Review: Urbino, Unexpectedly by Maria Chiara Marsciani

urbino unexpectedlyReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Synopsis: Twenty-two year old Clara is a student in Milan and wants a future as a lawyer, but is that all she wants in life? Even though the backdrop of everything that is beautiful about Italy, its alps, romantic hamlets, Rome and Milan, she soon discovers she hates everything about Italy due to her parents expecting too much of her. For her, meeting Leonardo is the best thing that has happened to her even though her parents do not approve of her wanting to marry him later on.

Review: Though Clara is from an upper class background she feels she doesn’t fit in wherever she goes. Her father is someone who is also influential and to be feared, while her mother tries to organise her life from the start. For her, her grandma is the only one who she can talk to, that is until she meets Leonardo who shows her she can enjoy herself without being trapped in her parents’ morals, and lifestyle. You would think that Leonardo being a doctor would make her parents approve, but for her parents, no one she chooses to be with is ever good enough for their high standards. In order to be her own person, Clara knows she has to break away from the parents she soon realises are stifling her creativity and general life, and it will be a big problem for her to do this as her parents have been controlling her for so long.

Good Bits:

  • Leonardo – he sounds very attractive in this book
  • Readers get to appreciate Clara’s cramped life and can come to the conclusion that having money and connections isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Bad Bits:

  • It can be dull at times

Summary: As everything crumbles around her parents’ lives and their control is lessened due to Leonardo’s influence, the story changes from being one of depression and doom to being a more positive outlook on her life, but the depression element has to be ground in so that the changes can show later in the story. There is a lot of romance in this story, and it is one not to be missed.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Urbino, Unexpectedly: a story of love and self-discovery

Review: Lily of the Nile (Cleopatra’s Daughter, Book 1) by Stephanie Dray

by Zarabeth, guest reviewer

Lily of the Nile follows the story of Cleopatra’s daughter in her new life as a Roman captive. She is a child who is forced to grow up fast and really examine her beliefs. With the death of her family and the capture of Egypt under Roman control her faith and her personal safety are in extreme danger.

It is a well-told tale of political intrigue and magic. If you have any interest in Egypt and/or Rome then this is a perfect story for you. I do believe Ms. Dray has done her homework and did a decent job of painting the picture of those times for her readers. Nothing came across glaringly incorrect or even mildly incorrect (but I’m no expert) which will soothe the feathers of historically savvy readers out there who put a lot of stock in that sort of thing.

I should note that this book is historical fiction with very little in the way of romance as that might affect some readers buying decisions (one way or the other!). It’s a very intense read and not exactly lighthearted. I thought it was pretty good.

On a side note, do you not think that the cover for this book is gorgeous? Beautiful artwork!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Buy: Lily of the Nile

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Get into Bed with Stephanie Dray (Author Interview)

This author interview with Stephanie Dray is conducted by Zarabeth.

Zarabeth: What was it about Cleopatra Selene’s story that inspired you?

Stephanie: This was a little girl who lost both her parents and her older brothers–who was ripped away from Egypt, the only home she’d ever known. A little girl who was held hostage in a dangerous Roman world, having to listen to people condemn her mother as a whore. That this same little girl managed to triumph over all these tragedies to become the greatest queen in the empire is an inspirational story. It would inspire anyone!

But what really moved me about Selene’s story is how she held on to all these memories of her mother and her legacy. Given the fact that Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, was now her benefactor and the ruler of the world, it would have been easier for Selene to denounce her mother, but she didn’t. When she was finally ruling a kingdom of her own, she found ways to honor her legacy. The relics of her reign tell a tale of a woman who struggled, perhaps a woman who had to hide her true feelings most of her life. To be able to give Selene a voice to express the things she may not have been able to express during her lifetime is something that I’m honored to do.

Zarabeth: Do you have any special connection to Egypt or Rome that keeps you in the time period?

Stephanie: My great-grandmother came from the hills of Rome. She was a goat-herder, and never ceased to amuse us with stories of Italy. I also had the chance to visit Rome when I was eleven years old–just the same age as Selene was when she first stepped foot in her father’s native city. But as for my connection to the time period, I think it’s simply that Late Republic Rome was such an incredible period of transition in the world, filled with fascinating characters and powerful women, so I’m drawn like a moth to a flame.

Zarabeth: Your website says you were a lawyer, game designer, and teacher- rather diverse history. Has writing always been what you dreamed of doing?

Stephanie: I always wanted to be a writer, even from the time I was a little girl. I was a natural born storyteller and used to gather kids around the lunch table to tell them tales…of course, these were also known as big fat lies back then, but I’ve since learned to label my stories as fiction!

Zarabeth: I like the way you mainstreamed the eccentricities of Roman and Egyptian language for the modern reader. How did you decide to make the changes you did?

Stephanie: This is a great question. There are a number of authors who write for Roman history fans, and they make great use of Latin words. I enjoy that fiction and it tickles me to learn new words and concepts; but not all readers fetishize this kind of thing. I wanted this book to be as accessible to a mainstream audience as possible, so I took the practical course. I like to think that the Romans would be proud of me, because they were very practical people.

Zarabeth: Who do you think is your ideal audience?

Stephanie: I like to think that my book is enjoyable by everyone, but it is, at heart, the story of a young woman’s journey in coming of age. Consequently, I think women are going to identify with it most strongly. My ideal audience are feminist women who respect history and are interested in the deliciously wicked world of the Augustan Age. I also think it helps if my readers aren’t looking for a sweet-as-pie Mary Sue character. Selene is dark and complicated; she’s a little schemer and I love that about her.

Zarabeth: What do you want modern women to take from Selene’s story? Are you making a political statement in any way?

Stephanie: I suppose I am–though that political statement comes naturally from the circumstances of Selene’s life. Selene’s story is a lesson to us that the trajectory of women’s equality hasn’t always been a forward march. In some ways the ancients were more advanced than we are today; there have been setbacks before and there may be more in the future, so I’d like modern women to be vigilant. This is especially the case when the three most powerful religions in the world are male-centric monotheistic religions that don’t always speak to female spirituality.

Zarabeth: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? What’s next for you?

Stephanie: I’m very excited that Song of the Nile will be out late in 2011. That book takes an intimate look at Selene’s life as a young queen as she struggles to balance her loyalties to Augustus with her loyalty to her dead family and to Egypt.

== BIO==

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.

Buy: Lily of the Nile