Roma by Steven Saylor

Roma by Steven Saylor(Cover picture courtesy of Liberia Estudio en Escarlata.)

Spanning a thousand years, and following the shifting fortunes of two families though the ages, this is the epic saga of Rome, the city and its people.


Weaving history, legend, and new archaeological discoveries into a spellbinding narrative, critically acclaimed novelist Steven Saylor gives new life to the drama of the city’s first thousand years — from the founding of the city by the ill-fated twins Romulus and Remus, through Rome’s astonishing ascent to become the capitol of the most powerful empire in history. Roma recounts the tragedy of the hero-traitor Coriolanus, the capture of the city by the Gauls, the invasion of Hannibal, the bitter political struggles of the patricians and plebeians, and the ultimate death of Rome’s republic with the triumph, and assassination, of Julius Caesar.


Witnessing this history, and sometimes playing key roles, are the descendents of two of Rome’s first families, the Potitius and Pinarius clans:  One is the confidant of Romulus. One is born a slave and tempts a Vestal virgin to break her vows. One becomes a mass murderer. And one becomes the heir of Julius Caesar. Linking the generations is a mysterious talisman as ancient as the city itself.


Epic in every sense of the word, Roma is a panoramic historical saga and Saylor’s finest achievement to date.

When I first started Roma I’ll admit I did have my doubts because of Steven Saylor’s telling rather than showing style of writing.  However, I got into the swing of things and actually began enjoying his pared-down style that reads almost like a more intimate nonfiction work about the lives of two ancient Roman clans.

One of the most obvious strengths of Steven Saylor’s writing is the historical accuracy of the novel.  He does change some events around and speculate about some things but where there was information available he stuck to the facts.  I like how he doesn’t play the origins of ancient Rome straight (i.e. with gods and such) but rather offers up some explanations for how the heck such fantastical stories about Rome’s founding came about.  It makes sense and it’s quite possible that some of these things actually happened in a similar way and that’s why I really loved how Steven Saylor stayed true to the history.

His characters are amazing.  Every single one has a different perspective and a very unique voice.  They all live in turbulent times in Rome’s history so of course their lives are fascinating but it’s how they deal with the changing times that really stands out.  Some of the earlier Pinarii are quite snobby about their patrician status; later when the family is poor that’s not really the case.  Of course some of the ideas presented by characters will seem utterly absurd to modern readers but they really capture the prevailing attitudes of the time.

I can’t in all honesty call the plot fast-paced but it was very interesting.  I mean, how could Roman history not be interesting?  We get to see the events surrounding the first sack of Rome, the rise of Julius Caesar, the Second Punic War, etc.  All of the major events during the Republic period of ancient Rome are here in the novel or at least are alluded to because the characters are still dealing with the aftereffects of said events.  It’s a fascinating look at Roman history and although there was more telling than showing I still thoroughly enjoyed Roma.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Cover Reveal: Honor Among Orcs by Amalia Dillin

Honor Among Orcs
by Amalia Dillin 

Designed by: Melissa Stevens (Website)

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Series: Orc Saga, Book One

Genre: Fantasy (18+)

After nearly a decade as the king’s whipping-girl, Princess Arianna has no intention of going quietly into marriage to some treasonous noble, or serving obediently as the king’s spy until her death is more convenient. When she discovers a handsome orc, chained and trapped inside a magic mirror, Arianna cannot help but see a lasting freedom from her father’s abuse.

Left to rot inside a mirror by the king, Bolthorn never imagined his prayers would be answered by a princess. Nor did he ever expect to meet so worthy a woman after knowing her father’s cruelty. He needs her help to escape the mirror before the king marches against the orcs, but all he can offer Arianna is ice and darkness in exchange for her aid.

If Arianna can free the monster behind the glass, perhaps she might free herself, as well. But once they cross the mountain, there will be no return, and the deadly winter is the least of what threatens them on the other side. Romance blossoms in this gripping fantasy adventure.
EXCERPT

He knew these woods, sparse as they had become, and when they broke, he knew the tundra of the foothills too. Just before dawn, he found the outcrop beneath which he had made a shelter his first night beyond the mountains, and though he did not dare to light a fire, the sedge made a soft bed.
After a meal of apples and cheese, the last of their food, Arianna curled against his side, sharing the fur, and rested her head on his shoulder. He tested her forehead for fever and breathed his relief when she did not burn against his palm.
She tugged his hand away, a small smile curving her lips. “You worry overmuch. There are still two days of warmth before I must fight your cruel winds. I will be well enough for your mountains by then.”
His fingers lingered against her skin and her smile faded. He traced the clan-markings on her cheek and her lips parted, her heart thrumming in his ears.
“Bolthorn –”
Up the bridge of her nose and over her eyebrow, the umber flaked from her skin, coloring his fingertip. Down along the line of her jaw, to the pulse point beneath. Her breathing hitched. He only wished the marks had reached her collarbone, to give him some excuse to trail his fingers across the smooth skin there.
“You make a beautiful orc.”
“Not a Vala?” she asked, her eyelashes sweeping across her cheek.
“The Vala cannot marry.” The sunlight caught in her hair, flashing reds within the rich brown and he smoothed the soft, wild strands from her face. “They cannot bear children, or know the touch of any kind of man after they have made their vows. They know only the ancestors and the mysteries they reveal.”
“Oh,” she breathed.
Oh. It was the first thing she had ever said to him, trembling against the stone. She trembled now, too. As she should, he thought, knowing herself within the arms of an orc. He closed his eyes and drew his hand back. This was a dangerous game to play with her so near, so vulnerable.
“Sleep well, princess,” he said, his jaw tight against his need. “You’ll want your strength.”
She made a noise in the back of her throat, but when he glanced at her, she had turned away.

About the Author

Amalia Dillin began as a Biology major before taking Latin and falling in love with old heroes and older gods. After that, she couldn’t stop writing about them, with the occasional break for more contemporary subjects. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, and dreams of the day when she will own goats–to pull her chariot through the sky, of course.
Amalia is the author of the Fate of the Gods trilogy from World Weaver Press, and the soon to be released Orc Saga, coming April 1, 2014. You can learn more about her work at www.amaliadillin.com

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GIVEAWAY

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Crewel by Gennifer Albin(Cover picture courtesy of Xpresso Reads.)

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

This time I can honestly say it was not the cover of this book that caught my attention.  Rather, it was the title.  Crewel.  What’s a crewel?  Is it a dystopian city, a deliberate misspelling of cruel for some sort of theme in the book or something else?  It was my curiosity that made me read the blurb and I soon learned it was a weaving term.  A teenage girl in a dystopian world where time itself is woven?  That’s pretty unique.  So of course I bought the book.

Gennifer Albin’s book is one of the very few dystopian novels I’ve read that has such an amazing, unique premise.  If the rest of the book were trash, you could read it for her world-building alone.  Good thing the rest of the book wasn’t trash, though.  She doesn’t dump too much info on you at once and just when you think you know all about Arras, you learn something completely different that throws the conventions for a loop.  And you know what?  All the shocking behind-the-scenes things that ordinary citizens in Arras don’t know about make sense considering the kind of beautiful yet horrible world they live in.

Adelice was an interesting protagonist.  She was defiant but she also learned when to fight and when to keep her mouth shut as she began her apprenticeship as a Spinster.  Yes, she made some pretty big mistakes because of her naivete but she learned from them and became a better person.  Adelice saw through all of the glitz and glamour and actually tried to find a way to hide her talents so she could escape.  Finally, a smart YA protagonist!  And when she falls for a guy that’s obviously not a good choice for her, she learns to smother her feelings and move on.  What a novel concept!

The plot starts off pretty fast in the beginning but then it slows down a little to allow you to catch your breath in this crazy new world.  As Adelice learns about the world around her, so do we and it’s a more natural pace than a lot of books.  Crewel focuses heavily on character development but it’s never at the expense of the plot.  There’s always this feeling of suspense and dread just lurking in the background, ready to materialize and wreak havoc on Adelice’s plans.  Especially toward the end of the novel when Cormac’s true intentions are made painfully clear as he goes from run-of-the-mill pervert to something a little more dangerous.

This is Gennifer Albin’s debut novel so I think we can expect great things from her in the future.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the Crewel World trilogy!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout(Cover courtesy of Flying With Books…)

Starting over sucks.

When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring…. until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.

And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something…unexpected happens.

The hot alien living next door marks me.

You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.

If I don’t kill him first, that is.

At first I was unsure how to feel about this book.  On one hand, the banter between Daemon and Katy was hilarious and overall I like the idea of aliens because it’s so different.  On the other hand, why do we have yet another girl moving to a small town who meets a hot guy?  Hasn’t that been done a million times already?  To deal with this cognitive dissonance I took the path of least resistance and accepted the book for what it is: an entertaining read.  Guilty pleasure, really.

I don’t usually like the bad boys, but I liked Daemon in this book.  He knows he’s being a jerk as we find out later but he actually has his sister’s best interests at heart.  He’s not just good-looking; he actually has a brain in his head and really does learn to care about Katy.  (I personally picture him more attractive than the cover model here, but that’s more personal preference.)  Even if he won’t admit it, you know he really does care for her and saves her from everything from a drunk jock that didn’t know what consent was to evil aliens who really wanted to kill her.

Katy herself was an interesting character.  She won me over partly because she’s a book blogger (yay!) but also because she falls in love but remains a strong character.  At times you can tell she’s falling for Daemon and other times she really hates him.  Quite understandable given his actions at times.  Yes, she does do stupid things even when people warn her not to, but haven’t we all done something that stupid because of scorned love?

I could start drawing so many parallels to Twilight, but I won’t.  This is a much better written version and the characters have depth.  It’s not just wish fulfillment on the author’s part, but it’s not exactly deep literature either.  Instead it’s a funny thrill ride with lots of action, banter and plenty of steam.  Jennifer Armentrout’s world-building was good, but I’ll definitely reserve judgment until the next book before I say it’s either ‘great’ or ‘bad’.  There’s a lot of room for expansion so I guess we’ll see soon.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Road to Justice by David Carner

The Road to Justice by David Carner(Cover picture courtesy of GoodKindles.)

At some point in everyone’s life you experience hardships. John Fowler went from the highest of highs; great career in the FBI, beautiful wife, and a wonderful marriage, to the lowest of lows; alcoholism, his apartment exploding in front of him while his wife was inside, and leaving the FBI.

The Road to Justice – A John Fowler Novel, is the tale of a man’s redemption. This is the story of a man trying to rebuild his life after the loss of his wife, the attempt to rebuild his career, and the attempt to rebuild relationships with those he hasn’t spoken to since his wife’s funeral. I hope you’ll join me in his journey.

John Fowler was one of the top FBI agents until a year undercover in the mob turned him into an alcoholic and may have led to the brutal death of his wife. His old team needs his help and has brought him in for what they think is a two week old case. The case is actually over 25 years old and involves some of the most powerful people in the world.

John Fowler has returned to the FBI after a three year layoff at the request of his team to try and solve a murder that they are having little to no success with. John has been given the promise if he agrees to help; he will be given the case file to his wife’s murder and be allowed to work on it. The Road to Justice – A John Fowler Novel is the story of a man trying to rebuild his life after the loss of his wife, the attempt to rebuild his career, and the attempt to rebuild relationships with those he hasn’t spoken to since his wife’s funeral.

[Full disclosure: David Carner sent me a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I’m not the sort of person that reads a lot of detective/thriller fiction, but I know many of the tropes and clichés from movies of the same genre.  And let me tell you, David Carner uses very few of them in The Road to Justice, which really surprised me.

Okay, so you have an ex-FBI agent who quit after his wife died because of one of his investigations.  At the beginning of the novel he’s forced by circumstance back into his old job and ends up deciding that maybe he should move on with his life.  That sounds like a pretty standard formula in detective fiction.  However, David Carner’s twist on this old trope is great.  John Fowler actually has some depth and there’s believable explanations for his decisions, so they feel natural and not contrived at all.  It feels like the characters, not the magical hand of the author, are pushing the story forward.

John Fowler’s a pretty good character, but the main appeal for me in The Road to Justice was the plot.  It was everything an action/thriller novel should be: unpredictable and fast.  Yes, you seem to have the old conspiracy reaching the highest levels of government trope, but again David Carner puts an unique spin on things.  I couldn’t predict a lot of the plot twists and the fast pace of the novel kept me glued to my computer screen for hours.

Despite my love of the characters and plot I definitely have a bone to pick with the dialogue.  THERE ARE TOO MANY CAPITALS AND EXAMPLES OF MULTIPLE PUNCTUATION!!!!!!  I’m all for using capitals/italics/multiple punctuation for effect, but such tools become dull with overuse.  And in an otherwise great book, David Carner has relied on these tools far too much.  It gets pretty frustrating after a couple chapters or so, actually.  The overall quality of writing was excellent, but the dialogue felt pretty stiff as well and there were some examples of you’re vs. your.  Such things could easily be fixed by having an editor look over it.

Although the dialogue needs work, I’m actually looking forward to reading more books in the John Fowler series because David Carner is one of those writers that will only improve with time and practice.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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