Mara, Daughter of the Nile

Here’s another awesome read.

Mara is a proud and beautiful slave girl who yearns for freedom. In order to gain it, she finds herself playing the dangerous role of double spy for two arch enemies – each of whom supports a contender for the throne of Egypt.

Against her will, Mara finds herself falling in love with one of her masters, the noble Sheftu, and she starts to believe in his plans of restoring Thutmose III to the throne. But just when Mara is ready to offer Sheftu her help and her heart, her duplicity is discovered, and a battle ensues in which both Mara’s life and the fate of Egypt are at stake.

I first read this book in sixth grade, and to this day, it remains one of my favorites. Why is that, you might ask?

1. Mara is such a likeable, relatable character. She wants her freedom, I mean, who wouldn’t? You can forgive her a lot for trying to achieve that goal, even if that means the occasional stealing and more-than-occasional lying. She’s got spunk and courage, and will do what it takes to survive. She’s multilingual, too, which makes her valuable to the spies in Hatshepsut’s court.

2. Sheftu, oh my. He might have been the first mysterious-stranger-with-secrets hero that I ever read. Let me just say you won’t easily forget him. He and Mara have some great scenes together. He may seem ruthless and cruel, but once his heart is involved, well, everything works out for the best, of course.

3. The setting of Ancient Egypt is wonderfully described, but without too much info to make it boring. Looking back at the book, I am kind of confused why Queen Hatshepsut is made into the villain, but I’m more than willing to forgive that since the court politics are intriguing and the story is more about Mara and Sheftu anyway.

4. The writing just sweeps you in: “The city that rose beyond them shimmered, almost drained of color, in the glare of Egyptian noon. Doorways were blue-black in white buildings, alleys were plunged in shadow; the gay colors of the sails and hulls that crowded the harbor seemed faded and indistinct, and even the green of the Nile was overlaid by a blinding surface glitter. Only the sky was vivid, curving in a high blue arch over ancient Menfe.”  Talk about painting a picture!

Grade: A

Experience: Reading this book is like being immersed in Ancient Egypt. The characters are alive and full of passion, the action is intense and sometimes dangerous, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. This is true escapist literature, if you ever want to curl up with a good book and zone out of your own life for a few hours.

Pros: Smart, snappy dialogue; likeable characters; amazing writing

Cons: I only wish the ending wasn’t as abrupt, I wanted more!  Everything gets resolved on literally the last pages, and I would have liked to read a little more about what the characters would do next. It’s probably too late to hope for a sequel. This book was written back in 1953!

Overall: This is the kind of book you can read over and over, like every month or so. It’s that good!

Advertisements

Winterspell

I’m a huge fan of retellings, so I was super excited to find out about this upcoming release that tells the story behind the famous Nutcracker tale. The original already has the perfect ingredients for a fabulous story: young heroine, mysterious nutcracker prince, evil queen rat. Can’t wait to see how author Clare Legrand takes that and runs away with it!

From the GoodReads website:

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly nothuman. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

AARGH!! Love it already!

My Heart and Other Black Holes

I am SOO psyched for this upcoming debut novel from Jasmine Warga!!

The main character is of Turkish ancestry, which is soo cool, and she’s contemplating suicide, which isn’t so cool, but the entire premise sounds like it’s going to be teen snarky with plenty of heart.

From the author’s website:

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who seems scared of her, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father who has made her the town pariah, Aysel’s ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers the website Smooth Passages and its section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution. Better yet, a boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman), who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner.

But as their suicide pact starts to become more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, Aysel must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

This is a gorgeously written and compulsively readable debut novel about the transformative power of love and acceptance.

CANNOT WAIT!!

The Perilous Gard

Okay, so having written a review for Ironskin, I was reminded of one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, a true OMG Book: The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

Kate Sutton and her younger sister are banished by Queen Mary because of her sister’s silly but traitorous letter. They accompany the young Princess Elizabeth to a remote castle called the Perilous Gard, where the younger brother of the lord is a aloof and brooding Christopher Heron.

There are secrets at the castle that Kate must discover, and they center on the mysterious People of the Hill who may have had something to do with the disappearance of Christopher’s little niece.

What’s so great about this book that I still love and remember it after so many years?

1. Kate is one of my favorite heroines over. She’s smart and strong and will do what needs to be done for those she loves.

2. Christopher has just the right amount of moodiness and likability. He and Kate share some great exchanges.

3. The atmosphere is eerie and beautiful at the same time, and the faerie People of the Hill are sinister but also sympathetic.

4. The writing is perfect. (“Someone was laughing. Startled, she looked up, and saw a woman at the top of the bank, among the branches. She was standing so still, her long dark hair and shadowy green cloak melting in and out of the shifting leaves, that for an instant Kate thought she was not real, only a trick of light and color like her first illusion about the ivy-covered stump. But he was real. Kate could see the hard delicate bones of her face, and the glint of a gold bracelet on the wrist under the edge of the cloak. She was gazing down at the scene on the road beneath her with an amused, faintly disdainful laugh still lingering about her mouth, as if she were watching a pack of half-grown puppies all yelping together in a kennel-run.”) WOW. Talk about an amazing description.

5. It’s based on the Tam Lin ballad, one of my faves. (This was actually my first introduction to the ballad, and the words are included in the story, too.)

6. It won the Newbery Honor. So yeah, you don’t have to just take my word for it that it’s a really good book!

7. The book has some intriguing illustrations by Richard Cuffari too. Check this out:

See where her eyes are at? Love the subtlety 🙂

 

My greatest sorrow is that the author, Elizabeth Marie Pope, only wrote TWO books 😦

(A review of her second book The Sherwood Ring coming soon!)

Ironskin

 

There’s a lot to love about this adaptation of Jane Eyre.

The setting is an alternate steampunk-ish England, where the War that has just ended isn’t World War I, but a war against the evil Fey.  The atmosphere is pretty Gothic, feels deliciously Bronte-ish.

The main character Jane is strong, as you’d expect, but she has the additional misfortune of being scarred from a Fey bomb. She wears a mask of iron to contain the Fey infection and to hide the gashes on her face, hence the title.

The story also borrows heavily from the folk tale Tam Lin, one of my favorites ever. The beautiful but cruel Fey want the hero, and it’s up to the heroine to save him and the day. My only issue with this hero, Edward Rochart, is that, though he broods wonderfully, he never really shows any kind of strength. I feel like the author didn’t really develop him completely.

Not so with the daughter, Dorie Rochart, who Jane has come to be governess to. She’s an adorable child with “issues” that Jane needs to resolve. She doesn’t use her hands, but uses her Feyish magic to move things around. There are some pretty intense interactions between her and Jane that reminded me of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan from The Miracle Worker.

My only huge letdown was at the story’s end. I wanted more about Edward since he was barely around, and I really didn’t like what happened to Jane. There was a lot building up in the story with Jane learning to let go of her iron mask and finally be strong in her own skin. The ending kind of tore that entire premise down.

Still, this was definitely an interesting read. If you like Gothic novels (ahem, smwahdy), Jane Eyre (ahem, Fi), Tam Lin (Fi again), moody heroes with a mystery only the heroine can solve (who doesn’t?), then you’ll most likely enjoy reading this too.