Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Curse of Nefertiti by Charline Ratcliff

Kayla has always been a strong, independent woman, juggling the demands of her busy life with grace, despite the never-ending stream of disappointments that fate constantly hurls her way in The Curse of Nefertiti by Charline Ratcliff. Unfortunately, her past is a bit of a mystery. She was adopted at the age of 13 and, much to her frustration, has no memories of her life before that time. She is constantly haunted by strange dreams of a dark and barren land, where she is chased by something horrifying - but fortunately always awakens just before the danger catches up with her. One night, after a particularly stressful day of dealing with her demanding friends, Kayla goes out to the aptly named Club Destiny. While getting ready that evening, the beautiful Kayla looks into the mirror, only to find a strange face staring back at her. Confused and a little scared, she blinks and the image vanishes. She determinedly pushes the hallucination from her mind, and heads out to greet the night that will change her life, both past and present.

At the club, she suffers another hallucination, this time of a beautiful man coming toward her across the crowded dance floor whom no one else appears to see. She's not given much time to consider her increasing mental instability before she's interrupted by a charming Italian stranger. When he calls her the next day, she's surprised to hear herself agree to a date that evening. Once together again, their connection and attraction becomes increasingly apparent. To Kayla, it feels as though she has known him her whole life, or perhaps even longer. However, the handsome stranger, Paolo, is frustratingly enigmatic. His cryptic phrases and apparent ability to read Kayla's every thought and mood steadily increases her sense that he is keeping something from her. While they are together, strange phrases and foreign words begin to float unbidden across her mind with increasing frequency, and she starts to have inexplicable visions. Finally, his words resonate in her mind, bringing memory flooding back to her from the ancient past. She recognizes him as the reincarnation of her murdered husband Akhenaten, and slowly comes to realize that she herself is Nefertiti, the most beautiful Egyptian queen who ever lived. Kayla is then faced with a terrible choice: return to her past life and right a terrible wrong, but lose both the man she loves and her own life in the process, or stay in the present, finally reunited with the love she lost so long ago, but feeling the guilt of her selfishness for the rest of her mortal life.

The blend of ancient history, mysticism, mortal peril and passionate love are a force to be reckoned with in The Curse of Nefertiti. However, the beginning chapters move frustratingly slow with a few too many gratuitous sex scenes for my personal taste, leaving readers anxious for the action to start and impatient for the story of Kayla's past life to unfold. Fortunately, these chapters do contain occasional intriguing glimpses of Nefertiti's time in ancient Egypt, allowing readers to experience the confusion and curiosity of reincarnation with Kayla. While I had trouble with the writing style in the beginning, it improves over the course of the novel, and the flashbacks and scenes in Egypt are captivating and written in a style that evokes the era. There were a few aspects of the plot that I wish had been more thoroughly explored and developed, especially for them to have the desired impact on the story. However, the bits of history that the author weaves into the story are a excellent touch, giving richness to the tapestry of heritage against which the story is set. The strong female protagonist is also a refreshing and empowering feature of the novel. While Paolo is certainly a major presence in the story, it ultimately falls to Kayla to save the country and the people she loves, not needing the male hero to ride in on his white horse to save the day. The Curse of Nefertiti truly is Kayla's story, and the final lines of the epilogue powerfully echo this sentiment.

Note: This novel is for mature audiences.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this novel from the author. This does not affect my review. Please see my full review policy.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3.5/5
Writing: 3/5
Setting: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.4/5

Go here to read an interview with the author, Charline Ratcliff!

A personalized copy of this book can be purchased here.

*For an explanation of the new rating categories, please view the About Me page. Your thoughts on this experimental new system are welcome.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, Clare meets Henry for the first time when she’s six years old, but Henry meets Clare for the first time when she’s 20.  Ever since he was five years old, Henry has randomly found himself in a different place and time, naked and starving. Henry is an involuntary time traveler, jumping into the past and occasionally into the future. As a result, he’s had to learn to fight, steal, pick locks, and run for his life; he’s been beaten and bruised, scared and cold, alone and, unfortunately, sometimes not-so-alone - lying through his teeth to explain his sudden appearance, sans clothing. On the other hand, his dubious gift also brings him together with his future wife and the love of his life, Clare. As a middle-aged man, married to the future, grown-up Clare, Henry finds himself traveling back in time to Clare’s childhood. He acts as her teacher, friend and confidante as she grows up, the only person outside of Henry’s family who knows his unbelievable secret. However, he refuses to tell her any identifying details about himself in order to prevent her from searching for him in the present, determined that their meeting should occur naturally and knowing that he can’t interfere with the past, even if he tried. Therefore, Clare doesn’t meet “here and now” Henry until she is 20 and he is 28. Even though he doesn’t know her or share her memories (yet), Clare’s ecstatic reaction when she finally finds him in her present is enough to tell Henry that they have a history, and a future. From that moment on, the unusual pair spends their life together trying to discover the secret to Henry’s time traveling and searching for a solution to its terrible consequences.

This book has an interesting premise, but it never truly develops its possibilities. The novel wildly jumps around in time, requiring the reader to constantly flip back and forth in order to create a coherent timeline in their mind. The theory of time and space within which Niffenegger’s universe operates is not clear until many chapters into the novel, leaving the reader to riddle out the logistics of Henry and Clare’s unusual relationship. The future and past are frequently alluded to, but never fully explained until the final chapters. While it’s clear that the author is trying to create suspense and surprise, the result is really chaos and confusion. Henry is not an especially worthy hero, though he’s certainly to be pitied, and Clare’s character is not defined enough to evoke empathy in the reader. The cacophony of characters and events, scattered throughout time and space, leave the reader feeling frustrated, and some of the events later in the novel are pointlessly depressing. The Time Traveler’s Wife has its moments of humor and of poignancy, but overall it isn’t enough to counteract the circuitous plot. Rather than being romantic, the inevitability that was omnipresent in the star-crossed lovers’ story was stifling and made the rest of the story seem meaningless.

Note: This novel is for mature audiences.

The book can be purchased here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it usually finds him. Kicked out of every school he’s ever attended, bizarre disasters seem to stalk 12-year-old Percy’s every step in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. The final straw comes when Percy is suddenly attacked by his math teacher Mrs. Dodds, who turns out to be one of Hades’ Furies, and has to defend himself with his Mythology teacher’s pen, which fortunately morphs into a sword when uncapped. After no one at school seems to notice the attack or even remember Mrs. Dodds, Percy demands answers from his mother and she takes him to the seaside cottage where they always spend their vacations. However, they barely reach their safe haven before Percy’s best friend Grover bursts into the cottage in the middle of a raging storm frantically bleating (yes, bleating – he’s a half-goat satyr) that something menacing is coming for the dazed and confused Percy. Percy doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, but his mother apparently does, and the odd trio make a mad dash for Camp Half-Blood with a monster on their tail. On the way, Percy learns that not only is Grover a satyr, but he personally is a demigod – half mortal, half god.

While Percy struggles to accept this startling truth, the monster catches up with them and Percy has no choice but to fight a second battle, this time without a sword. Percy miraculously manages to defeat the monster and staggers across the boundary line into Camp Half-Blood, the only safe place on earth for his kind, with Grover in tow. He soon discovers that Camp Half-Blood is populated with all kinds of creatures from the world of myth and legend – centaurs, satyrs, wood nymphs, hellhounds, and even a god. At camp, Percy learns the truth about himself and the father he’s never met, the Sea God Poseidon. However, before Percy has time to do much more than recover from his latest brush with death, fate catches up with him again – this time in the form of an ominous prophecy and a dangerous cross-country quest. The big three gods – Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades – are on the brink of war. Zeus’s incredibly powerful weapon, the master bolt, has been stolen and the prime suspect is Percy, acting in his father’s name. Along with Grover and his new demigod friend Annabeth, Percy has no choice but to set out across the country to clear his name and keep the planet from being destroyed in the fallout from the war of the gods.

Rick Riordan’s first novel in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a fast-paced adventure, as well as a lesson in Greek mythology. Readers barely have time to catch their breath after Percy and his friends destroy one mythical monster before they’re faced with another, even more menacing than the last. The novel is wonderfully written, full of suspenseful action and hilarious quips. Anyone looking to cure their post-Potter depression will find solace within the pages of The Lightning Thief. Riordan creates a world populated with endearing and intriguing characters, as well as sadistic monsters and temperamental gods, and creatively modernizes ancient mythology – for example, the entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles (who would have guessed?) and the serpent-headed gorgon Medusa sells garden statues. Readers will root for Percy and his friends as they face impossible odds and risk their lives to do what heroes do best – save the world. Even though this series is written for children, readers of all ages will enjoy Riordan’s perfect blend of adventure, humor and mortal peril, and will rush to the bookstore to pick up the next book in the series, The Sea of Monsters.

This book can be purchased here.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen minutes can change your life forever, or end it. Every resident of Sterling, New Hampshire learns this hard lesson one sunny morning in Jodi Picoult’s heart-wrenching novel Nineteen Minutes. Peter Houghton has never been a “social butterfly.” His hand-eye coordination is non-existent, so the jock world is out of his reach. He’s remarkably average (or maybe even a little below-average) in appearance, so he can’t breeze through this superficial world. He’s a geeky computer whiz, and is forever living in his elder brother’s shadow, even after he’s killed in a tragic car accident just shy of his high school graduation. Peter has suffered torment at the hands of his peers his entire life, but he’s always had Josie, daughter of the local judge and his childhood best friend. But Josie isn’t like Peter. She’s graceful and pretty, smart but not nerdy, and when the two friends reach high school she succumbs to her fear of ridicule and the allure of popularity, joining the crowd of jocks and beauties who constantly make Peter’s life a living hell. After what would become their final joke at Peter’s expense, this crowd begins yet another day of school, never expecting it to be the day that Peter finally fights back. When Peter opens fire on the students of Sterling High, leaving a trail of horror and death in his wake, he sets in motion a chain of events from which no one in the small town can escape unscathed.

True to form, Jodi Picoult takes a timely topic that most would rather shove into the dark recesses of their minds like a horrifying nightmare and forces readers to instead face it head-on, often not quite in the way they expect. In Nineteen Minutes, readers see the horrifying school shooting at the heart of the novel from every possible perspective: the police and lawyers, the survivors and their families, and even the shooter and his parents – the latter being perspectives all too frequently overlooked. Picoult brilliantly crafts this tale to show the intricate series of events that can lead someone to commit such an unfathomable act. Readers will be surprised to find themselves pitying Peter, along with the other victims of his crime. While Picoult in no way endorses his actions, she does masterfully give shape and shade to his mind and motives, rather than taking the traditional route of black and white, villain and hero, criminal and victim. Through an interwoven blend of childhood flashbacks, present glimpses, and a timeline of the final hours leading up to Peter’s nineteen minute rampage of terror through Sterling High, Picoult explores the complex psychologies of her characters, and the environment capable of fostering an individual capable of so much violence, making discoveries that will probably surprise most readers. Nineteen Minutes is a heart-pounding and gut-wrenching tale that is hard to hear and perhaps even harder to tell, but it is one that should be heard. The final courtroom scene is worthy of Atticus Finch and the ultimate astonishing plot twist will leave readers reeling. Picoult once again succeeds in crafting a thought-provoking and belief-challenging narrative that readers will still be contemplating months after they’ve turned the final page.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is the haunting line that begins Daphne du Maurier’s gothic masterpiece, Rebecca. Contrary to expectations, Rebecca is not the main character and narrator. In fact, we never learn the name of the mind we inhabit throughout the book. Rebecca is the dead first wife of the novel’s hero – Maximilian de Winter. When the narrator meets Maxim at a Monte Carlo hotel, she is young and naïve and in training to be a “companion” to a wealthy old gossip. Maxim is twice her age, moody and inscrutable, but he seems to take a liking to the unlikely heroine. When her guardian falls ill, the narrator spends her unexpected free time gallivanting around Monte Carlo with the mysterious Maxim. She quickly falls in love with the dashing (but dubious) hero, but entertains no hope that he returns her affection and is consequently taken completely by surprise when he abruptly proposes to her the day she is set to depart for New York. She accepts (of course) and returns with him to his renowned mansion, Manderley.

Unfortunately, her new life fails to live up to her youthful expectations. At Manderley, the nameless heroine is met at every turn with the memory of her predecessor Rebecca, who was drowned in a boating accident only a year earlier. The servants, especially the malevolent and ghastly Mrs. Danvers, worshipped Rebecca when she was alive and still hold her memory sacred. The narrator finds herself utterly unwelcome and powerless as Manderley’s new mistress and eventually begins to suspect that Maxim does not love her at all, but still pines for his lost first love. In an utterly bone-chilling scene, Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the heartbroken and desperate heroine to jump to her death from one of Manderley’s highest windows. This tragedy is narrowly avoided, and the dark and gripping story then takes a startling turn that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final astounding page.

Rebecca is a fascinating tale of suspense and romance, markedly distinct from many of the more mundane love stories. The story bears some resemblance to Charlotte Brontë’s amazing Jane Eyre, but pushes the bounds of star-crossed and troubled lovers nearly to their breaking point. Rebecca encapsulates the subtle mix of romance and horror that has captivated modern readers in popular series such as The Twilight Saga, though du Maurier’s thrilling tale was written almost 70 years earlier. The enchanting and haunting darkness shrouding the novel is perhaps what drew film auteur Alfred Hitchcock to the story for his 1940 cinematic adaptation. Reading Rebecca is a sensory experience; du Maurier describes every scene with vivid detail that drops readers in the midst of the starkly contrasting vistas of Manderley’s brackish woods and vibrant multitudes of blood red rhododendrons, living each twist and every turn of the story alongside the forever nameless heroine. Rebecca will have readers questioning their judgment and second-guessing their intuition as they eagerly seek to discover Manderley’s darkest secrets.

This novel can be purchased here.

For another terrific review of this classic novel, please check out Hannah Stoneham's Book Blog!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

And so it begins...

Thanks for visiting my blog! I thought I’d start by telling you a little bit about myself and this blog.

My name is Casey and I am the bookish type. People I know say that I have a different book every time they see me. I don’t really remember how this love affair with reading started, but it’s been a part of my personality for as long as I can remember. There are so many amazing books in the world, it sometimes makes me sad that I’ll never get to read them all. I also aspire to a career in publishing and was told that reviewing books would be good experience, plus it’s fun to share my joy with fellow bookworms. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to leave suggestions for books you think I should read and review!

A few of my favorite books include (but are by no means limited to):
All of Jane Austen’s novels (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern
The Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan
All of Sarah Dessen’s books (especially This Lullaby, Just Listen, The Truth About Forever, Lock and Key, and Along for the Ride)
The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare
“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare
"As You Like It" by William Shakespeare
The Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery
and the list goes on…

I also have a Twitter account for this blog, as well as an email address:
Feel free to get in touch! I love talking with fellow bookaholics. Keep an eye out for the first review – it will be announced via Twitter and should be up soon!

*Authors and Publishers: I will gladly accept review copies or ARCs of books. Please read my complete review policy. If you would like me to review your book, please email me.

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