Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances ~ by M.J. Rose

The Book of Lost Fragrances

Review by Shellie for: The Book of Lost Fragrances ~ by M.J. Rose

The latest page-turning stand-alone story in M.J. Rose’s Reincarnationist series. Fragrance plays a key roll in assisting the characters in accessing their past-life knowledge, which creates drama and intrigue in its thrilling pages.

About:   Robbie and Jac L’Etoile have inherited their family’s centuries old perfume business that has been passed down through the generations since Napoleonic times. The once flourishing business is in a shambles due to their father’s dementia which has deteriorated to the point where the siblings now have control of the fragrance house. Although close since childhood, the brother and sister are now in conflict about what to do with the business.

Robbie believes he has the method of finding a perfume – a lost fragrance, which will facilitate the smeller to reach a meditative state, assisting them to find their soul-mate. He’s assured himself that an artifact which he has found in his fathers work room will allow him to re-discover the lost element for this special fragrance, one that was created and used during Cleopatra’s reign centuries ago. When Robbie and the artifact disappear, intrigue and drama ensue as a variety of factions and individuals try to find him or to keep him missing.

Thoughts:  Interwoven in the story are historical tales including reincarnation-based religious beliefs systems from China, Tibet, and Egypt. It has a multilayered story line and a variety of complex characters, but the plot is surprisingly easy to follow. This is another very readable book in this continuing series, where several of the characters attempt to prove that reincarnation does exist – while others would like it to remain just a paranormal imagining.

M.J. Rose has a very easy-to-read style that is light and slightly flowery, making this book similar to her others - a page turner. The story has a complex story line with a variety of characters which the author handles well, so the reader does not become overwhelmed or needlessly lost. She deals out the story line in small chapters, varying and alternating each character’s story, so it is a book that is easy to dip in and out of. A perfect read for someone who has a few minutes here of there to read.

If you’re interested in a thrilling read, have a curiosity about reincarnation, or like historical fiction and paranormal stories, then this will be a great book for you. You can start here with the series and work your way backwards since M.J. Rose has created a stand-alone in this book. And the series is so easy to read so you just may want to pick them all up. I did. I think that this is my favorite of the series because I liked the inclusion of the reincarnation beliefs and history of Tibet, specifically some of the modern occurrences. I am curious as to where that author will take this series next. Another 4 star for the fourth book in this very readable and thrilling series.

TBOLF Button - Copy

Here are the other three books in the series in publication order:

  • The Reincarnationist (#1)
  • The Memorist (#2)
  • The Hypnotist (#3)

See my three book - group review for the first three in the series.

This book is part of a tour and the badge above links to the designated page for The Book of Lost Fragrances at our host’s site. Also part of the tour and coming up on April 5th is a short guest post on “lost fragrance” for all those perfume lovers out there, from M. J. Rose.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Incoming Books: March 27, 2012

old books 4

Incoming Books ~ March 27, 2012

It’s our fun-filled and exciting Incoming Books feature, where we share our newest books up for review. I have included book covers, some basic stats, and truncated publishers’ blurbs about the books. With some great choices to share for new, fairly new, and soon to be published reads, I thought these new books made a nice contrast to these lovely oldies in the picture to the left.

So tell us, as we are always glad to hear:  Which of these books would you pick up and read first?

Speculative Fiction:

range of ghosts

Range of Ghosts ~ by Elizabeth Bear; Tor Books, March 2012.

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards. These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

a sliver of shadow

A Sliver of Shadow (book 2) ~ by Allison Pang; Pocket Books, February 2012.

War is hell. And war with hell is no fun either.    

Just when her new life as a TouchStone—a mortal bound to help OtherFolk cross between Faery and human worlds—seems to be settling down, Abby Sinclair is left in charge when the Protectorate, Moira, leaves for the Faery Court. And when the Protectorate’s away . . . let’s just say things spiral out of control when a spell on Abby backfires and the Faery Queen declares the Doors between their worlds officially closed. The results are disastrous for both sides: OtherFolk trapped in the mortal world are beginning to fade, while Faery is on the brink of war with the daemons of Hell. Along with her brooding elven prince Talivar and sexy incubus Brystion, Abby ventures to the CrossRoads in an attempt to override the Queen’s magic. But nothing in this beautiful, dangerous realm will compare to the discoveries she’s making about her past, her destiny, and what she will sacrifice for those she loves.

a brush of darkness

A Brush of Darkness (book 1) ~ by Allison Pang; Pocket Books, January 2011.

The man of her dreams might be the cause of her nightmares.  

Six months ago, Abby Sinclair was struggling to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Now, she has an enchanted iPod, a miniature unicorn living in her underwear drawer, and a magical marketplace to manage. But despite her growing knowledge of the OtherWorld, Abby isn’t at all prepared for Brystion, the dark, mysterious, and sexy-as- sin incubus searching for his sister, convinced Abby has the key to the succubus’s whereabouts. Abby has enough problems without having this seductive shape-shifter literally invade her dreams to get information. But when her Faery boss and some of her friends vanish, as well, Abby and Brystion must form an uneasy alliance. As she is sucked deeper and deeper into this perilous world of faeries, angels, and daemons, Abby realizes her life is in as much danger as her heart—and there’s no one she can trust to save her.

lucky bastard

Lucky Bastard ~ by S.G. Browne Gallery Books, April 2012.

As San Francisco’s infamous luck poacher, Nick doesn’t know whether his ability to swipe other people’s fortunes with a simple handshake is a blessing or a curse. Ever since his youth, Nick has swallowed more than a few bitter truths when it comes to wheeling and dealing in destinies. Because whether the highest bidders of Nick’s serendipitous booty are celebrities, yuppies, or douche bag vegans, the unsavory fact remains: luck is the most powerful, addictive, and dangerous drug of them all. And no amount of cappuccinos, Lucky Charms, or apple fritters can sweeten the notion that Nick might be exactly what his father once claimed—as ambitious as a fart.

That is, until Tuesday Knight, the curvy brunette who also happens to be the mayor’s daughter, approaches Nick with an irresistible offer: $100,000 to retrieve her father’s stolen luck. Could this high-stakes deal let Nick do right? Or will kowtowing to another greedmonger’s demands simply fund Nick’s addiction to corporate coffee bars while his morality drains down the toilet? Before he downs his next mocha, Nick finds himself at the mercy of a Chinese mafia kingpin and with no choice but to scour the city for the purest kind of luck, a hunt more titillating than softcore porn. All he has to do to stay ahead of the game is remember that you can’t take something from someone without eventually paying like hell for it. . . .

return man

The Return Man ~ by V.M. Zito; Hodder; March 2012.

The outbreak tore the USA in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead to deliver peace.

Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again. But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you . . .


Nocturnal ~ by Scott Sigler; Crown | Hodder; April 2012.

Homicide detective Bryan Clauser is losing his mind.   How else to explain the dreams he keeps having—dreams that mirror, with impossible accuracy, the gruesome serial murders taking place all over San Francisco? How else to explain the feelings these dreams provoke in him—not disgust, not horror, but excitement?

Doubting his own sanity and stripped of his badge, Bryan begins to suspect that he’s stumbled into the crosshairs of a shadow war that has gripped his city for more than a century—a war waged by a race of killers living in San Francisco’s unknown, underground ruins, emerging at night to feed on those who will not be missed.

And as Bryan learns the truth about his own intimate connections to the killings, he discovers that those who matter most to him are in mortal danger…and that he may be the only man gifted—or cursed—with the power to do battle with the nocturnals.

General and Indie Fiction:


Sacrilege ~ by S.J. Parris; Random House, April 2012.

London, summer of 1584: Radical philosopher, ex-monk, and spy Giordano Bruno suspects he is being followed by an old enemy. He is shocked to discover that his pursuer is in fact Sophia Underhill, a young woman with whom he was once in love. When Bruno learns that Sophia has been accused of murdering her husband, a prominent magistrate in Canterbury, he agrees to do anything he can to help clear her name.

In the city that was once England's greatest center of pilgrimage, Bruno begins to uncover unsuspected secrets that point to the dead man being part of a larger and more dangerous plot in the making. He must turn his detective's eye on history—on Saint Thomas Becket, the twelfth-century archbishop murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, and on the legend surrounding the disappearance of his body—in order to solve the crime.

dancing on broken glass

Dancing on Broken Glass ~ Ka Hancock;  Gallery Books, March 2012.

Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler probably shouldn’t have fallen in love, let alone gotten married. They’re both plagued with faulty genes—he has bipolar disorder; she, a ravaging family history of breast cancer. But when their paths cross on the night of Lucy’s twenty-first birthday, sparks fly, and there’s no denying their chemistry.

Cautious every step of the way, they are determined to make their relationship work—and they put their commitment in writing. Mickey will take his medication. Lucy won’t blame him for what is beyond his control. He promises honesty. She promises patience. Like any marriage, there are good days and bad days—and some very bad days. But when Lucy shows up for a routine physical just shy of their eleventh anniversary, she gets an impossible surprise that changes everything.


The Tiger’s Eye ~ by Glady Swan; Serving House Journal, 2011.

With her tenth book, The Tiger’s Eye, writer, poet, visual artist Gladys Swan displays her mastery of the short-story form and confirms her place as one of the supreme storytellers of her generation.

Every main character in Swan’s collection is hiding behind a façade, reaching out, but never truly connecting with anyone else in his or her life. Over the many years that the Swan oeuvre has accumulated, this hidden and unshared separation anxiety has shown itself to be her signature preoccupation. The ultimate point being that, in one way or another, we all live as if we’re the Other. We connect physically, but that’s as deep as it goes. The blood/brain barrier is never crossed except in our illusions—those illusions that allow us to ride the surface of life and avoid seeing into the precarious, soul-shredding depths of unbearable reality.

written in the ashes

Written in the Ashes ~ K. Hollan Van Zandt; Balboa Press, January 2011.

Who burned the Great Library of Alexandria? When the Roman Empire collapses in the 5th century, the city of Alexandria, Egypt is plagued with unrest. Paganism is declared punishable by death and the populace splinters in religious upheaval.

Hannah, a beautiful Jewish shepherd girl is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai and sold as a slave in Alexandria to Alizar, an alchemist and successful vintner. Her rapturous singing voice destines her to become the most celebrated bard in the Great Library. Meanwhile, the city’s bishop, Cyril, rises in power as his priests roam the streets persecuting the pagans. But while most citizens submit, a small resistance fights for justice.

oxford messed up

Oxford Messed Up ~ by Andrea Kayne Kaufman; Grant Place Press; November 2011.

Who knew that life in one Oxford dorm, with a shared bathroom, would become the catalyst for self-examination and exploration not only of one’s soul, but ultimately of one’s soulmate? The lyrics of Van Morrison‘s music, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, and an old clawfoot bathtub provoke this unexpected journey where the exotic locale of Oxford University is an engaging backdrop for true learning as Gloria Zimmerman and Henry Young discover the loveliness in their own germs and each other.

Their relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison’s music into a desire on the part of each to fill in the gaps in the life of the other. Henry seeks to enable Gloria to conquer her OCD and enter the world of intimacy, while Gloria will help Henry achieve academic success and earn the respect of his implacable father. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval, and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely, yet redemptive love.

That’s all folks for this selection of books.

So please do tell: Which of these books would you choose to read first?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: Other Kingdoms ~ by Richard Matheson

Other Kingdoms

Review by Shellie for: Other Kingdoms (audio) ~ by Richard Matheson

A fantastical and historical story that’s dark, funny and erotic – it includes fairies and a witch. Set in the trenches of WWI and the forests of Northern England, it’s told from the perspective of the narrator at 82 years old, reminiscing this adventure from his younger years.

About:  In 1918 Alex White is 18 and enlists in the army to escape his sadistic militaristic father. Shipped off to the trenches of WWI in Europe, he meets what appears to be a young Englishman named Harold. Becoming friends quickly, within weeks Harold dies in Alex’s arms from a horrific wound. In his last moments Harold mentions a few jumbled sentences leaving Alex confused and distraught. Later when Alex finds a lump of gold, the size of his fist in the bottom of his soldier’s pack, he becomes even more curious. So he heads off to an idyllic community in the North of England called Gatford - Harold’s home. Here he hopes to find the answers to his questions about his friend’s last mumblings and the gold, and to heal from the wounds he too has incurred from battle.

There in Gatford Alex’s amazing adventures begin. It becomes apparent that fairies reside in the woods near his new home, where the locals keep eluding to the “little people’s” dangerous nature. Alex remains unbelieving, until he is inadvertently sucked into their conflict and drama. As he muddles over the boggling occurrences that keep happening, he becomes involved with a beautiful witch and an angelic fairy, creating room for some lustful interludes as well as a hard to put down story.

Thoughts:  A fantastical romance of sorts told from an unusual male perspective, it balances the darkness of its horrific bits with lustful fluff and dry humor. At time it’s realistic and historical, including interesting factual details involving trench warfare - graphic details about the horrors of WWI with descriptions of what it must have been like down below ground level within dirt walls, including the various horrible odors, day to day waiting in the mud and filth, the inevitable rats, rotting corpses, mass graves, poor sanitary conditions and tasteless cold food. Contrasting this with some idealistic dreams of several youthful and inexperienced soldiers, the older and wiser narrator does a fine job of disparaging any kind of grand visions of what war is.

Listened to in audio, I think it was quite well done. The reader uses a moderated voice for Alex’s 82 year old self looking back and reliving his story, with his New York accent. He also uses a separate voice for each different English character in the novel, even varying accents for his female characters. Alex’s character is a bit cantankerous and slightly annoying at 82, however he is insightful into the foibles and mistakes of his youth. I imagine that male readers will enjoy this tale due to its perspective, and Alex’s lusty involvements. But I will say that it went into more detail than I liked in the erotic areas.

Beyond that I think that if you enjoy a realistic, historical fantasy containing some sexy content then this will be a great read for you. A note that it does contain violence, strong language and definitely is a book for adult readers. I give this book a 4 stars, since Matheson tells one heck of a story.

The paperback edition is published by Tor Books; February 2012; audio version by Blackstone Audio.

Author Bio: Richard Matheson was born in New Jersey, raised in Brooklyn, and fought in the infantry in World War II. He is the author of I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, and more. He has won various prestigious awards over the years including the Edgar, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. He lives in Calabasas, California.

This audio book was borrowed from our local digital library for no charge; that in no way influenced my review.

It will be included in the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge – featuring WWI for 2011.

Happy Friday folks.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Basics Challenge ~ books read


The Basics Challenge ~ books read list.

What is it?  A personal project located at The Basics Challenge site, where I (Shellie) explore Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror) and where YOU can explore any genre(s) you wish!

It’s a “perpetual” 100 book challenge, with a 25% forgiveness rate, and a five year time limit. The plan is to prevent a story writer from “re-inventing the wheel”, or to help a reader to be more knowledgeable within the area of their interest(s). It’s a challenge that is open to anyone who cares to join. Let me know in the comments if it’s something you would like to do.

Titles link to Shellie’s review for each book.


  1. A Long Long Sleep ~ by Anna Sheehan (YA – dystopian)
  2. Darkfever; Bloodfever; and Faefever ~ by Karen Marie Moning (review coming) (paranormal romance)
  3. Jamrach’s Menagerie ~ Carol Birch (review coming) (literary w/paranormal elements)
  4. Other Kingdoms ~ by Richard Matheson (review coming) (historical fantasy)
  5. Oryx and Crake ~ by Margaret Atwood (review coming) (sci fi)
  6. The First Days (As the World Dies #1) ~ by Rhiannon Frater (horror)
  7. The Whisperer ~ by Donato Carrisi (paranormal crime)
  8. “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” ~ by Kage Baker (steam punk)


  1. Blue ~ Lou Aronica (modern fantasy)
  2. Changeling Moon ~ by Dani Harper (paranormal romance)
  3. Delirium ~ by Lauren Oliver  (YA – dystopian)
  4. Eddie - The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe ~ written and illustrated by Scott Gustafson (YA – historical paranormal)
  5. Electric Ant ~ by Philip K. Dick (adapted by David Mack; illustrated by Pascal Aline) (sci fi – graphic novel)
  6. Feed (audio) ~ by M. T. Anderson (YA – dystopian)
  7. Galore ~ by Michael Crummey (historical paranormal)
  8. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (Audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood (sci fi – non fiction)
  9. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke (historical fantasy)
  10. Kafka on the Shore ~ by Haruki Marakami (modern fantasy)
  11. Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 ~ edited by Kevin J. Anderson (collection) 
  12. Possession ~ by A.S. Byatt (in audio) (historical – literary)
  13. Promises to Keep ~ by Charles De Lint (urban fantasy)
  14. Shadow Bound ~ by Erin Kellison (paranormal romance)
  15. Spellwright (Spellwright, #1) ~ by Blake Charlton (epic fantasy)
  16. The Afflicted Girls ~ by Susy Witten (historical horror)
  17. The Conference of the Birds ~ by Peter Sis (fable)
  18. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making ~ by Catherynne M. Valente (YA – fantasy)
  19. The Hermetica of Elysium ~ by Annmarie Banks (historical fantasy)
  20. The Hobbit ~ by J.R.R. Tolkien; adapted by David Wenzel (epic fantasy – graphic novel)
  21. The Oracle of Stamboul ~ by Michael David Lukas (literary – magical realism) 
  22. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (in audio) ~ by Margaret Atwood (myhology – retelling)
  23. The Picture of Dorian Gray (in audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance (classic horror)
  24. The Sandman - The Dream Hunters ~ by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Yoshitak Amano (fable – graphic novel)
  25. The Uncertain Places ~ by Lisa Goldstein (urban fant)
  26. Those Across the River (audio) ~ by Christopher Buehlman (horror)
  27. Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott (sci fi – lgbt)
  28. Warm Bodies ~ by Isaac Marion (literary horror)
  29. Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar (literary horror)
  30. Wither (Chemical Garden Trilogy # 1) ~ by Lauren DeStefano (YA – dystopian)
  31. Wuthering Heights ~ by Emily Brontë  (classic paranormal)

2009 ~ 2010

  1. Alone ~ by Marissa Farrar (vamp horror/uf)
  2. Cursed ~ by Jeremy Shipp (horror- bizarro)
  3. Dracula ~ by Bram Stoker
  4. Haunted Legends ~ edited by Datlow and Mamatas
  5. Hothouse Flower ~ by Margot Berwin (magical realism)
  6. Inside Out ~ by Maria Snyder (young adult – girls science fiction)
  7. Keeper ~ by Kathi Appelt (young adult/tween, mythic - slipstream)
  8. Life As We Knew It (#1) and 
  9. This World We Live In (#2)
  10. The Dead and The Gone (#3) ~ by Susan Beth (all linked here in one post) – (apocalyptic, young adult)
  11. My Name is Memory ~ Ann Brashares
  12. One Bloody Thing After Another ~ by Joey Comeau (lgbt horror)
  13. Our Tragic Universe ~ Scarlett Thomas
  14. Pathfinder ~ by Orson Scott Card
  15. Post-Human ~ by David Simpson (sci fi)
  16. RELEASE ~ by Nicole Hadaway – (horror, vampire)
  17. Soulless ~ by Gail Carrigan – (urban fantasy, steam punk, vampire, werewolf)
  18. Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan – (dark fantasy, fairytale retelling )
  19. The Arrival ~ (a wordless novel) by Shaun Tan
  20. The Handbook for Lightening Strike Survivors ~ by Michele Young Stone
  21. The Healer's War ~ by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  22. The Magic Warble ~ by Victoria Simcox (children’s fantasy)
  23. The Metamorphosis ~ by Frank Kafka (horror, classic, literature)
  24. The Passage ~ by Justin Cronin (horror)
  25. The Reincarnationist;
  26. The Memorist;
  27. and The Hypnotist ~ by MJ Rose (all three books in one post) (paranormal)
  28. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight ~ by Gina Ochsner (slip stream, literary)
  29. The Song of The Whale ~ by Uri Orlev (fant/myth)
  30. The Stupidest Angel - by Christopher Moore (horror, humor, zombie)
  31. The Tempest ~ rewritten by Ann Keay Beneduce
  32. The Things That Keep Us Here ~ by Carla Buckley (adult apocalyptic)
  33. The Unit ~ by Ninni Holmqvist (dystopian sci fi)

For a total of 74 books read in a less than a 3 year period. I have 26 more books to read to reach my 100 goal.

This list will be updated periodically and accessible via the tabs at the top of the blog.

Here’s to hoping that lists of books don’t bore you to pieces cause I have a few more coming up. I am still playing catch-up for our “real-life event” filled 2011. Not the best year, but what can one do? “Have a cup of tea, and get on with it!” as the English say.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Cleopatra: A Life ~ by Stacy Schiff

cleopatra hard cover

Review by John for: Cleopatra: A Life ~  by Stacy Schiff (2010)

A groundbreaking attempt to piece together the true life of Cleopatra – one of the most famous and misunderstood characters of all time.

About:  Pretty much everyone has a common view of Cleopatra – what she was, what she did and how she did it. She is undoubtedly one of the most famous characters in all history. But there is the rub; famous she may be but there are absolutely no contemporary written accounts of her available. During her lifetime Egyptian civilization was some three thousand years old, but to all intents and purposes her lifetime was prehistory.

The story of Cleopatra we’ve all come to know is based mainly on Roman accounts that started to appear over one hundred years after she died, which presents two problems. Firstly, the Roman historians that created those initial accounts really do not warrant the description of “historians” – they are more storytellers, poets and PR workers, very heavily influenced by politics and the audiences they were writing for. Secondly, the “history” and stories are all written by Cleopatra’s enemies. The inevitable result is a lopsided and highly stylized account of her life, which likely bore only a passing resemblance to reality.

Stacy Schiff embarked on a worthy cause – trying to construct a more realistic biography by going back to the closest thing we have to original source materials, and then using research, logic, anthropology and psychology to strip away the mythology and nonsense. What was Cleopatra really like? What did she do and what were her motivations?

Even stripped of the sensationalized aspects of her life, it makes for a fascinating biography. She was an immensely intelligent and hard-working woman; she spoke nine languages; she was an astute and capable leader; despite Egypt having to play second fiddle to Rome she ruled a vast and rich empire; she strengthened Alexandria’s position as the intellectual capital of the world; she was charismatic; she had relationships with (and children by) two of Rome’s most famous and powerful leaders. That she achieved as much as she did in a world that was totally dominated by men is quite remarkable.

John’s Thoughts:  I was really looking forward to reading this book. I’ve always liked history and find the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations fascinating. In Cleopatra we have a singular figure who brings together those three civilizations - she was part of the Ptolemaic dynasty, descended from Alexander the Great and schooled by Greek tutors; she became the Pharaoh of Egypt and ruled the country for some twenty years; and her life and destiny (and the destiny of Egypt) were inextricably linked to the fortunes of the Roman Empire. Also, however sensationalized her story has become, at its heart was someone who must have been quite remarkable.

I did find the book interesting and educational. Very clearly Schiff is presenting her personal views on Cleopatra’s life and I’m sure many will quibble with some of her conclusions, but it’s quite evident that she has done a huge amount of research and has worked hard to construct a realistic and plausible picture of Cleopatra. Is it factual history? Probably not, but given the paucity of factual material she has to work with I think she’s made an admirable effort. She certainly does us a great favor by helping to banish thoughts and images of Elizabeth Taylor, and replace them with a much more considered, nuanced, realistic and three-dimensional view.

One big issue surrounding Cleopatra is her sex, her sexuality and the extent to which she used it to help achieve her goals. Above all other elements of her story, this is the one area which has clearly become the most sensationalized. While in Egyptian society women had a lot of power, in Roman society they did not. Roman leaders and politicians would have had a hard time handling a strong queen and it’s quite easy to see how Roman “historians” would have played to that issue and dramatically distorted the picture of Cleopatra. And yet the fact remains that Cleopatra did have children that were fathered by Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, and she clearly used those relationships to help bolster both her own personal position and Egypt’s position in a world increasingly dominated by Rome. I do like the way that Schiff reconstructs Cleopatra and positions those relationships within a much broader and more nuanced picture of the fascinating queen.

So what was it about the book that I wasn’t too crazy about? This is one tough book to read! The way that Schiff structures her sentences and syntax is overly complex and just doesn’t flow. I don’t think I’ve ever had to re-read sentences and paragraphs as much as this with any other book. There is also an odd sequencing to the book, and it sometimes jumps around a bit, which doesn’t help the flow. The fact that I stuck at it and pushed on through to the end is testament to the fact that this is actually a great story and an interesting read.

Overall I’d rate this book 3 stars; if the writing style had been easier to handle it would have been 4. If you’re interested in classical history or fascinated by Cleopatra, this one is definitely for you.

Little, Brown and Company, November 2010.

This book was borrowed from our local library. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Giveaway: The Taker ~ by Alma Katsu

the taker

Giveaway: The Taker ~ by Alma Katsu.

We have one copy for one US address, to be provided by the publisher. It’s the first book in a trilogy. It will be available in paperback March 27th. The winner will receive the paperback copy, which has the cover to the right. The hardcover is the one shown below.

Isn’t the paperback edition cover fun?

Here is a bit about the book via publisher’s blurb:

True love can last an eternity . . . but immortality comes at a price. . . .

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated. the taker hard cover

Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the nineteenth century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, Lanny will do anything to be with him forever. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.

Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is an unforgettable tale about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy, and how each of us is responsible for finding our own path to redemption.

To find out more about the author link to her website: To read an excerpt:

Simon and Schuster - Gallery Books, Hardbound copy published in September 2011.

Now for the Giveaway:

You do not have to be a follower/reader to enter, only fill out this form completely.

Your address will not be used for any other purpose but for this giveaway. Any incomplete entries will not be included in the contest. Sorry folks it’s much less work for me, which translates to more giveaways for you.

Please be 18 to enter this giveaway. Winners are chosen by and will receive their book via the publisher.

Good luck!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Giveaway Hop: Lucky Leprechaun ~ March 17th to 22nd


Welcome to the Second Annual: Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop ~  from March 17th to 22nd. Hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (badge above links to host’s post) and co-hosted by Books Complete Me and Author Cindy Thomas. This blog hop is a way for a bunch of blogs to come together to offer book-”ish” giveaways all in one place via a link up which is listed at the bottom of this post. Come and join in the fun.

wide open


Wide Open ~ by Deborah Coates; Tor; March 2012; 304 pages.

We have one copy for a US or Canadian address. It’s the first book in a planned trilogy.

Publisher’s Blurb:   When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days' compassionate leave, her sister Dell's ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell's death was suicide, but Hallie doesn't believe it. Something happened or Dell's ghost wouldn't still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell's loss, think Hallie's letting her grief interfere with her judgment. The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn't have to.

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone's trying to beat her up, burn down her father's ranch, and stop her investigation. Hallie's going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

Author Bio: Deborah Coates lives in Ames, Iowa and works for Iowa State University. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov's and Strange Horizons, as well as Year's Best Fantasy 6, Best Paranormal Romance, and Best American Fantasy.

Requirements are:

  1. Be a reader/follower to enter this contest.
  2. Fill out the Google form completely.

You have several options:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog.) or
  2. Facebook: for updates in your feed - add me as a friend. or
  3. Your Email Box.

Other optional ways of “following/friending” or keeping up to date:

  1. Twitter (I will follow back, if your account is not protected.)
  2. Feed Reader.

Please enter via the Google document:

Your address will not be used for any other purpose but for this giveaway. All incomplete entries will be deleted. Sorry folks it’s much less work for me, which translates to more giveaways for you. Winners are chosen by and will receive their book via the publisher.

This hop is now closed. We have another coming up for Easter.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Three Weeks in December ~ by Audrey Schulman


Review by Shellie for: Three Weeks in December ~ by Audrey Schulman 

A contemporary and historical mix that’s based around two story lines separated by 100 years. Its complex main characters, intriguing plots, and amazing equatorial African settings (which includes lions and gorillas) immerse the reader into its pages. The question is: how will these two characters be linked together in the end?

About:  The historical story line is set in 1899 when Jeremy, a young American Engineer, travels to Africa in order to manage a team of 700 men constructing a railroad line in the heart of the continent. The workers are brought in from India to work on the line which is being built for access to the area for “Western” settlers. As the railroad workers battle the inhospitable drought-torn environment and malaria-causing mosquitos, they are ravaged by two 400 pound lions. The lions target the workers, just as they have been targeting the African natives. Jeremy, the only person with a gun, feels responsible for protecting “his” workers and begins to hunt them. As he becomes entwined with a native African tracker, who helps him find these elusive man-eating cats, the entire area remains terrified as one human per night is taken, killed and devoured by the starving lions.

In the parallel story which is set in the year 2000, Max, an ethno-botanist, has been commissioned to travel to the Congo by a US pharmaceutical company. She is to find and bring back a special plant that contains a chemical which may help victims of heart attacks and strokes. While searching in the mountain forest she becomes inextricably involved with the team of scientists who are living among and studying a wild gorilla family whose survival is in question. Max also finds that she too may be in danger.

Thoughts:  Three Weeks in December is a terrific read and I think it has many elements which would be perfect for group discussion due to its layered and controversial themes. Audrey Schulman addresses environmental issues, gender issues, racial issues, and includes one character with a disability, making this a rich book, ripe for discussions.

It is a wonderfully descriptive story of equatorial Africa, with visions of the Savanna and jungle mountain areas, including interesting flora and fauna. While reading I kept thinking about the similarities of humans to gorillas, the complex and huge number of unknown plants that may have life-saving chemicals in their leaves, and the contrast with the torrid, dusty and dangerous areas where the lions reside. I could not help but think how easily a huge hungry cat could make us part of their menu.

The best part of the book is its complex characters, each with interesting personal attributes, giving the story depth and color. I learned from an online interview with the author that creating these characters took her some time and included repeated re-writes. A link for that interview is included below. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Three Weeks in December, with its exotic setting, complex characters, and in-depth relationship with the native animals and African environment. For me it was one easy-to-read story where I lost myself, my favorite type of book to read. I will be including Schulman’s other novels on my “to-be-read” list. I completely loved her writing style. I give this wonderful book a 4.5 stars.

January 2012; Europa Editions (first published May 2010).

For more about the author of Three Weeks in December, Audrey Schulman, link to her website:;

Also, for an interesting interview with the author around her characterization, link to an article at Book Browse.

Here, from the UK’s Daily Telegraph, is a link with some great pictures of lions in the Masai Mara - still wild and eating. This is actually quite scary after reading this book.

It’s great to be back home. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Incoming Books: March 4, 2012

book in grass

Incoming Book ~ March 4, 2012.

Spring is popping up all over the Northern Hemisphere on our lovely planet and the grass should be getting greener for many of us. (Of course, if you live in the Arizona desert like we do, there ain’t no grass and it just keeps on getting drier and hotter!)

So what’s better than a sunny day and a brand new book and some sweet smelling grass? Not much, I am happy to say.

A bunch of goodies here that we are excited about. I have included book covers and basic stats as well as shortened blurbs. So here’s your chance to answer the most fun question of the day: 

Which of these new or upcoming books would you pick up and read first?

arctic rising

Arctic Rising ~ by Tobias S. Buckell; (February 2012) Tor Books. See John’s review for Arctic Rising.       Global warming has transformed the Earth, and it's about to get even hotter. The Arctic Ice Cap has all but melted, and the international community is racing desperately to claim the massive amounts of oil beneath the newly accessible ocean.

Enter the Gaia Corporation. Its two founders have come up with a plan to roll back global warming. Thousands of tiny mirrors floating in the air can create a giant sunshade, capable of redirecting heat and cooling the earth's surface. They plan to terraform Earth to save it from itself—but in doing so, they have created a superweapon the likes of which the world has never seen.



Touchstone ~ by Melanie Rawn; (February 2012) Tor Books. Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.

Although Touchstone can stand alone, it is the first book of a brilliant, utterly engaging new fantasy series from the author of the bestselling Dragon Prince series.

what dies in summer1


What Dies in Summer ~ by Tom Wright; (June 2012) W.W. Norton & Company.    A riveting Southern Gothic coming-of-age debut. Jim has a touch of the Sight. It’s nothing too spooky and generally useless, at least until the summer his cousin L.A. moves in with him and their grandmother. When Jim and L.A. discover the body of a girl, brutally raped and murdered in a field, an investigation begins that will put both their lives in danger.




Heft ~ by Liz Moore (January 2012) W.W. Norton & Company. Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career if he can untangle himself from his family drama.

The link between this unlikely pair is Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur’s. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene’s unexpected phone call to Arthur a plea for help that jostles them into action.  juggernaut

Juggernaut ~ by Adam Baker; (February 2012) Hodder & Stoughton.     Iraq 2005.  Seven mercenaries journey deep into the desert in search of Saddam's gold. They form an unlikely crew of battle-scarred privateers, killers and thieves, veterans of a dozen war zones, each of them anxious to make one last score before their luck runs out. They will soon find themselves marooned among ancient ruins, caught in a desperate battle for their lives, confronted by greed, betrayal, and an army that won't stay dead...


isis collar


The Isis Collar ~ by Cat Adams; (March 2012) Tor Books. This is the fourth book in the Blood Singer series.

Celia Graves was once an ordinary human, but those days are long gone. Now she strives to maintain her sanity and her soul while juggling both vampire abilities and the powers of a Siren.

Warned of a magical “bomb” at a local elementary school, Celia forces an evacuation. Oddly, the explosion seems to have no effect, puzzling both Celia and the FBI. Two weeks later, a strangely persistent bruise on Celia’s leg turns out to be the first sign of a magical zombie plague.

We are off traveling again, so comment moderation will be slower than usual and posting will be at a standstill for a bit over a week, and so will twitter.  We do however, have some good stuff coming up when we return. More giveaways, reviews, book lists and challenges (loads of those need updating)…. but in the meantime tell us, since we love to hear: 

Which of these books would you read first?

Have a great week!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Giveaway and Review: Arctic Rising ~ by Tobias S. Buckell

arctic rising

Review by John for: Arctic Rising ~ by Tobias S. Buckell (2012)

A futuristic eco-thriller set in a world where global warming has all but melted the Arctic ice cap, causing a mad rush for the natural resources that have now become accessible.

About:  It is the near future, and man’s refusal to tackle the causes of global warming has resulted in worldwide havoc. The arctic ice cap has virtually all melted, sea levels have risen dramatically, and many islands and low-lying areas have disappeared under water. Meanwhile, the world’s supply of oil has almost run out and people are increasingly reliant upon the wind and the sun as sources of power.

But in the far north, the results of global warming are enabling an economic boom for some. The retreating ice is opening up vast new sources of energy and raw materials, and what used to be the fabled ice-bound Northwest passage is now a super-busy shipping lane. The Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Greenland and Canada are becoming economic super-powers, and Northern Canada is now a thriving and wild new frontier – as is the last remnant of the polar ice, which has been augmented by a man-made land mass renamed Thule.

Anika Duncan is an airship pilot for the United Nations Polar Guard, trying to patrol and police the teeming North Canadian waterways. When she discovers a strong radioactive source on a passing ship, a train of events is set in motion that brings chaos and potential catastrophe. On one side the fabulously rich Gaia Corporation is trying to use new technology to roll back global warming; but set against it are countries fearful of Gaia’s ability to use the technology as a superweapon. And then there are some shady forces in the background whose identities and motives are not clear. Anika becomes inextricably mixed up with a grand showdown that is centered on Thule.

John’s Thoughts:   Arctic Rising is based on a strong vision of what the world could become and there are lots of great ideas threaded throughout the book. I particularly like his thoughts on the chaotic new frontiers that could open up due to global warming, and the new balance of power that might result. I also liked his ideas around the impact of dwindling oil reserves and the use of alternative power sources.

The story itself is fast-paced and very easy to read. There is a clever plot line and enough twists and turns to keep on pulling the reader along. There are some interesting characters (especially one of the baddies) and I like that the heroes are not of the typical white male variety. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read.

The main problem I had with it is that is becomes just a bit too “James Bond-ish” for my taste, with outrageous action sequences and with Anika and her small gang of outsider buddies fighting against overwhelming odds to prevent dark forces using superweapon technology. It even ends with …… well, I can’t say, but I couldn’t help thinking of the endings of various James Bond movies. And all along you just know that Anika will succeed.

I’d rate this book 3.5 stars. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes futuristic thrillers and also anyone interested in what global warming might do to us. Oh yes, and if you like James Bond, give it a go.

Tor Books; February 28, 2012; Hardcover; 304 pages.

Now for the giveaway:

We have one copy for a US address courtesy of the publisher. You do not need to follow the blog to win this book, but you must fill out the Google form completely.

Good luck!

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