Hatshepsut: The Pharaoh-Queen of Egypt (in60Learning)

I received a free copy of Hatshepsut: The Pharaoh-Queen of Egypt in exchange for an honest review. This didn’t affect my opinion of the book.

Much like this book, my review is going to be quick and painless. While there are definitely people like me out there who are happy to dive into massive biographies or histories, I completely understand that they aren’t for everyone. With this series, each book is designed to be read in about an hour. For me, it was a solid 30 minutes, with some distraction.

I chose something ancient Egyptian for my review, because since that it a topic I feel really passionate about (I’ve been OBSESSED with ancient Egypt since the 3rd grade), I felt like I could be a reasonably good judge of accuracy. I’m no expert, by any means. My qualifications include 20+ years of personal interest and a degree in Art History and Archaeology with a history minor. This seemed pretty accurate to me, I certainly didn’t see any egregious errors.

It was also fresh and engaging. I can see this being pretty important to those who don’t want to spend a great deal of time reading. It also helps that Hatshepsut is extremely interesting.

Personally, I’ll stick with more in-depth books, but I really love the idea of this series. Being someone who LOVES history, I’m whole-heartedly behind something that makes it more accessible to a wider audience. I’m looking forward to a volume on my favorite phararoh, Akhenaten (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Learn more here.

The Case for Jamie (Brittany Cavallaro)

Holmes and Watson are back- not only Charlotte and Jamie, but Leander and James, as well.

It’s been a year since Jamie Watson (or anyone else, for that matter) has seen Charlotte Holmes. After the events that lead to the death of August Moriarty, Jamie has been going through the motions, trying to finish his final year at school. When strange things start to happen, he can’t help but wonder if it’s his imagination running wild, or if Lucien Moriarty could be behind it all.

This third installment in the Charlotte Holmes series is definitely chock full of teenage angst, but what might have been cloying, works here. The chapters rotate between narration from Jamie and Charlotte. While it would be easy to write Jamie’s affection for Holmes off as misguided, her chapters help add a layer of insight into why she is the way she is. Removed from Watson’s pedestal, she’s more human. Damaged, absolutely, but far more like the rest of us than she ever previously seemed. Hearing from Charlotte herself was one of the things I really enjoyed in the last book, and I was pleased to see it employed more here.

Jamie’s girlfriend Elizabeth proved to be an interesting character, as well. While I know she was in the first book in the series, A Study in Charlotte, she’s a complete blank for me. Here, she proved something of a surprise, not only for me, but for Jamie Watson, as well.

A Case for Jamie provides all the twists and turns that one should expect from a Holmesian novel. There is plenty of action and more than a few surprises tempered by emotions, but all in all, it strikes a good balance. While I have enjoyed all the books in the series so far, this one might be my favorite. The Last of August (see my review of that one here) got a little hard to follow at times. I like complex mysteries, but I don’t like to be left in the dust.

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I really feel like this series is a do not miss. Same if you are a fan of YA.

The Thirteenth Gate (Kat Ross)

Sorry that there has been a bit of a delay on posts. I spent last month working on another book related project that I might be sharing some time in the future. Anyway, on to The Thirteenth Gate.

Last year, you may recall I review Kat Ross’s The Daemoniac (catch up on that review here). That book was a prequel to this one, which is the first in the Dominion Mysteries series. While The Daemoniac ends just shortly before the Jack the Ripper murders, this one picks up shortly after they ended.

Here we met Vivienne Cumberland and her companion, Alec Lawrence, on their way to the Greymoor Lunatic Asylum in the dead of a rainy night. Really, can a book begin in a better way? Initially, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to have more adventures with Harry and John. They do show up and play a major role, but not until a little ways into the book.

That disappointment did not last long. This book somehow managed to delve even further into the supernatural, but still managed to maintain the mystery element that was particularly fun in the previous book.

It did lead me even further down the rabbit hole, however. Now, having been introduced to Vivienne and Alec, I wanted to know more. I knew Kat Ross had other books that had a connection to this series, but I had not yet sought them out. As it turns out, Midnight Sea is available to read for free. It was, of course, amazing. I picked up the entire trilogy and devoured them. She is also two books in to another connected series. I haven’t yet gotten my hands on those yet, but I will and I definitely recommend you do to.

So, if you feel like losing yourself for awhile, you really can’t go wrong with a little Kat Ross.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride (Cary Elwes and Joe Layden)

So, I’m starting out the year with a book that isn’t exactly new, but it’s new to me. Somehow, I never knew about this book, despite the fact that I love The Princess Bride (and, admittedly, had a crush on Cary Elwes for years). It showed up on one of the websites I follow for ebook deals a short time ago, so naturally, I had to scoop it up.

I am absolutely so pleased that I did. The book is utterly charming. It was such fun to have an insider’s view on the film-making process, particularly as the movie is an all time favorite. Cary Elwes enjoyment was clear and overall left me brimming with warm-fuzziness. The book also includes asides from director Rob Reiner and many others, including much of the cast.

While it’s possible there is a certain amount of sugar coating going on (there was nothing scandalous or really even all that unpleasant), the narratives do come off as genuine. Ultimately, being a romantic, I choose to go with it. Particularly notable are the reflections of the cast and crew about the late André the Giant.

Finishing the book, of course, merited a rewatch of the movie, which was all the more enjoyable because A) I had the best company ever and B) I could pick out many of the fun little details that I had read about.

If you are a fan of The Princess Bride this book is well worth your time. Plus, right now, it’s still only $1.99 for the Kindle. And if you need a cocktail to go with your reading, as you wish, you can find my recommendation here.

2017 Reading Round-up

Happy New Year!

Shall we dive right in? I had a few goals for 2017: read 100 books, finish my first novel and review at least one book every two weeks.

Long story short: I failed every single one of them. And you know what? That’s ok.

It wasn’t an easy year. Very little went as I intended, but I realize more and more, that’s just life. Yes, I neglected my blog, but I took more time to take care of myself which is an easy trade. I’ve written before about my relationship with books (Why I Love Books) and that is still true, but in the end, I think it was good to step away for awhile and focus on the real world.

But, it’s not all bad news. I did accomplish a few things. I still read 76 books. I not only started my novel, but have made reasonably good progress on it (by the way, if you are interested in possibly beta reading for me, we should chat). There is no pressure. I’ll finish it when I finish it. Ultimately, I’m really happy with where I ended the year, both personally and as a reader. The year had it challenges, but it was all worth it in the end. I’m calling it a win.

Back to those books I did read. As usual, my YA reading was a standout for me. I started the year with two great ones: The Blazing Star and A Study in Charlotte. It only got better and better. King’s Cage, The Last of August, Caraval, Crooked Kingdom. My favorite of the year was probably Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. It was brilliantly fun. You can explore the full list of everything I read on my Goodreads page.

My to-read stack for this year is already full and there are going to be several books coming out through the year that I am really looking forward to getting my hands on: War Storm, Queen of Air and Darkness, Legendary, My Plain Jane, The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, just to name a few.

I should be back to sharing reviews with you soon and hopefully will be able to share some updates on my own book with you as well. I plan on making 2018 a really amazing year.

Scavenger Girl: Season of Atchem (Jennifer Arntson)

I received a free copy of Scavenger Girl in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

In Ashlund, Una and her family are Scavengers: forced to live on the fringes of society and scrounge out a life where they can. While their family bond runs deep, it becomes more clear that there are also secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Soon, Una will be forced to choose between the life she knows and a life of privilege that rejects much of what she holds dear.

Where should I begin? Overall, I’m intrigued by this book. It is the first book in a series and the world that Jennifer Arntson has built is a very interesting one. It’s dark and the issues Una is taking on are difficult ones. It’s does have a few things I didn’t like, but overall, it was nothing so egregious I couldn’t overlook it.

Initially, I was a little irritated with Una. When things got rough, she fell apart. More than once. However, I thought about it. Would I have really handled the situations any differently? Merely because she didn’t deal with some admittedly pretty nasty situations with the typical dystopian heroine’s hard-ass attitude was no reason to discount her. Deep down, Una is tough, and she does make some decisions that, in all honesty,  are very mature and probably not the ones I would have made myself. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

This book does get pretty intense. I certainly didn’t finish it as quickly as I normally would. I had to step away every once in awhile just to give my emotions a break. One scene in particular was difficult to get through. When things go wrong in Ashlund, they go very, very wrong.

Scavenger Girl is definitely a different take on young adult dystopian fiction. If that’s something you are interested in, it’s worth your time. I, for one, am very interested to see where things go in the rest of the series.

Halloween Nonfiction and a Giveaway!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again!!

Most of you know that Halloween tops my list of holidays. Last year, I did a list of books and cocktail suggestions to make your Halloween a little better (you can read that here). This year, I’ve decided to go a slightly different route and share with you my favorite nonfiction works with a more macabre theme.

  • Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

Let’s get death positive for Halloween! Caitlin Doughty helps to bring a refreshing dose of humor to death. Her video series Ask a Mortician has long been a favorite of mine and her books are filled with fascinating anecdotes and her signature irreverence. She somehow helps make death a more approachable experience.

  • The Great Mortality by John Kelly

An engrossing and often heart-wrenching history of the black death, which decimated Europe in the Middle Ages. It’s educational, obviously, but it definitely has moments that help to convey the more human aspects of a tragedy that may seem very distant to us now.

  • Death’s Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Dr. Bass is probably THE leading pioneer in the field of forensic anthropology. This book discusses how he helped develop the field as well as offering intriguing looks into actual cases and giving readers a peek into the Body Farm.

  • Beyond the Dark Veil

If you have ever seen The Others, then you are familiar with the Victorian practice of post-mortem photography. This book takes an look at the practice in an intimate, often poignant manner.

  • Empire of Death, Memento Mori and Heavenly Bodies by Paul Koudounaris

If you like skeletons, you will love Paul Koudounaris’ work. Whether he’s exploring medieval ossuaries or taking in bedazzled saints, his work is visually stunning and endlessly fascinating. These books are probably my favorites on this list, and that’s saying something.

NOW… giveaway time!! For quite awhile now, I have been following The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a fantastic blog on medical history from Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. She recently published The Butchering Art. I have not read it yet, but, having read her blog, I can’t imagine that it’s not fantastic. Long story short (basically, awesome boyfriend), I have an extra copy and I’m giving it away!

Sorry, this one is also US only and will stay open through midnight on Halloween!

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Book Related Movies (And Cocktail Suggestions!)

Since I haven’t been reading as much as usual lately (a fact I’m trying to rectify), I’ve decided to do something a little different. While books have always been my ultimate source of comfort, movies are a close second. I’ve written about my favorite book to TV adaptations previously here. My favorite book to big screen is another article entirely. Soon enough.

Today, I’m looking at movies that are about books. Plus, I’m throwing in cocktail suggestions. You can’t go wrong! Read on…

  • Stranger Than Fiction

When IRS auditor Harold Crick begins to hear a voice narrating his life, he thinks he’s going crazy. When the narrator suggests that he will die soon, Harold becomes desperate to discover the identity of the narrator so he can talk her into a different ending.

This has been one of my favorite movies since it came out. It is one of those things that I wish I could have written myself. While Will Ferrell movies can usually be over the top, this is definitely a more restrained performance, and I think without question one of his best.

Cocktail Suggestion: A green apple ginger martini. Green apples feature pretty noticiably in the story, so this seems fitting.

  • The Neverending Story

Pretty much everyone born in the 80’s already knows this movie. As a big fan of 80’s fantasy, I love this one, but, it definitely scarred me for life. You know the scene I mean.

Cocktail suggestion: The Neverending Story. It’s too perfectly named. And you will want the alcohol to deal with the emotional trauma. Or alternately: a tequila sunrise: just like this movie, it looks like a fun time, but you know you’re just going to end up on the edge of a blackout, crying on the floor. (This was a suggestion someone else made to me that I lifted almost word for word. #sorrynotsorry )

Perhaps you can make it look this sexy and dramatic. I cannot.
  • The Princess Bride

Another for those 80’s babies out there. While stuck at home sick, a young boy’s grandfather reads him the tale of the Princess Bride. Full of adventure and true love, and a good dose of humor, this classic has definitely stood the test of time. This is also one of the few cases where I like the movie much better than the book.

Cocktail suggestion: The Buttercup. Something warm and fuzzy to go with all those cozy childhood memories.

  • Notting Hill

Travel bookshop owner William Thacker leads a predictable, boring life, until his world is suddenly thrown into turmoil when famous actress Anna Scott enters his shop. After a somewhat messy introduction, romance inevitably follows.

Of course it’s a silly chick flick, but it is still one of my all time favorites. Hugh Grant is, in my opinion, at his charmingly befuddled best.

Cocktail suggestion: A classic screwdriver, which will make perfect sense when the time comes for the meet cute.

  • Inkheart

Young Meggie is startled to discover that her father, Mo, can pull characters from books, simply by reading them aloud. This soon proves to be dangerous when villain Capricorn decides that he likes this world, and does not want to return to the book.

Cocktail suggestion: Honestly, I have nothing here folks. This movie originally inspired this list, and I had a great one at one time. But, as usual, I didn’t write it down. Just enjoy it with a nice glass of port.

If you’ve been following for awhile, you already know books (and now movies) and drink pairings are some of my favorite posts to write. Have any suggestions? Leave them in a comment and I’ll consider it for a future post!

One Dark Throne (Kendare Blake)

I know. Some of you are completely floored that I am finally getting around to actually posting something substantial. I really am sorry. You know that I always have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way sometimes. And boy, let me tell you, life has certainly made its presence known these last few months. Breakup, family death, sick pets, car troubles… to say it’s been nuts would be an understatement. But, I’m trying to get back into the swing. Bear with me.

Back to my book this week: Kendare Blake‘s sequel to Three Dark Crowns: One Dark Throne. When I initially read Three Dark Crowns a few months ago, I enjoyed it, but wasn’t totally in love with it.  The twist at the end was enough to bring me to the second book and I am glad I decided to stick with it. This might not make much sense to you if you haven’t read the first book, and… well, you should. Just go read it. I’ll wait.

ANYWAY. We catch up to our three sister queens of Fennbirn with the Ascension year well underway. Queen Katherine, once considered the weakest is now stronger than ever; Queen Arsinoe is grappling with how to make her newly discovered secret gift work to her advantage; Queen Mirabella, once the certain choice to be Queen Crowned faces fights that put those she loves in danger.

Katherine was a particular favorite in this book. It was fascinating to watch her slip further and further into darkness, becoming more and more unstable. While Arsinoe and Mirabella each grew, as well, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just more fun to watch a villain develop than it is to watch a hero.

There was plenty of time spent with the supporting characters as well, but there were times when I felt they were in my way. I know supporting characters are necessary. However, the three queen’s are so satisfying to read, that sometimes it was hard to let them share the stage.

There also seemed to be a heftier dose of teen angst going on here than in the previous book. Or maybe I’m just getting old and just noticing it more than I did before. Who knows?

Overall, One Dark Throne was enjoyable and full of enough twists I’m going to keep going with the series. (Apparently, this was originally going to be a duology, but it was popular enough she decided to expand to four books.) For all my fellow YA fantasy lovers out there, it is certainly not one to miss.

I Know a Secret (Tess Gerritsen)

I recieved a free copy of I Know a Secret in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles return after a horror movie director is found in a startlingly staged murder with an unknown cause of death. Together, they struggle to find the truth filled with symbols of martyred saints and a decades old scandal that is still far from over.

Tess Gerritsen is one of the few mystery writers that hasn’t managed to completely disappoint me over the last several years. Not only is I Know a Secret at least as good as previous stories in the series, it might be better. Part of it is a great mystery, maybe not as interesting as others (I really loved The Mephisto Club), but part of it definitely has to do with the fact that I am invested in these characters now. They are flawed, but understandably so. There is another series that I won’t name where I keep reading even though I want to punch the characters in the face. Not so here. Do Jane and Maura make choices in their life that I don’t agree with? Sure. But they are choices that seem to fit them and I can understand it.

Strangely enough, I also enjoyed the fact that, although the mystery is solved, it is not wrapped up perfectly neatly. I actually loved that ambiguity. She could return to this story again (as she has with others in the past) or not. Either way, it works. Tess Gerritsen also has a magical way of adding something truly chilling in each of her books. Most mysteries have something unsettling in them, it’s just their nature, but hers often have something particular that makes you look over your shoulder. I love it.

If you have not previously read any of the Rizzoli and Isles books, you would probably be alright starting here, but I really think you would be better off starting at the beginning of the series. It’s well worth the time and for me, they go quickly because I usually have to know what happens.