Tagged: ancient egypt

My New York Trip Day #7: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Again)

DSCN2080Today I decided to go back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see everything I didn’t see the first day that I still wanted to see.  Which was mainly (of course) the Egyptian exhibit.

The Egyptian exhibit, for those of you that hven’t been there, is massive.  It’s truly enormous and the thing is that there’s so much stuff packed into it.  In the Roman and Greek exhibits at least most stuff is spread out but in the Egyptian one there’s stuff crammed into every single corner.  There are study galleries everywhere and even the main exhibits have so many things in them.  Everywhere you look, there are commemorative scarabs, beads, combs, cosmetic boxes and every sort of little trinket you could imagine. Continue reading

Search for the Golden Serpent by Luciana Cavallaro

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00044](Cover picture courtesy of the author.)

It’s not where he appears, it’s when.
What if you’re born during another time grew up in the 21st century and thrust back into the past? Confused? So is architect, Evan Chronis.
Evan drawn by screams ventures out to his backyard and sees blood trickling down the limestone steps. He steps off the veranda and finds himself in the days of great and marvellous power, a time when the gods ruled the universe.
To return to the 21st century life he longs for, he must risk his life in search of powerful, treasured relics older than the Holy Grail. But what he finds might be more than he expected.
Will Evan find the relics and return home or will he remain forever stuck in a world so different from his own?

[Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author and provided with an ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve read quite a few of Luciana Cavallaro’s previous works so I was pretty excited to read Search for the Golden Serpent.  The only problem was that she had previously only published short stories and I was a little worried about how she would transition into longer works like this one.  After all, a 354 page novel is not the same as a 40 page short story.  Still, I was more than ready to give her a chance.  In the end, I honestly didn’t even need to worry in the slightest.  Her debut novel is just as good as her previous short stories, even better in many ways.

Evan Chronis is a very memorable character.  In the modern world he’s a successful architect who absolutely adores his job.  Then Zeus decides that he’s needed back in his real time: the early years of ancient Greece, after the sinking of the mythical Atlantis.  I don’t know about you but being immersed in the modern world and suddenly being contacted by a god who drops you in the ancient world would be a little jarring to say the least.  Evan, understandably, really doesn’t handle it all that well in the beginning until he begins to speak the language and make friends.  But poor Evan, called Evandros in his own time, doesn’t ever really get a break: Zeus and the other gods have sent him on a mission to recover powerful artifacts to prevent their eventual fading into historical fiction in the modern era.

He really does have a remarkable physical journey but also a mental and emotional one.  When he goes back to the past he fights it tooth and nail, desperate to go back to our own time.  However, when he realizes that his only option is to recover the artifacts he throws himself fully into the task.  In the beginning Evan is also a little arrogant in his own way, utterly convinced that the people in the past are more primitive and somewhat inferior.  Yet through his journeys he tends to appreciate them a little more and realize that many ancient cultures had more accomplishments than just their fantastic architecture.  And when he befriends Phameas on the ship that rescues him and is forced to learn an entirely new language in a very short time, it sort of humbles him.  He learns a lot on his journey and it was really interesting to see how his character changed throughout the course of the novel.

One of the things I absolutely loved is that Luciana Cavallaro has clearly done her research.  She so vividly describes past cultures that we very rarely read about in historical fiction that you feel like you’re really there.  From the streets of Carthage to the temples of ancient Egypt and a ship from Phoenicia, you will feel totally immersed in the world of the ancient Mediterranean.  It’s brilliant because it shows old empires like Egypt and contrasts it with the rising might of the Greeks.  It’s so rare in historical fiction to get a more international picture like this one and it’s a real treat to have it handled by an author with such a passion for history.  Obviously Evan and his group are fiction but many of the main events and where they occurred are real.  It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m not really doing it justice with this description.

The plot begins a little slow but that’s quickly remedied as Evan is contacted by Zeus and is forced to become Evandros, the version of himself that was raised solely in the past instead of just being born in it.  I suppose some people will find Evan’s period on the Phoenician ship a little boring but I really enjoyed his adjustment period as he learned more about the world he was suddenly dropped into.  It helps that Evan’s point of view is interspersed with scenes with the gods, who are more than a little worried about their fate as well as scenes with the rest of his crew, who are understandably wondering where the Evandros they knew and loved has gone and whether or not he’s even alive.  By the time I got to the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what would happen next. The ending was a cliffhanger but it was a good place to stop and it was a fairly satisfying end.  It made me want more but I had fewer questions than when I started out.

Luciana Cavallaro really has a gift for making you care about her characters and their fates even if you don’t necessarily think they’re sympathetic or likeable.  That much was obvious from her short stories but she really transitioned into a longer work really well.  The beautiful descriptions that were the hallmark of her short stories for me are expanded and add so much more to the richness of the world she brought to life.  So if you loved Cavallaro’s short stories, you will also love Search for the Golden Serpent.  And if you’re never ready anything by her, you need to pick up one of her short stories and/or pre-order a copy of her debut novel.  You certainly won’t regret it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Black Moon by F. M. Sherrill & Becca C. Smith

Black Moon by Smith and Sherrill(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Shea Harper is forced to stay in boring, hot and dry Phoenix, Arizona for college. But once she meets the enigmatic yet positively egocentric Lucian, Shea’s life changes forever.

She finds out that she comes from a long line of descendants called Vessels. In her soul is the key to destroying an ancient prison protecting the world from darkness itself: Lucian’s father.

Up until now, Lucian has captured every descendant except Shea. With her powers awakening, all vampires want to drag her down to the pit. But Lucian is territorial. She’s the first female Vessel… and he’s convinced she belongs to him.

Saucy and tauntingly surprising, Black Moon captures the struggle between burning desire or denying the heart. This is a love story that will drain you dry.

[Full disclosure: I received a free print copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I really do love the characters in this novel.  Both Smith and Sherrill did excellent jobs with their respective characters, Shea and Lucian.  I felt like I really was in Shea’s and Lucian’s shoes during their chapters and I understood their motivations for their actions.  I’ll admit it: sometimes I’m a sucker for tales of forbidden love.  And boy, does Lucian ever fit the bill here.  Our dark vampire here used to be a slave in Egypt who loved the beautiful Nefertiti but was killed for it.  After all these centuries, he still loves her despite the tragedy that befell her because of him.  His guilt and his love are clear in many aspects of his life…until he meets Shea.

As an Egypt buff, I loved the infusion of some history into Black Moon, but it was rather disappointing that Smith and Sherrill played fast and loose with the facts.  No, Nefertiti was hardly captured in battle along with her father.  No, her father’s name was not Ur-Nammu.  And no, she was certainly not a slave at court with the name of ‘wife’; by all accounts she was greatly beloved of Akhenaten.  Now, I can definitely forgive some historical inaccuracies in the name of a good story.  But when Lucian passively mentions that Queen Hatshepsut constantly reeked of myrrh, I had to laugh.  Hatshepsut was far before Nefertiti’s time and therefore Lucian’s time (since he was human then).  There were three kings with extremely long reigns between the two women, so there’s no way Lucian actually would have met her.

My griping about historical accuracy aside, I really enjoyed Black Moon.  It has quite a fast plot and so many twists and turns that my head was spinning by the end.  Yes, in the beginning it seems to be mostly character-driven but by the end it seemed to be more plot-driven.  In reality, it’s actually the best of both worlds: it’s a fast-paced novel with extremely well developed and believable characters.  I thought it got a little melodramatic toward the end, but that’s a personal thing rather than an actual flaw with the novel.  The cliffhanger at the end was excruciating; I would have read the next book without it anyway, but with a cliffhanger like that I know I definitely have to read the next book now.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Sekhmet Bed by L. M. Ironside

The Sekhmet Bed by L. M. Ironside(Cover picture courtesy of L. M. Ironside’s website.)

Is Ahmose’s divine gift a blessing or a curse?

The second daughter of the Pharaoh, Ahmose has always dreamed of a quiet life as a priestess, serving Egypt’s gods, ministering to the people of the Two Lands. But when the Pharaoh dies without an heir, she is given instead as Great Royal Wife to the new king – a soldier of common birth. For Ahmose is god-chosen, gifted with the ability to read dreams, and it is her connection to the gods which ensures the new Pharaoh his right to rule.

Ahmose’s elder sister Mutnofret has been raised to expect the privileged station of Great Royal Wife; her rage at being displaced cannot be soothed. As Ahmose fights the currents of Egypt’s politics and Mutnofret’s vengeful anger, her youth and inexperience carry her beyond her depth and into the realm of sacrilege.

To right her wrongs and save Egypt from the gods’ wrath, Ahmose must face her most visceral fear: bearing an heir. But the gods of Egypt are exacting, and even her sacrifice may not be enough to restore the Two Lands to safety.

The Sekhmet Bed is the first volume of L. M. Ironside’s series The She-King, a family saga of the Thutmosides, one of ancient Egypt’s most fascinating royal families.

The Sekhmet Bed was actually recommended to me by an editor from another publishing house that I consider a friend.  It was free on Amazon for that day so I decided to give it a try, considering that her previous recommendations had worked out very well for me.  Thankfully, this one was no different.

It seems more and more people are writing about Hatshepsut these days (hallelujah!) but I’ve never, ever seen anyone write about her mother, Ahmose.  And you know what?  Ahmose deserves a little recognition too because while she obviously couldn’t match her daughter in some of her achievements she was a strong woman in her own way.  Ironside filled in some gaps in the historical record with her own imaginings but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that things didn’t actually happen in a similar fashion.

Ahmose is just a girl when she’s married off to Thutmose, a common general who is chosen as the next Pharaoh because of the lack of male heirs in the family.  This makes both of their positions extremely precarious and it’s up to Ahmose to smooth things over in the political sphere.  She’s very obviously young and naive when she’s first married but I love how she really comes into her own as she grows older.  Ahmose doesn’t have an easy time of it in life but she reacts realistically to a rather bad situation and eventually finds a little bit of happiness.

I wouldn’t say the plot is fast-paced by most standards, but it was very interesting.  There’s not as much political intrigue as I would have liked but that’s more of a personal preference than anything else.  The religious aspect of the novel was fascinating, though, and I love that Ironside went into such detail about Egyptian religion.  It’s quite strange to the modern reader but she manages to explain such things to the reader in a way that makes it easy to understand for people new to ancient Egyptian history as well as fanatics like myself.

Basically, this is just an awesome self-published novel.  There were barely any errors and none of them were particularly memorable (just some missed quotation marks and such).  Really, this is just a good story with an amazing female lead and great historical accuracy.  Where there are changes, they’re completely justified so I can’t even complain about that.  The Sekhmet Bed is just a great book and I can’t wait to read more of Ironside’s work.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton

Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton(Cover picture courtesy of Stephanie Thornton’s website.)

Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt…and sets her on a profoundly changed course.

Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Horus Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew.

Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall….

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley for the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

There are very few books that literally take my breath away when I finish reading them but Daughter of the Gods is one of them.

One of the things that struck me most about this book was Stephanie Thornton’s amazing writing style.  She can do the big dramatic scenes without making them seem forced.  She can also slow down and describe things so the reader truly feels like they’re transported back in time.  And most importantly of all, she can actually hold the reader’s attention for nearly 500 pages because she slowly builds up tension throughout the novel.  It’s not the fastest-paced novel ever but her writing is so compelling that you won’t want to put it down.

Stephanie Thornton’s portrayal of Hatshepsut is pretty much how I imagined the real person.  She’s strong and willful but fiercely devoted to her people and preserving the welfare of Egypt even at a cost to herself.  Her love for Senenmut develops slowly but once she realizes she loves him she does so with all of her heart.  Senenmut himself is also an interesting character, but Hatshepsut tends to steal the scene for most of the novel.  Of course she can be stubborn on occasion and her stubbornness costs her dearly sometimes, but that flaw only makes her more human.  Hatshepsut is a character even modern readers can relate with despite the huge cultural differences like the fact she marries her half-brother and worships many different gods and goddesses.

We don’t know much about Hatshepsut’s reign because her monuments and writings were destroyed in a systematic campaign to squash the idea that a woman could ever be Pharaoh.  But where the facts are known, Stephanie Thornton generally sticks to them and fills in the gaps in our knowledge of her reign with believable events.  Even when she does deviate from the historical record (which was rare) she is able to justify it within the context of the story as well as in her historical note.  The changes she made were to improve the story and that’s why Daughter of the Gods is now one of my favourite historical fiction novels.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of ancient Egypt, I can’t recommend Daughter of the Gods enough.  Stephanie Thornton is able to bring ancient Egypt to life for novices and experts alike.  You’ll fall in love with her characters and experience their triumphs and heartaches right alongside them.  And you definitely won’t be able to put the book down.

Seriously, just go buy this book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Curse by Jennifer Brassel

The Curse by Jennifer Brassel(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

His search for her has been timeless, eternal, and ultimately thwarted. Until now…

Seth Almose has spent countless lives trying to break the curse that robs him of his soul mate. Each time the cycle begins anew, he meets it with hope, and each time he is left with heartbreak. But as the cycle dawns again, with yet another incarnation, Seth can’t help himself. She is extraordinary; is she the one?

Julia Morrow has reason to be wary of men. After restarting her life to escape an increasingly dangerous stalker, she has no reason to believe Seth and his stories of reincarnation and curses. But his face haunts her dreams, and her canvasses. He claims that it is a matter of life and death — her death. Can she find it in herself to trust again, or will the cycle turn once again, leaving them both broken and alone?

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I really debated requesting The Curse on NetGalley but in the end my curiosity got the better of me.  Despite the cliché-filled blurb I thought I’d give this one a chance and approach it with an open mind.  After all, I did the same thing to Echo Prophecy by Lindsey Fairleigh and it turned out to be a great book.  The Curse isn’t a great book, though.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s far from a bad book.  It’s simply an average novel with nothing really to distinguish it from similar reincarnation curse stories.

The characters were very well developed.  I really felt for Julia having to move and change her name after being stalked for months before the story started.  Her behaviour is obviously affected by this incident but with the help of Seth she does seem to recover at a natural pace.  She’s strong and brave but at the same time isn’t an unrealistically kick-butt protagonist.  Seth was surprising for a male lead in that he isn’t the type of guy to rush out immediately when his beloved is kidnapped.  No, he called the police, something that normal human beings would do in that circumstance.  That was probably the biggest surprise of the whole novel but in hindsight it fits with his character.

Other than some surprises with the characters, there weren’t really all that many plot surprises.  The Curse followed a pretty typical reincarnation story arc where girl starts having dreams, meets boy, they get together after some initial misunderstandings and circumstances or evil forces try to pull them apart.  I wish Jennifer Brassel had put more of a spin on the old story arc but she really didn’t.  Her story is well-paced and the world-building is relatively good but it’s really just the same old thing I’ve read before.

I would have liked far more backstory not only for the villains of the story but also for Seth and Julia’s past lives.  We get flashes of it so we know the basic sketch of the story but I personally would have liked more details.  That’s probably just me so I can’t really fault the author for that, though.  The only real criticism I have about the backstory is that we didn’t really know very much about the villains and their motivations.  I wish the villains had more complex motives than they were presented as having because it would have made the climax far more exciting.  Oh well.

So like I said this isn’t a great book but it’s not a bad book either.  It’s somewhere in between and if you generally like this kind of stuff I’d recommend The Curse.  It’s just that it’s not all that unique.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

The Memoirs of Cleopatra(Cover picture courtesy of Margaret George’s site.)

Bestselling novelist Margaret George brings to life the glittering kingdom of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, in this luch, sweeping, and richly detailed saga. Told in Cleopatra’s own voice, this is a mesmerizing tale of ambition, passion, and betrayl, which begins when the twenty-year-old queen seeks out the most powerful man in the world, Julius Caesar, and does not end until, having survived the assassination of Caesar and the defeat of the second man she loves, Marc Antony, she plots her own death rather than be paraded in triumph through the streets of Rome.

This really is a monster of a book.  Compared to some books I’ve read it’s not that long, only 964 pages, but the pages are huge and that’s why it took me months to finish this book.  But in the end it was completely worth it, which is why I chose it for my 500th book review!

The thing I liked most about The Memoirs of Cleopatra wasn’t even the characters; it was the writing itself.  Margaret George has a beautiful, captivating style that brings history to life.  I could smell the slums of Rome, feel the hot Egyptian air on my skin in the temple of Philae and could even smell the perfumes and the food.  Her descriptions appeal to all five of the reader’s senses but she never really belabors the point.  She finds that perfect balance between Cleopatra’s own introspective nature and describing the scene around her for readers.

The characters were, of course, fantastic.  Cleopatra is far from perfect, believe me, but Margaret George paints her not as a goddess, man-eater or ruthless despot, but rather as a human being.  She loves, fights, rages, cries, smiles, laughs and does all of the things that normal human beings would do, especially under the amount of pressure she had throughout her whole life.  Cleopatra comes off as an amazing character and this is definitely one of the more memorable portrayals of the last Pharaoh that I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot).

Julius Caesar was pretty much as I expected but Marc Antony was interesting.  In this version it’s clear that he does struggle from some depression and feelings of inadequacy as Cleopatra pushes him to do the things she’s always wanted to do.  It’s like she’s trying to live through him as a man but Antony just can’t measure up, causing him to turn to alcohol.  This type of Antony has been portrayed before, but never quite as sympathetically as Margaret George portrays him.  In the end, despite his weaknesses, I felt sad when he took his own life.

Margaret George has very obviously done her research here.  The historical details are accurate as well as the broader strokes of the events of the time.  Of course she’s had to fill in some gaps with her own imagination, but she sticks as close to reality as possible.  Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a novel that is better researched but so well written.

Basically, this was worth the months of reading and I couldn’t have picked a better book for my 500th review milestone.  If you like Cleopatra or ancient Egypt in general I can’t recommend this one enough.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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