Backlist Bonus: The Memoirs of Cleopatra

20764393by Margaret George
Fiction / Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I’ve read this twice now and each time took me a couple of months, but I reveled in the rich experience of it. This book is a brick, it’s true (I usually had to put it on a table to read it) but the writing is superb. George has a lyrical style that is filled with detail, so even in the midst of events you have time to absorb everything. This style isn’t for everyone, but if you want a historical novel that makes it feel like you took a physical trip to the past, you can’t beat this. You come away from this feeling as if you just spent months in Cleopatra’s Egypt.

Cleopatra ascends the throne after many political plots and threats from her siblings, only to inherit an Egypt crippled politically and economically by debt and the threat of Rome’s empire. She must use all of her wits and considerable knowledge to protect her country and safeguard it for generations to come. The incredible lengths she goes to in order to achieve this are what makes up the bulk of the novel, though it does cover her entire life from her childhood to her death.

The author’s note in the back (aside from detailing her years of research) points out what I agree to be a common opinion about Cleopatra. We simultaneously know nothing and everything about her. We know the caricature of her in great detail thanks to writers of the time and Shakespeare (perfumes, oils, death by snake, famous lovers), but we don’t know who her mother is. It’s both easy and hard to believe that this novel could be so long. Historical fiction isn’t normally my genre of choice, but someone recommended this to me and I’m so glad I read it. It reminded me of my intense fascination with ancient Egyptian culture when I was in junior high.

For history sticklers, George provides clarification as to which events and relationships are well-documented, which could be surmised, and which ones were the author’s creative license. It’s a commitment to read, but in my opinion it’s well worth the effort.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Helen of Troy by Margaret George – Although not a historical figure, this is a reasonably absorbing account of the legend of the most beautiful woman in the world. See my review here.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – A fascinating and detailed account of a fictional geisha, largely set during World War II. The story is both heart-wrenching and hopeful as Sayuri struggles to find love and acceptance within the tight bonds and restrictions of Japanese society. Beautifully told and the film is excellent as well.
  • Death Comes As the End by Agatha Christie – A unique mystery set in ancient Egypt. This is one of my favorite Christie novels. As usual, the plot is impossibly intricate and the characters are well-drawn.

Peter Pan

peter panby J.M. Barrie
Children’s Fiction / Classics
5 of 5 stars

This has been one of my favorite classic children’s stories for years, and I received this gorgeous edition for Christmas! This embossed hardcover comes fully illustrated with 3-D interactive pop-up elements throughout. Eep! (My previous version was a strange Borders edition with some goth girl in a “Tink” t-shirt on the front. It obviously had to go). My only critique is that “big words” and certain British usages are defined in brackets for younger readers. Learn from context, your parents, or Google, children. It’s good for you!

All that aside, the story itself is fantastic if you haven’t read it. This was a no-brainer to choose for my first classic novel of the year. Yes, it’s a kid adventure story about a flying boy that never grows up, but there are poignant and interesting pearls of wisdom hidden here, too.

Barrie’s descriptions are stirring and memorable, and the episodic adventures are a perfect representation of childhood fun. I haven’t come across this sort of narrative style in quite the same way, so just add this to your list. If you’ve seen a film or stage version, you officially have no idea what the story is really like (although the 2003 adaptation with Jeremy Sumpter comes closest in terms of dialogue and symbolism). Read this and let your heart laugh and twist with wistful feelings.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, this edition of Peter Pan is available on Goodreads and on Boulder Book Store’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – A brave little mouse sets out to become a knight in a kingdom’s castle to save the beautiful Princess Pea. Charming and full of excellent symbolism.
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – A “traditional” fairy tale that examines what it is to be human as the last unicorn searches for the rest of her kind with the help of a cynical woman and a magician that can’t do magic.
  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket – The first in A Series of Unfortunate Events which follows the three orphaned siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny as they get passed from guardian to guardian trying to avoid their nefarious uncle, Count Olaf, and uncover mysteries relating to their parents’ deaths. Darkly humorous and almost too vague at times, but enjoyable.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – A philosophical and sharp look at modern society through the eyes of a visiting child-prince. See my review here.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – An illustrated and hilarious look at one boy’s quest to prove dragons aren’t all evil monsters. Just as good as the movie!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidyBy Marie Kondo
Nonfiction (translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano)
4 of 5 stars

This tiny book is full of great insights regarding 1. Why do I have so much stuff?! and 2. How do I keep from being overwhelmed by all my stuff?!

One of my friends recommended this to me before our move to Colorado since we were giving up half our square footage, plus a garage and a basement for a 1-bedroom apartment. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read it then (my library was too slow!) but I decided it would still be worth looking at so I reserved it here. Three months later, it was finally in my hands! Needless to say, this book is extremely popular because it’s concise and most Americans feel they probably have too much stuff. And ‘tis the season of New Year Resolutions and “Spring Cleaning” (that’s from January – May, right?).

Although personally I feel I’m good at keeping only the things I love or use, I was impressed by the KonMari method of cleaning and organizing your home. (I actually took notes should I ever need to do this in the future…yep). What is her process? Simple: Discard every single item in your home that is not functional and does not “spark joy” in you.

What’s unique about her approach is that she does not shy away from the psychological reasons why we buy/keep/store many items that cause us stress or make our homes feel cluttered. It’s not as simple as a “shopping problem” or “not enough drawers/storage space” – there are many reasons why we have things that we can typically admit we “wish we could get rid of but just can’t.” Maybe the item was a gift, or you didn’t use it as much as you thought you would, or you don’t want it to go to waste, or getting rid of it will mean giving up on whatever goal it was for….the list goes on. Addressing the reasons why you are keeping something is crucial to knowing what to do with it. Coming from my parents’ home that is stuffed to bursting with items that “we might need someday” or that have “sentimental value” I was eager to read about this. I am obsessed with keeping my footprint as small as possible (aside from my books, let’s be reasonable!), and I found her tips clever and useful.

This little book really is worth reading, so I won’t go into the details of the process (discarding by categories, reviewing why you have each item and how it makes you feel, etc.). It’s a great way to start a new year, especially if you want to feel happier and freer than you did last year. If one of your resolutions was organizing and deep cleaning your home, put your money where your mouth is and try the KonMari method – I think the results will be surprising and pleasing for you!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova – This is a book about organizing your mind the way you organized your home with Marie Kondo’s help. There are tips on how to remember facts as well as never losing your car keys again. Although few people could rise to the Sherlock level, this analysis will probably help.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – This is chock-full of great life advice for keeping yourself happy, healthy and hungry for the best in life. You only get one, why waste it being miserable or unsatisfied? Full of good jokes as well as insights from one of the top comediennes. See my review here.

Captive Prince

captive princeby C.S. Pacat
Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 2, 2013 (eBook)

*Mature readers*

When all of your friends give a book 5 stars, it’s time to check it out!

This story began as an online serial before getting picked up and published in print format. Looking back, I think the serialization is a bit evident in that each chapter feels episodic. This is an intensely character-driven story, so don’t look for intense world-building or much action. This is about relationships and political intrigue between Damen and Laurent.

Kastor kills their father and removes his brother Damen to usurp the throne. He sends Damen to Vere as a slave, his true identity a secret, in shock from betrayal and unsure of his future. Laurent is the Crown Prince of Vere, waiting to ascend the throne currently ruled in his stead by his uncle, the Regent. He is Damen’s new master. Laurent hates Damen and his country, Akielos, for killing his father and brother during a war. Damen knows if Laurent finds out his true identity, he’ll be killed, so he resolves to escape. Mind games, torture, and surprising acts of understanding ensue in the sensual Veretian royal court.

I have to admit, even though technically not a lot happens, this book had me engrossed. The characters are so vivid, and Damen’s predicament gets progressively more complicated as he tries to balance pleasing the different factions within the court with his true desire to escape and reclaim his throne in Akielos. Dominance and submission is of course the biggest theme in this story, as the push and pull between Damen and Laurent deepens into a sort of grudging, mutual respect. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Captive Prince is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Another instance of someone winning a slave they don’t want, only to discover they might not be so different. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – For another relationship between captor/apprentice this is an excellent story with dark magic. See my review here.
  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon – Paige Mahoney is a clairvoyant, meaning she is a criminal just for existing. When the totalitarian government Scion captures her she becomes Warden’s personal slave. What she doesn’t expect is that he might be the key to her escape. See my review here.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – Feyre kills a fairy and her life is forfeit. But her time spent in Tamlin’s kingdom makes her wonder what his true motives are for holding her captive. See my review here.

What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

The final book comes out in April, so I can read one book per month to hold me over until we get the conclusion to this epic paranormal adventure!

Raven King

What if you don’t have time? There’s an amazing site out there called Recaptains: readers who recap and sum up everything in previous books so you are fully prepped for the next one. A life-saver time-saver for sure!

Here is the recap of The Raven Boys, and The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue from their site. Beware, there are spoilers on purpose!

Tides

test3by Betsy Cornwell
YA Fantasy/Paranormal Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – June 4, 2013

First of all, this cover is incredible. The hardcover’s jacket is pearlescent and gorgeous. The story starts off moody and promising a lot of serious content within the world of a vivid New England island. Selkies are an interesting facet of mythology not often covered within YA so I was really excited to snag this on a whim from my library (yes, due to the beautiful cover). Noah is trying to land the most important internship of his life. Lo is fighting her second eating disorder. Their grandmother is full of secrets that start coming out now that they finally get to spend time with her on the island. And of course, there are the selkies.

This was a really nice change of pace for me – kind of like when you see a TV show or movie that isn’t normally your thing. Although it doesn’t get into as much depth as I’d like for certain issues, I flat out enjoyed this story. I love the characters, and that’s what made it for me. All of their relationships are nuanced and solid. The other elements (plot, pacing, writing) are very decent for a debut novel but there are few moments that could be smoothed over. It’s a bit trope-tastic but not in an annoying way–the best I can say it is that for weeks after I read this I kept thinking about the characters and the stormy coastline, and any book that stays with me like that earns my recommendation!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Tides is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – When I think of mixing fantasy elements or legends with reality, I think of Stiefvater first. This quartet is set in small-town Virginia as Blue Sargent becomes involved with a group of prep-school boys searching for a legendary dead Welsh king. See my review here.
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Again, for incredible atmosphere and the casual mix of magic with the mundane, this is an excellent choice. Instead of peaceful selkies, you’ll encounter deadly water horses. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – If you’d like a bit more magic, visit the small tourist town of Fairfold and follow Hazel’s adventures with the ever-dangerous faeries and their plots. See my review here.
  • Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare – Although her first trilogy set in NYC might be a closer match technically, I can’t stand the writing. So I offer up this recommendation for Shadowhunters killing demons in Victorian London. All the interpersonal drama you could desire interspersed with magic and action.
  • Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly – Mermaids from all the oceans must unite to fight a terrible evil. Sera was worried about living up to her mother’s (the queen’s) hopes, but when a terrible attack happens, Sera must shoulder the responsibility for her kingdom whether she feels ready or not. Fantastic female friendships! See my review here.

2016 Writing Goals

It’s January, and new goals are required. Although I ended up writing more than I expected last year, I want to greatly expand on that this year. I’m overhauling my YA fantasy novel again, and I want to have it ready for submission this spring (i.e. by May 15th!). Having a goal like that instantly makes it feel like winter is already over and I’m out of time, but that’s simply not true. However, this is a huge reason why I chose to cut my book reviews down to one a week instead of two. I simply can’t prioritize both and get anything worthwhile done.

What do I need to do in order to have my novel on submission in 4-5 months?

1) Finish all writing revisions (minor plot tweaks, cut some bad scenes, rework other scenes, and make the first half as fun and exciting as the second half)

2) Do a final read-through of the entire manuscript

3) While I’m reading it, I will probably ask some of my amazing CP’s to look at the final version and get some feedback

4) Write an absolutely top-notch, kick-ass query letter, and a synopsis (this will be the most hellish part)

5) Compile an updated list of dream agents to receive my amazing query letter and first chapters

That’s the first half of the year. What do I want to do once I’m on submission?

1) Begin serious work on the sequel to my fantasy novel (finalize the plot and start writing a few scenes)

2) Finish revisions on my YA contemporary novel, which is currently sitting at 60% revised. I want this book ready to submit in 2017, if I choose to do so.

I’m reasonably confident that if I don’t get lazy or stuck in a really bad rut of zero inspiration I can accomplish these goals. Half the battle is committing in the first place, right? I also have an amazing group of CP’s to help me out when I’m stuck! (A big thank you in advance goes to: Akshaya, Janella, Maddy, Erin, Katy, Christine and Ella! All of their writing adventures are on their lovely blogs.)

If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work, trust me, so am I! But thankfully I have a new writing buddy to hang out with while I plug away at these goals. Meet Kiwi! She is a mini dachshund puppy and pretty much perfect. 🙂

IMG_20160101_140028

The two of us will be spending plenty of time cozy by the fire. ❤

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