Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical. Show all posts

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Gladiatrix (Gladiatrix #1) by Russell Whitfield

Genderbent Spartacus with lesbians.

The good

  • It's about female gladiators! Hell to the yeah!
  • Scheming Romans 
  • The book assumes the reader knows stuff about ancient Rome, because you'd hardly read it if you didn't (thank you, author, for treating us as the knowledgeable people we are)
  • LGBTQ representation! There are: lesbian characters and F/F relationships (but they're gladiatrices, so don't expect happy endings) and a very very minor M/M relationship with a hopeful ending
  • The protagonist, Lysandra, is Spartan and looks like Xena (just putting it out there)
  • Her character growth is subtle but it's there
  • Her gladiator name is Achillia, the feminine form of Achilles (how cool is that?!)
  • Friendship, sisterhood, and kinship are very important to the characters in this book
  • Lots of gruesome action (this could be a negative, depending on your POV, but I found it was fun and provided more realism)
  • Gladiators that actually die
  • One of the side characters is a prostitute, and her male lover doesn't judge
  • The ending is happyish (the main characters don't get what they want, but it's not all bad) and sets things up for a sequel.

The bad

  • Typos and strange paragraph formatting, but that might just be because it's an ebook
  • No Roman matrons (c'mon, where are the Roman daughters, wives, and mothers?)
  • No descriptions of the classical architecture (what do the arena and temple look like?) (I love my columns)
  • It's quite long, so there's heaps in it, but it's not a quick read (which could be a positive, depending on your POV).

The ugly

  • The one black male character is a creepy and violent rapist drug addict and his name is similar to the word "nasty" (need I spell out RACISM?)
  • Rape. Not only that, but it's a violent gang-rape. Gross.


If it weren't for the rape and racism, I would've loved this book. In addition to that, if there were no typos and we saw some Roman women as well as the gladiatrices and slave girls, I'd definitely give this five stars. I'm definitely reading the sequel though.

I felt a bit strange that this was written by a man, but he did a pretty good job at writing a vaguely feminist novel whose main characters are lesbians. I'm impressed.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of women warriors and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. There's explicit violence and sex, so avoid if you're not into that.

    The summary

    Under the Flavian Emperors the Roman public’s hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitian’s passion for novelty and variety in the arena has given rise to a very different kind of warrior: the Gladiatrix.

    Sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of Asia Minor, Lysandra finds herself the property of Lucius Balbus, owner of the foremost Ludus for female gladiators in the Eastern Empire. Lysandra, a member of an ancient Spartan sect of warrior priestesses, refuses to accept her new status as a slave. Forced to fight for survival, her deadly combat skills win the adoration of the crowds, the respect of her Lanista, Balbus, and the admiration of Sextus Julius Frontinus, the provincial governor.

    But Lysandra’s Spartan pride also earns her powerful enemies: the Dacian warrior, Sorina, Gladiatrix Prima and leader of the Barbarian faction, and the sadistic Nubian trainer Nastasen.
    When plans are laid for the ultimate combat spectacle to honour the visit of the new Consul, Lysandra must face her greatest and deadliest trial.

    Add it on Goodreads

    Saturday, 25 February 2017

    5 Things I Loved About Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

    If this swashbuckling heroine doesn't define awesome, I don't know what does.

    Hi everyone! This is my first review in a long time because I'm finally back. I read this book a month or two back, and I loved it so much I had to take notes so I could share the awesomeness with you all. So without further ado, here are 5 things I loved about Kelly Gardiner's Goddess.

    1. Fascinating main character

    Julie is a crossdressing, bisexual French opera singer and swordswoman from the 17th-18th Centuries. She reminds me a bit of Casanova. That’s interesting in itself. But I also loved her confidence, as it’s rare to find a female character who knows she’s beautiful or/and brilliant. Julie knows she’s great; she calls herself a goddess, and it's refreshing. (Wonder where the title came from, hmm?)

    2. Interesting story

    This novel is an adventure and a half. Julie has a very eventful (albeit short) life and what’s more, the author didn’t make it up; Julie d’Aubigny was a real historical woman and the events in the novel are based on documented events. I couldn’t believe it when I read the author’s note at the end and found this out. I also couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this awesome woman. The best thing? She was not the only crossdressing, swashbuckling lady at the time.

    Julie d'Aubigny
    Kelly Gardiner has a blog post about the real life of Julie d’Aubigny here.

    3. Unique voice and tone

    The book is set up as a transcript of Julie’s deathbed confession to a priest. It’s written as a monologue, including her responses to what the priest says (which is not included, so you have to be smart and guess). She’s sassy and intelligent, which makes for fun reading.

    4. Beautiful language

    The writing flows and is a joy to read. It’s concise yet descriptive and is also emotional, especially at the end. Julie has a lot to say, but her story fits in at under 300 pages, all the while affecting me enough to rate it 5 stars. French words scattered through the text also make it feel more authentic, although sometimes I wanted to look them up to check a) what they meant and b) if they were real words…

    5. Women living on their own terms in an oppressive historical society

    Refer to 1 and 2. Need I say more? 


    If you love history and interesting women, do yourself a favour and read this hidden gem! I’ve read a lot of Kelly Gardiner’s books, so I can also vouch for her as a good author. What are you waiting for?


    Versailles, 1686: Julie d'Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King's Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe's most powerful men and France's most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33.

    Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel - a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman.

    For all those readers who love Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel.

    Add it on Goodreads

    Monday, 28 November 2016

    9 Things I Disliked About Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

    Pretty language doesn't make a book unproblematic.

    I didn't hate everything about this book, but it's so problematic I can't rate it any higher than 1 star. I don't recommend it to anyone. Don't read it. Here's why. (Warning: This review is extremely spoilery so that I can explain my distaste.)

    First, the problematic content:

    There's a romance between an 18-year-old and a 13-year old.

    She's 18, he's 13. Nope nope nope nope nope.

    Sexual assault and rape are handled terribly.

    First, Masha gets sexually assaulted by a 13-year-old she's become close to. While she may be attracted to him (see above) she says no. No means no means no means no. Then, her husband repeatedly rapes her during their marriage. On both occasions, Masha doesn't seem to care, nor does she seem to be affected in any way ever. This is very alarming! What is the author trying to say??

    There's a sex scene with a 13-year-old boy...

    and a 17-year-old girl (not Masha, thankfully). Not only that, but they continue their sexual relationship. A) Both the author and the main character of this book are way too interested in other people's sex lives (Masha talks about her father's sex life!?). B) Given that the target audience for this adult book is women, we don't want to read things like this. It's gross and unnecessary.

    Now the plain bad:

    There's no plot.

    What even happens in this book? It's just the characters telling stories, and stories within stories. Where's the actual narrative?

    The structure is confusing.

    It's not chronological, and goes from this time back to this time forwards to this time with no warning, and there's often no specification of when this section takes place or how it connects to the previous section.

    It's historically inaccurate.

    A couple of quick Google searches told me the author took liberties. Certain events in history don't happen in the book, and certain events in the book didn't happen in history. So why wasn't it hinted in the blurb or an author's note that events were changed significantly?

    The book is confused about its own genre.

    Is it historical fiction? Magic realism? Historical fantasy??? Not even the book itself knows.

    There's a sudden, jarring career decision.

    I hate it when characters suddenly decide they've always wanted to do this job, with no previous dreaming or planning of it. Why didn't you mention it earlier then???

    There's a completely unbelievable plot point near the end.

    Since the book is told in the first person, the reason for this plot point is for Masha and the reader to know about the Romanovs' last months after she left them. An anonymous man turns up at Masha's work in a different country X years later to give her a diary that was smuggled away after the owner died? It's too unbelievable; who would buy that?

    Excessive Summary

    From Kathryn Harrison, one of America’s most admired literary voices, comes a gorgeously written, enthralling novel set in the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire.

    St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

    Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

    Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.


      Sunday, 13 November 2016

      Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris
      The punny quotes on the outside and inside covers killed me.


      A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
      This is the second book I've read this year about the Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE. The two were very different - the first was YA and centred on a romance, while this one was adult fiction and took place over 4 days. I rated both 3 stars, so neither was particularly special.

      As mentioned, Pompeii takes place over 4 days - the 2 days before the eruption, and the 2 days during. Because of this, it's fairly fast-paced, making it easier and more fun to read. Before the eruption, the plot centres on the maintenance of the Aqua Augusta, the huge aqueduct that supplied water to the Bay of Neapolis, where the book is set (there’s a map of the area at the start of the book, if you were wondering). Then, of course, it's Vesuvius's time to shine, in great detail.

      Pompeii promises four POVs, so I went into it expecting to be drawn into the lives of four different characters, however character - Attilius, the engineer - is the focus and the others' perspectives are minimal. This disappointed me, I have to say. As well as this, none of the characters are particularly interesting, developed, or otherwise special. It's hard to care about characters who don't interest you.

      The protagonist, however, is something of an antihero, so that made a nice change from the archetypal guy who has to save the people (maybe it's to do with him being Roman...). I love flawed characters, antiheroes especially.

      Sadly, this book fails the Bechdel Test. The one "main" female character, Corelia, has a mother, but they don't seem to speak to each other, even though they're not estranged or anything. You'd think a young woman in a Roman society would want to talk to other women - her mother, her maid, even girls her own age - but nope, doesn't happen, even though seeing how Corelia interacts with her own gender would add some much-needed depth to her character.

      On the plus side, there’s no romance! The book takes place over 4 days, so that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was such a relief. There’s a bit of saving a damsel in distress, but they barely know each other so I’ll happily ignore any romantic connotations that might entail.

      Something I enjoyed in Pompeii was the scattering of historical details. I did wonder a lot about what was fact and what was fiction (eg. which characters are real?) but the author did plenty of research. I loved coming across little details such as mentions of the erotic Pompeiian frescos, of Spartacus, of Augustus and Livia, of throwing slaves to the eels. Call me a Classics nerd, but it doesn't take much to make me happy. It's the little things.

      To conclude, I don't know why this was a bestseller, as the characters are flat and the writing is nothing special. But I'm so desperate for books about Greece & Rome that I'll take what I can get.

      Add it on Goodreads

      Tuesday, 1 November 2016

      A New Favourite: Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
      Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien

      I watched the 2016 BBC mini-series a few months ago, which made me want to read the book. In case you don't know, the book is a monster, and it took me exactly 2 months to read. I read the ebook, not the physical book pictured, for this reason.

      War and Peace takes place in Russia during the wars with Napoleon (1805-1813, although the epilogue happens in 1820). It was first published in 1865, making it historical fiction. The book's mostly about four aristocratic families during this time. I loved it. I'll try to avoid very specific spoilers, but if you don't realise that characters are going to die, go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph.

      The good

      • An epic story of people fighting for their world and what or who they love (hence the similarity to Tolkien)
      • A rich, engaging setting (just like Tolkien...)
      • Philosophically rich (also like Tolkien) which is interesting when explored through the characters
      • Interesting, complex, developed characters (I found them much more complex and developed than those in Austen or Tolkien - Tolstoy just seems to know people incredibly well)
      • Interesting, complex, developed female characters (although women in this setting know their place, the women of War and Peace include some fascinating characters. However, there was one sentence about a woman who "slew hundred of the French", so they weren't all sitting at home. Awesomely, this woman actually existed.) 
      • It made me laugh (one character doesn't pronounce his Rs, a bear gets tied to a policeman and thrown in the river, several characters are (unintentionally) very very gay to a young 21st Century reader...)
      • It made me sad (lesson learnt: don't get attached to emo Russian princes)
      • Heaps of drama (similar to Jane Austen - particularly the family and relationship dramas)
      • Heaps of angst (between Pierre, Andrei, and Marya, there is a lot of melancholy)
      • Foreshadowing. Two characters' deaths (which I knew about because of the mini-series) were foreshadowed in one chapter, and it broke my heart.
      • Tolstoy's similes, metaphors, and analogies are entertaining. Sometimes, they help you to better understand a situation. Sometimes, they're less simile and more description of what's actually happening.

        The bad

        • Russian characters all have a bazillion names (thanks, Russian naming customs) which is very confusing. When you add in the fact that this translation Anglicises certain names, well...
        • Polish characters' names aren't even pronounceable  
        • Rumoured incest (however, I don't think they actually have an affair, unlike in the mini-series) 
        • Certain characters disappear for no reason and there's no word on what happens to them (one family lost two of their grown-up children, but we don't know anything about their reaction. Another minor character I grew attached to, due to her being so mysterious, disappeared after the last chapter - there was no mention of her in the epilogue, even though she'd been in the background the whole book. What?)
        • Structure - similar to Tolkien, sometimes when there's a change of POV, the book goes back in time a bit, which is confusing.

        The ugly

        • It's ~1300 pages long! No book has the right to be that long.
        • The scenes about war strategy and philosophy, and about history, are incredibly boring and I didn't follow. It's okay when they relate to certain characters, but sometimes they're just essays that don't specifically relate to the book.
        • The epilogues. That's right, epilogues. Plural. The first epilogue was set about 7 years after the end of the book, and it didn't give me warm fuzzy feeling about the characters' fates, although some of them were described as being happy. The second epilogue was about 40 pages of Tolstoy philosophising about history, and may as well have been published separately. I've seen people say to skip the epilogues, and I agree: the last 100 pages can be skipped without losing anything.

        The conclusion

        • I've found a new favourite book! How exciting! 
        • I know I recently talked about not judging intelligence by the books you read, but I feel smarter after reading this. 
        • Strongly recommend to fans of historical fiction and classic literature.
        • Will I read it again in my lifetime? Not sure. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll think about it. 

          The summary

          Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

          The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

          Add it on Goodreads

          Tuesday, 26 July 2016

          Mini review: Love in the Land of Midas by Kapka Kassabova

          Clickbait summary: Not as corny or romantic as the blurb makes it appear.

          Actual summary

          A love story that crosses generations and continents, from post-war Europe to the present day. The legends of the Greek myths are diffused with the complicated history of the Balkans in a story that takes the reader into the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters.
          This book was excellent, almost a five-star read. It's got lots of characters, which gets confusing because some have more than one name and remembering how they were connected is a pain. The characterisations are, however, strong and interesting. 

          The main problem I had with this book was the flashback structure, which was very confusing at first - it started in 1998 and switched to 1949 to 1997 to 1998 to 1997 to 1998 and so on until it switched to 1947. Thankfully, each chapter has a date and location, and after a while I got the hang of it.

          The central issue/event in Love in the Land of Midas is something completely new to me - the Greek Civil War. I didn't even know there was one! But yes, after World War 2, Greece had a three-year civil war. This is explained in the author's note at the start of the novel, and it's fascinating in the story. The politics and the war were new to me, and very intriguing.

          Being published in 2000, and the latest date in the book being 1998, it's a little dated now in terms of communication. Now, the characters could use the internet and mobile phones to research or keep in contact. However, the themes and ideas (eg. love, passion, war, family) are still relevant and always will be.

          Another issue I had was knowing that the author (at the time it was written) lived in New Zealand. To me, the book has a definite NZ flavour to it, especially in the dialogue, but the characters were European and Australian - no Kiwis at all. But if I hadn't known about the author, I might not have been distracted by this.

          So much for a mini review! I will finish by recommending this book to adult readers/readers of adult books who have an interest in Ancient Greece and post-war Europe. It's well-written and so worth your while.

          Add it on Goodreads

          Thursday, 21 July 2016

          The good, the bad, and the ugly: Bring Down the Sun by Judith Tarr

          Bring Down the Sun (Alexander the Great, #2)
          Clickbait summary: Horny priestess marries King of Macedonia, has magic.

          The good

          • About a historically intriguing woman, Olympias (Alexander the Great's mother) 
          • The setting! (Ancient Greece, 4th Century BCE)
          • Main character has a clear goal she is determined to reach (but she reaches it too easily to mane an interesting plot)
          • Ancient Greek girls usually have extreme levels of chastity, so it was a nice change to read about one with a sex drive (however, I think it could've been toned down a notch in place of a stronger plot) 
          • Just the right level of description, enough to get a rough idea of the visuals, not so much as to be overwhelming and boring
          • Strong female characters in a patriarchal society, and especially this quote:
          "I know what I want," she said. "I do my best to take it."

          "You should have been a man," he said.

          "Why would I want that?"

          She had taken him aback. "A man is - A woman-"

          "Ask yourself," she said, "why a woman has to be weak to make a man feel strong. Are men so weak that women's strength is a threat to them?"

          The bad

          • Lust = love; lust - therefore love - at first sight
          • Strange writing style with some weird phrases and sentences that don't quite make sense
          • The magical elements don't work for me (I don't like mixing my historical fiction with my fantasy, but that's just me)
          • Unlikeable, underdeveloped main character (unlikeable characters don't have to be underdeveloped, they're allowed some positive personality traits, and an interesting past)
          • All the name-changing is confusing

          The ugly

          • SNAKES!!!
          • Hints of bestiality 


          • While I disliked many aspects of this book, overall I liked it
          • Would recommend to adult (or older teen, as it's not sophisticated but is sexually explicit) readers who like magic and historical fiction

          The summary

          Alexander the Great ruled the greatest Empire of the ancient world, but he was ruled by his mother, called Olympias. There are as many legends about this powerful Queen as there are of her famous son, and the stories began long before she even met Philip of Macedon.

          Priestess of the Great Goddess, daughter of ruling house of Epiros, witch, and familiar of Serpents...she was a figure of mystery, fascination and fear even during her own lifetime. Author Judith Tarr uses the legends to weave an intensely romantic fantasy novel set in ancient Greece and Macedon.

          Add it on Goodreads

          Wednesday, 20 April 2016

          The good, the bad, and the ugly: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

          Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
          Finished reading on: 20 April 2016
          Clickbait summary: Misandrist in Medieval Brittany joins cult that kills men, falls in love with man.

          The Good

          • The red dress on the cover 
          • The weapons (main character Ismae is an assassin, so she's got a couple)
          • Medieval setting and all it entails (dresses, castles, mistresses, court politics, etc etc)
          • Believable worldbuilding 
          • Realistic and sympathetic portrayal of women for the setting
          • Interesting, or rather, intriguing politics! I never used to care for the political aspects in fiction, but recently I've found myself getting into it.
          • Theme of loyalty  
          • Decent characters (not brilliant, but better than average, I think)
          • Good writing  
          • A real page-turner 
          • Language slightly old-fashioned to match setting

          The Bad

          • Is this a feminist story or not? I don't know! In some ways, yes; in others, no.
          • Would've liked to see more of Ismae's gal pals Annith and Sybella (apparently the next two books in the series are about them, which is great, but I can't cope with more assassins falling in love)
          • A bit long at 550 pages 
          • Misleading summary - Ismae doesn't fall in love with a man she's meant to kill, she gets orders to kill the man she loves, and it's not as big a plot point as it sounds. 
          • [Spoiler] Healing by sex?! Soooo convenient.

          The Ugly

          • Low-born girl falls in love with nobleman. Really? AGAIN?!
          • Why the romance? Why? They could've just been friends or allies! (I need my romances to grow over a couple of books, if they have to exist at all, because I find it super boring once the characters are properly together. That's just me, though.)
          • I thought the protagonist had been set up as a man-hating lesbian assassin... and then she fell in love with a guy. (Where are all the medieval wlw? Not in this book, apparently. I'm going to have to write the wlw assassin historical fiction myself.)
          • Okay, clearly my main problems with this book are the romance and the lack of diversity. The rest was pretty good.

          The Summary

          Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

          Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

          Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

          Add it on Goodreads

          Tuesday, 16 February 2016

          Curses & Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter

          Finished reading on: 16 February 2016

          I'm experimenting with review styles, so let's see how this goes. Tell me what you think of this format.

          The good

          • Gorgeous cover
          • Great for young Classics nerds and fans of Spartacus (and therefore me) – Gladiators! Roman women! Pompeii!
          • Satisfied my need to read more things set in Ancient Rome
          • Cool use of Latin (which I largely understood, thanks to Spartacus)
          • Decent writing
          • Historically accurate - the author clearly knows her stuff without showing off too much; includes interesting author’s notes about the setting
          • Learnt some new things, such as curse tablets, and that Pompeii wasn’t always a Roman town (Sulla took it from the Etruscans in 80BCE)
          • Basically, the setting is the best aspect of the book

          The bad

          • The protagonists (Tag and Lucia) are tolerable, unlike a lot of YA characters, but I preferred Quintus, a main character who gets forgotten about, because I love arsehole characters
          • Written in the third person but the POV changes are unnecessarily marked
          • Having only two POVs (Tag's and Lucia's) is limiting, and I would’ve liked to read a least a chapter from each of Quintus and Cornelia’s perspectives
          • Repetitive likening of Tag’s good looks to Apollo's

          The ugly

          • Plot based on the romance (booooring!)
          • More gladiator and running-from-volcanic-eruption action needed (not at the same time; that drove me nuts about the 2014 film Pompeii)
          • Ending so disappointing it knocked a whole star off my rating (I was all set to give it four stars)
          • A whole lot of characters' fates forgotten due to limited POVs - what about Cornelia, Quintus, and the gladiators and slaves?

          The romance

          • Childhood friends suddenly fall in love
          • Would’ve liked to see the first move between Lucia and Tag at least another 50 pages later on (I prefer slow burn). However, I did appreciate Lucia considering the difference between love and lust this early on.
          • Love triangle avoided due to an unrequited love I’m proud to say I saw from the very start (although I had moments of doubt where I was wondering if my slash goggles were making me see things that weren’t there). The suggested solution for the trio's dilemma was on my mind since then, too.

          The blurb

          Two star-crossed lovers.
          One city on the brink of destruction.
          Tag is a medical slave, fated to spend the rest of his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But he yearns to fight in the arena himself and win the freedom to live - and love - as he wants.
          Lucia is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a man she doesn't love. But she's determined to follow her heart wherever it leads.
          Can they find each other before the volcano destroys their whole world?

          Add it on Goodreads

          Tuesday, 2 February 2016

          Top Ten Historical Settings I Love

          Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

          This week's topic is Top Ten Historical Settings You Love/Top Ten Historical Settings You'd Love To See or Top Ten Futuristic Books You Love/Ten Futuristic Societies I'd Love To Read in Books. I adore historical fiction, and I love reading and watching things set in these eras.

          In a very loose order, these are my ten favourite historical settings:
          1. Ancient Egypt
          2. Ancient Greece 
          3. Ancient Rome
          4. Regency England
          5. French Revolution
          6. Victorian 
          7. 1920s/Prohibition
          8. Renaissance Italy (especially Venice)
          9. Medieval 
          10. Elizabethan England
          I'd love to know what historical settings you guys love, as I'm always up for discovering more! Reading a book set in a new era is always interesting.

          Tuesday, 25 August 2015

          Top Ten Books That Would be on My Syllabus if I Taught Historical Fiction 101

          Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

          This week's theme is Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 (examples: YA fantasy 101, feminist literature 101, magic in YA 101, classic YA lit 101, world-building 101).
          Burial Rites

          Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

          I reviewed this the other week and gave it a pretty high rating, so it has to make the list!

           The Song of Achilles
          The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

          More mythology than historical fiction, but it's still all shades of awesome. I reviewed this one too.

          The Ruby In The Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1)
          The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

          There might not be much to teach, but it's still excellent. The students would probably end up finishing the series without me needing to say so.

          The Watch That Ends the Night

          Everything they need to know about Titanic they would learn from this book. I reviewed this last year.

          The Sultan's Eyes
          The Sultan's Eyes

          Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

          The Girl in the Mask
          The Phantom of the Opera
          The Silver Blade
          Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, #1)

          Thursday, 13 August 2015

          Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

          Date finished: 12 August 2015

          Where do I even start? This is a novel based on a true story about the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, sentenced to death for her part in the murders of two men. It’s dark and grim, definitely not what you’d want to read on a summer holiday. But it’s so well-done that despite its bleakness it’s a beautiful book.

          As it’s based on a true story, it’s not as if the plot can be full of improbable adventure. Instead, we see how Agnes lives out her last few months before her execution, and through flashbacks and her stories to the reverend and her host family we find out about her past. There are also documents from the case that give an idea of how criminals were treated at the time, which made me uneasy. The author does a great job at retelling Agnes’s story and, as she says in the author’s note, provide a “more ambiguous portrayal of this woman” so that we sympathise with the protagonist. Without flashbacks the plot would have no substance and it would be very boring to read, but the backstory and the eventual recounting of the events leading up to and during the double murder make it interesting and even gripping.

          The most obvious thing to comment on is the writing. Even the blurb calls the prose beautiful and cut-glass, and that’s correct. So is the comment from author Madeline Miller (whose book The Song of Achilles is one of my new favourites – check out my review here), which definitely convinced me to give Burial Rites a go. The language is stunning. The words and sentence structures themselves aren’t too complicated, but the use of imagery is amazing – I’m in awe of the author’s ability to string together such wonderful similes. Even if the story doesn’t excite you, the book is worth reading for the writing alone.

          Agnes is a believable character, and I liked that she is strong but not invincible – she gets on with her life, facing terrible hardships and losses, but her response to the reality that she is about to be executed is very human – she is terrified, and this moved me. Agnes is in her mid-thirties at the time of her execution, but her age is not too important and even though I’m half her age I still felt for her, which is no mean feat for the writer. The reverend, Tóti, is likeable too, as is Steina (not so much her sister Lauga), and Margrét becomes more accepting and forgiving towards Agnes, even though she is very against Agnes coming to live with her family at the beginning. Most of the characters are not very nice, however, but they are still portrayed realistically and are important to the plot to be written that way, so I think the overall characterisation is excellent.

          This is the fourth book I’ve read this year with a Scandinavian setting, but Iceland in 1828-1830 is a new one for me. We see the poverty and hardships the ordinary people faced just to survive, as well as the public opinion towards criminals, which is all very interesting and serves to develop the characters. The Icelandic character and place names are distracting in terms of pronunciation, but at the start of the book is a guide for some vowels and diphthongs, which helps a bit. The map is also useful in figuring out where the locations mentioned are in relation to each other.

          This is an adult book, which I’ve been finding myself reading more of lately, but despite the mature themes (unhealthy relationships is not the only one) and occasional graphic imagery, I think it would be fine for anyone over sixteen to read. If you’re a fan of historical fiction with a bit of crime thrown in, Burial Rites is definitely worth picking up.

          Thursday, 12 March 2015

          The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

          Date finished: 11 March 2015

          I'd been meaning to read this book for about a year, ever since I did a Classics internal on The Iliad vs Troy (2004) in Year 12, and I'm very glad I finally read it. Doing this study meant that I knew the story - and loved it - so I hoped that I would also love The Song of Achilles. And I did.

          I knew the basics of what would happen (I won't give away any spoilers, even though the story is thousands of years old) but this book focuses on Patroclus, a character we don't get to see much in the original story, and gives him a background, which is new and interesting. I adored seeing his relationship with Achilles develop, and there were plenty of moments that made me fangirl. There is a tonne of foreshadowing, which I kept picking up on and almost crying over. *Spoiler alert* Even though I knew what was going to happen, I kept thinking, "Maybe Patroclus won't die this time," but it happens so fast that I was not at all prepared. I don't know how to describe the plot other than epic and tragic, and I loved how the author breathed new life into characters who have been around for a hell of a long time. (That's true immortality, I think - that we still remember the names of and care about Achilles and Patroclus in the 21st Century - even though they die.)

          The writing is beautiful. It flows very well and is easy to read. It's the kind of simplistic style that anyone can read and enjoy, and I loved the description and dialogue. As the book is written in the first person, we only get one character's perspective, but it's okay because it's a character we don't know much about compared to some of the more famous characters like Achilles, or Helen of Troy (*cough* Sparta!). To retell an age-old myth, emotive language is needed to give the novel some originality, and Madeline Miller succeeds in doing this.

          When I first learnt about The Iliad and the Trojan War, my favourite characters were Achilles and Patroclus. As they are the main characters of this book, that remains the case. Their characterisation in this novel is fantastic and, well, there's no other way to say this, but I ship them so hard! They are complete opposites, hero and antihero, and their relationship really makes you think about friendship and love and fate. They treat each other as equals, even though all the other characters think of Patroclus as a disgrace, an exile, unworthy of Achilles, but they love each other for eighteen years, and in the end they don't get the happy ending we want for them, which breaks the heart.

          There are strong themes in this book that also bring out the emotions. Love and sacrifice are important, as is the concept of heroism. At one point, Achilles says, "Name one hero who was happy," and I think that quote is just the saddest thing. In this book, we know that Achilles is fated to be a hero, and he is one, but we don't know if he, or Patroclus, is ever truly happy. Like I said, this story is tragic.

          In summary: This book killed me. It broke my heart with every bit of foreshadowing, and the last few chapters just hurt my soul. And I loved every minute of it, masochist as I am. If you are a young Classics nerd like me or just a lover of male/male relationships, you must read The Song of Achilles. It will break you and you'll thank the author for doing so.

          Sunday, 15 June 2014

          The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

          The Watch That Ends the Night 
          Date finished: 15 June 2014

          This book took me a long time to read, but it was definitely worth it. I can't remember when my interest in the Titanic began, but it was more than a few years ago, and since then I've only read a few novels about it. I've seen Titanic twice, naturally, but I haven't come across that many YA books about it.

          The Watch That Ends the Night is an incredible verse novel with fascinating characters. Obviously, since we all know what happens, and it happens it such a short period of time, the book is character-driven, with 25 different character perspectives (including the iceberg and the ship rat). Each character has his or her own unique voice, and although it is written in verse, it reads almost like a normal novel, which I love. I think my favourite characters to read about were the crew members, since usually you only get to read about/see the passengers.

          The writing in this book blew me away. It flowed really well, and the ideas and thoughts at the end of one character's part segued into the start of the next character's. The imagery was amazing and I could see the lives of the characters clearly in my mind. On the inside cover it claims "Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse into the lives of two dozen passengers and crew, told with astounding emotional power". That's absolutely correct. It's very emotional (especially in the last two chapters) and intimate, as you see the private thoughts, hopes, and plans of the individuals.

          Not only was this extremely well-written, but the author did a hell of a lot of research too. You can see in what I call the appendices (they're not really, I'm just gonna call them that) all the resources he used to get things historically accurate. Now that takes patience. He deserves a round of applause just for taking the time to do such thorough research. Whew.

          In short, The Watch That Ends the Night is a wonderful book and if you like a) interesting characters, b) the Titanic, or c) a book that will make you question humanity, you must read it!

          Sunday, 20 April 2014

          Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

          Prince of Shadows 
          Date finished: 19 April 2014
          Original review, ie. not posted on Goodreads

          This is one of those books that isn't actually that good, but I enjoyed nonetheless. It had its flaws, but for some reason I liked it anyway. I absolutely loathe Romeo and Juliet (I studied it in Year 10 - we read the play and watched both the 1968 and 1996 films), but I've read another book about Benvolio and Rosaline, so I was intrigued to read this author's take on the background characters.

          It was refreshing to read something in the point of view of a male character, because most YA books I read have the usual strong female character. So it was nice to have a hero instead of a heroine for a change. (And before you ask, yes, I am a feminist.) I don't know, I just feel like girl protagonists are taking over the YA genre, and boy protagonists shouldn't be neglected. I loved reading the notes and diary entries of the other characters though, and I worked out the curse before Benvolio did (not sure if I'm smart, or if that was the author's intention). It was nice to have a short break from him every fifty pages or so.

          I didn't like the pace of the novel, though. It was very long (I read it nonstop for two days before I got to the end) and it took ages and ages to get to the Capulets' ball, which is where Romeo and Juliet really starts. And I felt like the end scene was a bit rushed, but that could just be me.

          I loved that Mercutio had his secret lover, and that Romeo and Juliet had a curse on them. I've always found their romance ridiculous, so it was good to know that the author (and the protagonist) feel the same, and gave a new and exciting reason for their relationship. I remain of the opinion that what Romeo and Juliet had was not love.

          Having a thief as the protagonist was an interesting choice, and I think it was a good decision. It added suspense to a not-so-suspenseful story, and made a lot of plot points possible. You don't generally read about thieves, and I quite liked that Benvolio didn't steal to keep other people's jewels, as he was a good character.

          One thing that I will complain about, however, is Rosaline. Don't get me wrong, she's fascinating (to think that she actually managed to turn down Romeo! Smart girl.) but it got boring the way that she was referred to throughout the whole book, but didn't appear in all that many scenes. It annoyed me a little. The title may as well have been Rosaline Capulet.

          But all in all, I did enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to teenage readers who like romance and historical novels.
          I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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