(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
The little known, riveting story of the most famous courtesan of her time: muse and mistress of Alexandre Dumas fils and Franz Liszt, the inspiration for Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias and Verdi’s La Traviata, one of the most sought after, adored women of 1840s Paris.
Born in 1824 in Normandy, Marie Duplessis fled her brutal peasant father (who forced her to live with a man many years her senior). Julie Kavanagh traces Marie’s reinvention in Paris at sixteen: as shop girl, kept woman, and finally, as grand courtesan with the clothes, apartment, coach and horses that an aristocratic woman of the time would have had. Tall, willowy, with dramatic dark hair, Marie acquired an aristocratic mien, but coupled with a singular modesty and grace, she was an irresistible figure to men and women alike. Kanavagh brings her to life on the page against a brilliantly evoked background of 1840s Paris: the theater and opera, the best tables at the cafés frequented by society figures, theater directors, writers, artists–and Marie, only nineteen, at the center of it all. Four years later, at twenty-three, she would be dead of tuberculosis.
I first heard of Marie Duplessis because of my love of opera. She was the inspiration for Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias, which was the inspiration for my favourite opera of all time, La Traviata. After watching an amazing version of La Traviata with Anna Moffo in the lead role, I wondered how close her interpretation was to the real Marie Duplessis. Then I began to wonder who Marie Duplessis the person was, not just the character writers, painters and musicians have made her into over the decades.
Although Duplessis only lived to the age of 23, Julie Kavanagh was able to give us a very in-depth, detailed look at her life. Not only that, she provided context for Marie’s rise from simple but pretty farm girl to one of the most sought-after courtesans in Paris’ demimonde. She was a complex woman who could be both unbelievably selfish and petty but at the same time, caring and genuinely kind to the people around her. Money ran through her hands like water to feed her wardrobe and her general lifestyle but at the same time was known to give generously to charities and was very religious in her later years. If she were a mere character in a novel she’d probably be called unbelievable and contradictory, but Kavanagh’s highlighting of her contradictions really humanized Marie for me. She became a living, breathing person instead of this distant legend.
As it says in the blurb, from a very young age Marie was likely sexually abused and when she fled from the countryside she had no illusions about what a wonderful place 1840s Paris was for lower class women. She clawed her way up the unofficial courtesan hierarchy, first being a grisette (a lover to somewhat poor university students) and then a lorette when she found an older, wealthier patron. And then, finally when the simple Alphonsine Plessis caught the eye of a young duke, she was transformed into Marie Duplessis, the irresistible courtesan. It was not an easy path and Kavanagh talks about her struggles in fairly stark language that brings home the idea that while being a courtesan could be glamorous at times, there were many times it was not.
What I especially liked about The Girl Who Loved Camellias was the postscript that detailed the sale of Marie’s estate to pay off her debts and the introduction where Marie’s cultural impact is discussed. Of course, most famously there’s the book The Lady of the Camellias and Verdi’s opera La Traviata but there have also been films and even ballets about her life. Even though few people today actually know her name, Marie Duplessis lives on in the beautiful works of art she inspired.
My favourite thing about this biography is that while Julie Kavanagh goes into detail, she does not get encumbered by it as so many biographers do. While she includes the text from some letters pertaining to Marie’s life, she does not get bogged down in detailing Marie’s correspondence. Instead, she includes short quotes where it’s relevant (which seems like common sense but sadly all too few biographers do this, preferring to include every single scrap of correspondence they can find pertaining to their subject). She gives historical context to Marie’s life but again she doesn’t get too bogged down in irrelevant details. Basically, she tells a detailed but interesting story about a woman who packed quite a lot of living into just twenty three years.
If you’re looking for an interesting biography that’s a fairly fast read, I highly recommend The Girl Who Loved Camellias. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Three months after her trip through the vortex, Marisa MacCallum is having second thoughts about her engagement to Darian Fiore as she struggles to adjust to royal life.
But when palace spies uncover a secret plot to assassinate the royal family and eradicate the Crimson Knights, Marisa and Darian must put their plans for the future on hold to stop Savino da Rocha and his legion of warrior giants from stealing the throne.
After narrowly escaping an attempt on her life, Marisa is left to defend Crocetta while Darian marches off to war. But when Savino strikes at the heart of the kingdom with supernatural powers of darkness, Marisa must wage an even greater battle against the spiritual forces bent on destroying her family and ending the Fiore dynasty forever.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Normally, I try to avoid books that deal with heavy religious themes. They just aren’t for me as most of them come off as overly preachy and generally obnoxious. With that said, I did love The Carnelian Tyranny, which basically follows the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ in an alternate world. So what made this book different from so many religion-themed books I’ve read? Well, for one there’s not all that much preaching. Yes, there are scenes where the characters pray and debate their faith but it never comes across as Cheryl Koevoet herself saying to her readers “You must accept Christianity”. No, it was just a book where faith is presented as a normal part of many of the charcters’ lives and that was that.
And what really separates The Carnelian Tyranny from many other books I’ve read with similar themes is that while the religious aspect is part of the plot, it’s not necessarily the main focus at all times. No, Marisa’s doubts about her engagement and her role as the future ruler of Crocetta are front and centre. There’s also the whole Savino angle as our devious Count isn’t going to take Marisa’s perceived insult toward him lying down. So the religious plot and the political plot are intertwined in a way that feels quite natural, particularly in a society generally modeled on Medieval Europe. And of course there’s also Marisa and Darian’s relationship, which becomes strained because Darian doesn’t understand why Marisa is so reluctant to get married young and Marisa is having a hard time accepting her new high status even though she knows it’s her duty (and her birthright).
Marisa in this second book is a little more confident and just a little more sure of herself. She’s working hard to learn the language of her people as well as the customs and responsibilities being a ruler of Crocetta involves. Marisa has Darian to support her but their relationship obviously isn’t perfect. They argue and fight but you can always tell they love each other deeply. I can’t go into much detail without spoiling some amazing plot twists, but when they get separated it’s this love that keeps both of them going even when things seem completely hopeless. Best of all, Cheryl Koevoet doesn’t neglect her secondary characters as she lets us see things not only from Darian and Marisa’s points of view but also those of Marisa’s brother Marcus and a few other notable characters.
With a relatively unpredictable plot and some great character development, The Carnelian Tyranny is a solid second book. On top of that, there was also some great world-building as readers were introduced to the politics of the entire world of Carnelia because Crocetta is not as isolated as it may appear. There are outside forces constantly at work and not all of them are friendly toward Marisa as the new ruler. The only real quibble I have with The Carnelian Tyranny is that I felt everything was wrapped up too neatly in the end. There weren’t any outside threats other than Savino when the story was over despite the fact many countries/kingdoms would love to attack anyone near them when they’ve proven weak (as history has shown us time and time again). And one of the outside kingdoms that came to Crocetta’s aid didn’t actually play that big of a role in the war against Savino. I felt there was more to explore in the way of international politics.
However, if you loved The Carnelian Legacy, you’ll probably enjoy The Carnelian Tyranny as much as I did. I can’t wait for the third book.
I give this book 4/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)
Kal was not a thief. He certainly did not intend to steal any dragon’s treasure.
He was an adventurer. Avid art collector. Incurable wealth adjuster and risk-taker. Kal had legendary expertise in the security arrangements of palaces and noble houses the world over. He hankered for remote, craggy mountaintops and the dragon hoards he might find hidden beneath them. Besides, what harm was there in looking? Dragon gold was so … shiny.
Most especially, he was not planning for any treasure to steal him.
That was a little awkward, to say the least.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Dragon Thief starts with our loveable rogue Kal foolishly trying to steal a dragon’s horde and finding a gorgeous, naked woman amongst the treasure. What’s a rogue to do? Does he rescue her as well or is this some sort of trap set up by the dragon? What could a dragon possibly want with some random woman? Well, as Kal finds out there’s more to the woman than meets the eye because the woman, Tazithiel, is a Shapeshifter. And although she’s not happy about a thief in her hoard, things take an interesting turn and the two work out a mutually beneficial truce that turns into a friendship, then something more.
Both Kal and Tazithiel have problematic pasts and both have huge trust issues. Kal has trust issues by virtue of his chosen profession while Tazithiel has a horrific past filled with abuse because of her shapeshifter status. Yet they come together with a fascinating goal: to find out what’s on the other side of the 25 league tall mountains that encircle the Island World. Is there a world beyond there containing something other than islands surrounded by poisonous clouds? What manner of creatures live beyond the Rim-Wall Mountains? Obviously Kal and Tazi’s journey isn’t as straightforward as they’d like, but they do find answers in an interesting way by the end of the book.
Marc Secchia has brought his trademark painstaking care to world-building once again. Not only do we learn so much more about various islands and cultures within the Island World, we learn a lot more about dragon lore and the fate of Aranya and the Sylakian Empire. There are also more technological innovations than we saw in any of the previous books because Dragon Thief takes place 311 years after Aranya, which was the most recent book in the Island World’s long timeline. I don’t want to give away too much, especially if you’ve read the previous books in the same world, but let’s just say some things have changed tremendously while others will never change. Especially people/dragons.
While the beginning is a bit slow after Tazithiel decides not to eat Kal on the spot, the beautiful writing style keeps things interesting as the two new lovers work out their issues. After that, the plot speeds up quite a bit because dragons aren’t exactly the kind of creatures that are welcome everywhere in the Island World. And once Kal introduces Tazi to some of his friends and associates…let’s just say things get interesting as Tazi discovers a whole difference side of our thief. Best of all, throughout the book there is Marc Secchia’s trademark humour that had me quite literally laughing out loud at some points. So while there are some pretty heavy themes in Dragon Thief, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Although there’s no official sequel set, the ending is satisfying yet leaves a little wiggle room if Secchia wants to continue the story of Tazithiel and Kal. Their actions have some very fascinating implications for our Island World and I can’t wait to see what he does with the new revelation about the Rim-Wall Mountains.
If you haven’t read any of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, Dragon Thief is a great place to start. It’s funny and touching, fast-paced yet with plenty of character development and there is some incredible world-building going on here. And if you’re already a fan like I am, Dragon Thief is a great installment in the overall story of the Island World. It builds on what we’ve seen and learned in previous books and introduces us to both an old friend and a whole new cast of characters to love. You really can’t ask for more.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
*Not available until Decmber 12, the release date.
Like all of Marc Secchia’s dragon books, you don’t really need to read this one in a particular order. However, it does help if you read the books in order of publication because of certain minor spoilers that crop up. Here’s my current recommended reading order:
- Aranya (Shapeshifter Dragons #1)
- The Pygmy Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragon Legends #1)
- Shadow Dragon (Shapeshifter Dragons #2)
- Dragonfriend (Dragonfriend #1)
- Dragonlove (Dragonfriend #2)
Like I said, you don’t have to read all of these books before Dragon Thief but they will certainly give you a greater appreciation of all of the mythological references contained within the book. For example, there are references to the Pygmy Dragon, Hualiama and Aranya. They’re easy to figure out in the context of the book but again, you’ll have a greater appreciation of just how intertwined Secchia’s various series are and how rich the mythology he’s created is if you do. With that said, if you’ve read the first two Shapeshifter Dragon books you may want to wait until the third is out because there are some minor spoilers in the references to Aranya throughout the book. And of course the very existence of dragons is a bit of a spoiler considering how dire Aranya’s situation is at the end of Shadow Dragon.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
THE ENEMY IS INSIDE US.
The SymboGen designed tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts turning them into a ravenous horde.
Now those who do not appear to be afflicted are being gathered for quarantine as panic spreads, but Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts, what their eventual goal is, and how they can be stopped.
Parasitology was originally meant to be a duology, not a trilogy but in the end I don’t think Mira Grant could have fit all of this into two books. Yes, some people will probably complain this is just a bridge to the last exciting installment but there is a lot of important stuff going on here. And despite all of the information that is thrown at us (perhaps because of it), Symbiont is a thrilling page-turner.
At the end of the last book, we found out a very interesting fact about Sal: she’s a parasite, just like Adam and Tansy. Sally Mitchell died the moment her brain was damaged in the crash; Sal the parasite took over her brain and gained control of her body. This revelation has some fascinating implications, some of which I can’t go into because of spoilers but the most interesting one had to do with her relationships. How does Nathan feel now that he knows he’s dating a parasite? He takes things surprisingly well because the parasites who have managed to integrate properly with the human brain are surprisingly human. They have social issues like Tansy’s propensity for death threats and Sal’s use of slang but they’re self-aware, they have emotions and they have a very similar survivor instinct. The really troubling thing rising from this revelation is what about the sleepwalkers, the zombie-like creatures who are just humans whose parasites took over the brain? I don’t want to spoil too much but let’s just say there’s a key thing that separates parasites like Sal from those in the sleepwalkers.
Sal is really growing as a character. Of course she’s not a kick-butt badass like you would expect the main character in a virtual zombie apocalypse to be, but she’s not a wimp. Sal goes through a lot in this book and she comes out the other end stronger. She’s far from perfect but she does learn to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient. For the first time since we’ve met her, she ends up being alone for an extended stretch of time and it’s very interesting to see what she does when faced with a horrible situation. At the same time, we learn a lot more about the secondary characters like Dr. Cale and Dr. Steven Banks, the head of SymboGen and the man who has essentially caused this entire sleepwalker mess. None of the secondary characters are what they pretend to be, especially one character I won’t name who was one of Sal’s friends.
With the global situation spiralling out of control as more and more SymboGen parasites become self-aware, you’d think that Symbiont would be a never-ending series of depressing events, each worse than the last. While that’s certainly true at first, you at least get hints that there might be hope out there despite the different factions competing over the fate of the human race. There’s SymboGen, who wants to make a profit out of this by modifying the sleepwalker parasites. Then there’s Dr. Cale, whose motivations remain unclear. And finally there’s that unnamed secondary character who wants the total destruction of the human race as we know it. Sal and Nathan are stuck between a rock and a hard place and sometimes it seems like there’s no real ‘right’ or ‘good’ side. But they’re not going to let the human race go down without a fight. It will be interesting to see how Mira Grant decides to resolve the situation in the third book, Chimera. Although we have a lot of our questions about parasites answered here in Symbiont, there are some very critical questions left open by the end of the book.
So here we have a second book that’s not only exciting, but satisfying in terms of answering questions readers have while posing new questions for the third book. Sal has grown immensely as a character and Mira Grant’s end of the world scenario is terrifyingly plausible and realistic. With great characters, plenty of excitement and some amazing world-building, you can’t go wrong with a Mira Grant novel. I can’t wait to read Chimera.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Amazon.)
Are You A Human Ostrich?
Do you stick your head in the sand at the thought of dealing with a task that seems boring, complicated, or unpleasant? Do you pay your bills late because the last time you balanced your checkbook was more than six months ago? While working on a task do you keep thinking you should be dealing with a different task?
- Is your living space messy and your life unorganized?
- Do you clean up only when family or friends will be visiting-only to let your place fall back into untidiness after they’ve gone?
- After you’ve cleaned for visitors, do you tell yourself “it doesn’t count!” because you weren’t doing it for yourself?
- Have you stopped having visitors over because you’re ashamed of your mess?
- Do you worry you’ll feel embarrassed if the landlord, a plumber, or a repairperson needed to visit your place?
- Do you constantly compare yourself to people who seem to “have it together?”
- Does your habitual procrastination leave you feeling depressed and anxious?
- Do you know the 25 characteristics and behaviors of the human ostrich?
- Are you concerned that your child or someone you care deeply about is becoming a habitual procrastinator?
[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback from the author at Book Expo America 2015 in exchange for an honest review.]
I am a habitual procrastinator. I have been since I was in middle school because I could always get away with a good mark despite doing my work late the night before (especially essays for English). And I never really grew out of that habit. Instead, it’s migrated to take over other things in my life like cleaning and other generally unpleasant tasks. So when I met David Parker at BEA offering a copy of his book, I was quite willing to give it a try. And I did, several months ago.
So why didn’t I review it until now? Surprisingly, the answer is not procrastination.
The answer is that I’ve virtually cured my procrastination since reading it in beginning of June. Of course I’m not perfect (and this book does not expect perfection) but I have really, really improved from where I was. It was especially helpful while I was preparing for my big move in the middle of August and needed to do an insane amount of inventory and cleaning. I’m not the sort of person that believes powerfully in self-help books, but this one is definitely one that worked for me.
David Parker starts the book describing his own procrastination and habitual procrastinators will end up nodding along. “Yes, I definitely do that…I also think [x] negative thing whenever I don’t get things done”, etc. He then describes how procrastination becomes a habit and then how it absolutely takes over your life. Then in the second section of the book he goes on to describe how to take steps toward curing your procrastination using his J.O.T. Method™ (Just One Thing Method).
I didn’t follow the instructions exactly but the idea of writing done just one thing, doing it and then crossing it off appealed to me. I’m sure it seems so simplistic and ridiculous to people who don’t sufer from procrastination but for me it really did help. I could see what I was doing and I finally had motivation to do it just so I could cross off that item. As time moved on, I made longer and more sophisticated lists where I was doing several things every day in order to get my life back together. For example, I began vacuuming every Friday night before I went online so that I didn’t keep leaving the vacuuming until someone was coming over or until it was so filthy I couldn’t stand it. Again, this may seem very simplistic but I can’t describe what a relief it was to finally be doing something—and to have the motivation to do that thing.
Of course your procrastination won’t disappear overnight and it may take several months like mine did but it is such a relief to act like a normal adult now. I’ve finally said goodbye to my awful middle school habits and have taken responsibility for my life. It’s easy to fall back into the trap of procrastination, but Parker also deals with that in his book. If you fall off the horse, get back on again and don’t beat yourself up about it. He has very practical solutions for dealing with the negative self-talk all of us procrastinators have. And if you’re someone who is close to a procrastinator, there’s also a chapter for you to better understand and support them on their journey to ending procrastination.
Basically, this is a pracitcal no-nonsense approach to ending procrastination. It’s written in clear language that everyone can understand and it actually helped. I think that’s really all you can ask for in a self-help book, right?
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Moira is a powerful empath, a psychic graced with the ability to read emotions and memories. Her skill is as much a curse as a gift, for in the harshly stratified city of Braxton empaths are slaves. Clever and beautiful, Moira has learned to rely on no one but herself. Determined to escape life as a concubine, she kills her master, and is imprisoned for the crime.
This could be the end for Moira, but the government has need of her skills. A mysterious serial killer known as the Phoenix has been planting suggestions in his victims’ minds that drive them to murder and suicide. To gain her freedom, Moira partners with Keenan Edwards, a handsome young detective, to stop the killer.
Hunting the Phoenix will bring Moira on a more dangerous road than she imagined, forcing her to confront dark minds, twisted moralities, and her growing feelings for the detective.
[Full disclosure: I requested and recevied a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
I wasn’t really sure what I expected from Mind of the Phoenix, but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I did have.
Moira is a truly amazing character. She’s been a slave in a pleasure house for years until at the age of 19 she was sold off to a private owner that she then killed. She evaded capture for 6 months before being taken into custody pending execution—until even the Elite (the powerful empaths that work with regular humans to suppress their less powerful brethren) admit they need her abilities to solve a recent spree of suicides that are likely murders. Throughout the investigation we see Moira start to open up just a bit. In the beginning she’s very cynical and sarcastic, both of which are clear defense mechanisms considering what she’s been through. And then as time goes on and Keenan shows her some of the good in the world, she opens up to him a bit. She still struggles with her inner demons and she doesn’t exactly have rose-coloured glasses on by the end of the novel but she at least softens her outlook a little bit as she sees the good in some people.
Keenan is truly an enigma. He’s not your typical tough, silent detective type and he’s certainly not the typical bad boy type of person that you see in so much fiction now. He’s just a man struggling with demons of his own, much like Moira. As a detective he’s seen a lot and feels quite a bit of responsibility on his shoulders. In a world that is clearly morally skewed, he does the best he can to be a good person. He’s not perfect—the second scene where he holds Moira’s head under water definitely shows that—but he’s not a monster. And he’s certainly not the type of man Moira is used to and can easily fit in one category.
Lest you think so, let me say clearly that any romance between Moira and Keenan is not the main focus of the story. Jamie McLachlan does a great job of depicting the inner struggles of the characters while at the same time moving the plot along quite quickly. The mysterious Phoenix is on the loose, implanting commands in people’s minds that make them commit suicide when a certain phrase is read. How can he or she be stopped when you don’t know who you’re looking for or what their true motives are? Moira can search through minds but not even she can undo some of the blocks the Phoenix places in them—at least not without utterly destroying the mind of the victim. When you think you know the true identity of the Phoenix, the plot twists and you’re left wondering whether or not that person is the Phoenix. Jamie McLachlan writes great interpersonal struggles, but she also writes one heck of a murder mystery.
If you’re looking for something a little different from the regular fantasy/speculative fiction, Mind of the Phoenix is the perfect book for you. It has political intrigue, two separate murder mysteries and some great intrapersonal/interpersonal conflicts. And yes, it has just a hint of romance and deals with the whole idea of putting the past behind you so you can live in the present. Best of all, it’s extremely well-written. You’ll be up reading into the early morning hours just like I was last night. I can’t recommend this book enough and I really can’t wait for the next book in the Memory Collector series.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
“I am his muse. But not for long…”
When Mammon, the Prince of Greed, ‘acquires’ a half-blood slave known as ‘Muse’ for three nights, and bespells her with tales of a world where people live like kings and queens among towers of steel and glass, the seed of hope takes root in Muse’s soul. But hope, for a half-human half-demon creature like her, is a dangerous thing. Especially when that tentative hope springs from the honeyed words of a Prince of Hell. What is Mammon’s price for freedom?
Meanwhile Da’mean, her ruthless owner, would rather see her dead, than free. She belongs to him. She is his muse. And no beast will take her from him.
The world of the elemental demons is harsh and violent. Muse’s kin are merciless, blood-hungry beasts, but little do they know, Muse has something far more dangerous coiled inside her, desperate for a taste of freedom.
After reading the first book in The Veil series, I found out I could get a free copy of this prequel novella, Wings of Hope, through signing up for DaCosta’s newsletter. Obviously I did and got this novella for free. I devoured it in less than half an hour.
Muse here is a very different character. She’s terrified of her master, who heaps every sort of abuse possible on her young body. At the same time, she’s very stubborn and refuses to unleash her demon side when Da’mean provokes her to anger. She doesn’t always win when it comes to controlling her demon side but she desperately tries. That’s when Mammon strides in and changes everything.
Let’s get one thing straight: Mammon isn’t doing this out of the good of his heart and Muse knows this. She’s constantly looking for an angle with him as he tells her of Earth and humanity, painting a happier picture than she could have ever imagined on her own. Mammon is, first and foremost, a demon and when Muse gets into trouble, he’ll do some things to protect her but he’s not going to go out of his way to be the hero. That makes for an interesting dynamic in their relationship in the beginning and you can sort of see that dynamic later in the first full length book of the series, Beyond the Veil.
The pace is quite fast as this is a novella but it does have quite a bit of character development packed into those few pages. Muse goes from terrified, abused creature to a human being that longs for so much more out of life, even if it costs her everything. She’s not the Muse that readers will recognize from the rest of the series but her characterization here explains a lot of her trust issues in the main series. Despite that, you don’t even need to read the series first. This can be read as a standalone novella to give you a taste of Pippa DaCosta’s writing style and I’d highly recommend it for The Veil series fans and people who have never read her work before. Wings of Hope gives us a great feel for how much Muse has really come, what sort of a man (demon?) Mammon is and a bit of a clearer picture of the netherworld, something Muse mentions only in passing.
Basically, whether or not you’ve read the main series before reading this prequel novella, you’re going to love it. There’s great world-building, character development and pacing jammed into these 58 pages. I highly recommend giving it a try.
I give this novella 5/5 stars.