortal Instruments series.  Honorable mentions are Maryse (pronounced May-ris, I believe), and Clary.  Alec is a particular favorite.

9.  Hermione from the Harry Potter series 

This isn't the kind of pop culture-inspired name where you could get away with people not realizing your kid is named after a character.  Everybody knows Hermione, but I love the name and her character so much that I honestly don't care.  Realistically, I'd probably name a cat this rather than a kid, but still... worst thing would be the inevitable nickname 'Hermie'.  *Shudders*

10.  Morgaine from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (or Arthurian legend, really)

The Mists of Avalon is technically not YA, but it's one of my favorite books of all time, so I had to include it.  Morgan (aka Morgana le Fey) was the half-sister of King Arthur in some legends, and a misnomer for a Celtic goddess in others.  I really love the strength and androgynous sound of the name, but this spelling would be for a girl, obviously.

So, any thoughts/comments? What favorite character from a book would you name a kid after?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cover VS Cover: Modern Tales of Faerie

Cover VS Cover is a weekly meme at A Myriad of Books that I started because I've recently become fascinated with the differences between international covers-- US vs UK, German vs French vs Australian vs new vs old... you name it.  This week we have another favorite series of mine: The Modern Faerie Tale series by YA fantasy author Holly Black.  (The series includes Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside and all three books have been graced with have some truly beautiful, haunting, and occasionally bizarre covers.)  Let me know what you think, guys-- commentary and suggestions are so welcome.

Original US

I've always liked this set of covers-- nice and symbolic.  The light cast on the sword, butterfly wings, and thorn crown is really cool. 

Original UK/ Australia
Valiant is my favorite of these paperback editions.  The Ironside one not so much, but I love the trellises twining around the first two. 

New US
 These are the editions I have.  They're undeniably creepy and the only covers for the Modern Faerie Tales where human models were used.  (...Or not so human, as the case may be ;)  I like the latter two best-- the troll ears on the Valiant cover look a little like something you might see at a sci-fi convention.

New UK Paperbacks
 The two covers are too similar, I think.  But at least these are simple enough that they have a wide appeal.  I don't think Valiant was released with as one of these new paperback editions, seeing as it's technically separate from the other two books. 

Original Tithe Hardcover-- US
The original cover for Tithe is by far my favorite out of all these.  It's so gruesome, perfect for the story, and the art is simply beautiful.  Too bad the other books in the series were never released with covers with art by this artist. 

What do you guys think-- which of these covers is perfect, and which is not so much?  If you know of any covers I've missed, or have suggestions for next week's theme, be sure to let me know!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In My Mailbox (8)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Alea of Pop Culture Junkie.  The idea behind IMM is not only to put new books on our radars but also to encourage blogger interaction. IMM explores the weekly contents of our mailboxes: books bought, received, won, and borrowed, along with other goodies and swag. 

This week the contents of my mailbox were of a wide variety-- all of the books have me excited beyond reason. :) 
What I Got:

For Review: 

From The Library: 


-- Wither by Lauren DeStefano 
-- Lost Voices by Sarah Porter 
-- A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler 
-- Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
-- Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter (signed!) by Stephanie Dray with cool ankh pendant

Thanks to: 
-- The Gaston-Lincoln Country Library System 
-- Good Golly Miss Holly ARC Tours 
-- A big thank you to Mrs. Stephanie Dray-- you and your book and your awesomeness are appreciated beyond words

So, what's in your mailbox this week?

Interview with Julie Kagawa, Author of the Iron Fey Trilogy

 Today I'm so excited to have Julie Kagawa, author of the amazing, bestselling, altogether awesome fantasy series, the Iron Fey trilogy, for an interview at a Myriad of Books.  I recently hosted a giveaway for the Iron Fey books (which is closed as of a few days ago) and had a ton of fun featuring them.  
 About Julie: 
  Julie Kagawa was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel.     When not swimming for her life, Julie immersed herself in books, often to the chagrin of her schoolteachers, who would find she hid novels behind her Math textbooks during class. Her love of reading led her to pen some very dark and gruesome stories, complete with colored illustrations, to shock her hapless teachers. The gory tales faded with time, but the passion for writing remained, long after she graduated and was supposed to get a real job.
    To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dogtrainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full-time.
Julie now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where the frequency of shark attacks are at an all time low. She lives with her husband, two obnoxious cats, one Australian Shepherd who is too smart for his own good, and the latest addition, a hyper-active Papillon puppy.

The Interview:

Bold= Kat 
Normal= Julie  
-- What I love most about the Iron Fey series  is how you combine the Winter and Summer Court faeries of lore with Meghan, a modern-day gal and the modern, high-tech world.  What inspired the iron fey and your modern takes on mythical characters?

        Faeries, the old, ancient fey, not the glittery winged sprites, have always fascinated me.  But I wanted to write a book that was different than other faery books.  So I began thinking: what are the fey afraid of?  The answer, in most ancient mythos, is iron.  Faeries can’t stand the touch of iron and steel.  So, what if there was a new type of fey that had evolved with progress over the years?  What if they weren’t only immune to iron, their existence was slowly poisoning and corrupting the lands of the traditional fey?  And I realized we already have “monsters” in machines: gremlins, bugs, viruses, etc.  And from that thought, the Iron fey were born.

-- My favorite characters in the series are definitely Puck and Grimalkin.  Which of your characters is the most fun to write, and which is the most challenging?  Do you have a personal favorite?

        Grimalkin was the most fun to write, and surprisingly, Meghan was the most difficult, because I had to balance bravery and determination with the fears and insecurities of a teenage girl.  Meghan is only sixteen, and at first she did what most would do when faced with terrifying creatures that wanted to eat her: she screamed and ran. 

        I have to say Ash is my favorite, though.  I just have a thing for a dark brooding HBWS (Hot Boy with Sword).  Its a weakness.       

-- When you first began writing The Iron King, did you have any idea that the Team Puck vs Team Ash love triangle phenomena would commence?  Or was it all part of your diabolical plan from the get-go? :)

        No, not a clue, lol!  I must say, the first time I heard the term "Team Ash/Puck" it was a shock.  I am thrilled, however, that both boys have their loyal fans.  I don't even mind when people say things like: "I can't stand Puck/Ash because of such-and-such," or "Puck is so much better then Ash because of this," because it means the characters have become real.
-- Which faerie creatures of the Never-Never are your favorite to write?  (I love the phookas, and of course, the resident cat sith.)

        I like Grimalkin, of course, but I will admit I have a soft spot for the packrats and the gremlins.  Particularly for a certain gremlin who makes his appearance in The Iron Queen.

-- Do you read a lot?  Who are some of your favorite authors who've inspired you? 

        I don't read as often as I want anymore, but some favorite authors are Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, and Maria V. Snyder (Valek!).  

-- You're obviously a pretty dedicated gamer.  Have you ever imagined your books adapted into a video game?  (Or a movie, graphic novel... the possibilities are endless!)  Any word on whether an adaptation like that could possibly be in the works?
        Um, only all of them, lol.  The ending of Final Fantasy 10, Final Fantasy 8, and Fushigi Yugi, were all big inspirations for the ending of The Iron Queen.  Sadly, there are no adaptations in the works as of now.  Fingers crossed, though.  ;) 
book 3

-- What can you tell us about The Iron Knight, the fourth book in the Iron Fey series starring Prince Ash?

    Only this: If you think you know Ash, you haven't seen anything yet. 

Thanks so much for letting me interview you, Julie!

    Thanks so much for the interview! 


Friday, February 4, 2011

Follow Friday & The Book Blogger Hop (16)

TGIF!!!  This week has honestly been one of the longest, most frustrating weeks I can remember, but there's nothing like a few hours of blog hopping (best accompanied by pizza, a stack of books, and some really loud music) to kick off the weekend!  A big hello to anybody stopping by my blog for the first time today via Follow Friday (hosted by the awesome Parajunkee) or the Book Blogger Hop (hosted weekly by Jennifer over at Crazy-For-Books).  Leave your link when you comment, and I'll be sure to hop on over to your blog later, once I escape from school.
Also, be sure to check out my giveaway for awesome YA historical fiction novel Daughter of Xanadu and my interview with author Dori Jones Yang (here).  There's only one week left to enter, and entries are bizarrely low, so you've got a great shot at winning the book!

This weeks featured blogger over at FF is Katy of Vision Quest Fail.  The question is:

What is the book you are currently 'pushing'?

My answer: What book aren't I pushing is a better question!  I love to let people I know browse my bookshelves (which are more crammed than the small town library's) and let them pick out whatever sounds great to them and offer recommendations.  But I'm always loaning out the Hunger Games trilogy, as well as the Gone series by Micheal Grant.  (If you haven't already... read these books!! I'm being pushy about it. :)

The Blog Hop question is: "What are you reading now and why are you reading it?"
My answer: Currently I'm absorbed in Wither by Lauren DeStefano (great book!), as well as Lost Voices by Sarah Porter.  After that I'm looking forward to diving into Behemoth.  I haven't been able to do as much reading or blogging and reviewing lately because of my super-hard honors classes and hardcore studying for the SATs, but as of now I'm going to start fitting reading in one way or another!

I wish you all happy hopping and an awesome weekend!
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