Monday, November 16, 2009

In a world... where no one is who they say thay are... A Historical Novel Review.

by Georgette Heyer

Cover: Your average Regency romance. Pretty cute, though!

Summary: Arabella Tallant is a young lady poised on the edge of adulthood towards the end of the Regency period when she gets the chance to spend a season in London. While her family is by no means poor, they are also not wealthy, so they depend upon the graces of their wealthy friends and their abilities to scrimp and save so that Arabella can have the season she deserves.

But before she can arrive in London, a chance encounter with the dashing and embarrassingly-wealthy Mr. Beaumaris at his hunting lodge changes everything. You see, Arabella might have somehow led him to believe that she's someone that she's not. A very very rich someone. It was a matter of social vengeance that led her to do it, but nevertheless she will have to reap the consequences when he discovers she is not who she says she is.

Of course, Mr. Robert Beaumaris is not all that meets the eye; he is hiding a part of himself from Arabella, too. Even as the celebrated "Nonpareil" of London high society, where every move he makes is copied by the simplest would-be dandy, his true nature is unknown to all but a cherished few. He's tired of every fortune-hunter falling prettily into his lap. When Arabella and her inexplicable caprices cross his path, however, he is more than intrigued; in fact, he may have found someone who has seen through to his true nature. The question remains: has he seen through to hers?

You can bet that high-jinks ensue.

My Review: I really, really liked Arabella! I have to admit, right now it's right underneath Venetia as my favorite Heyer. Here's why I like Arabella in particular:
  • She is cunning and spunky without being anachronistic. That's not to say that despising your society's conventions is necessarily anachronistic, but... I easily tire of books where the "heroine" doesn't "understand" why she must wear a dress and go to parties and marry someone she doesn't necessarily know that well, when all she'd rather do is put on a pair of "trousers" and match wits with the boys. See, because unless you're Philippa Gregory and you're writing the novel Meridon, that's a really hard act to pull off and make it somehow plausible. What Heyer does here, in this novel, is make a typical Regency young lady quite feisty and likable without making her so much of a standout from her society. She longs to go to London for her first season. She secretly researches the latest French fashions when her strict pastor father is not looking. She likes to think of herself as fragile even though she has quite a hardy constitution (but fragility is so much more romantic!). She tries not to think too hard about the men she might meet in London because she's more than a little excited about the possibility of getting married. She's very much a product of her environment, and yet a standout, likable character.
  • She is so pretty, but shy of receiving hand-outs from people, that she compels them to give her hand-outs that they otherwise had had no intention to give. Seriously. This happens, like, numerous times throughout the book.
  • She manages to persuade Beaumaris into doing nearly anything for her. Similar to above, although Beaumaris's acts of generosity involve taking in orphaned chimney sweeps and mongrel dogs. But that's how you know he looooves you...
  • When Beaumaris calls her out on enjoying all the attention she gets as an heiress, she giggles and is like, "Yeah, I know, right?"
So beyond how much I liked the heroine, I once again got caught up in Heyer's clever, tongue-in-cheek, utterly Regency writing.

In particular I liked that the book focused almost entirely on Arabella herself, and since Heyer developed such a likable heroine, this was the exact right way to go. Sometimes Heyer can go off on describing a scene from a minor character's point view, but in a way that detracts from the story and sloooows the pace down (I'm talking about you, Bath Tangle). Or else she gets caught up in a weird story arc with a side character that is neither likable nor terribly important to the reader (ahem, Bath Tangle). Not so at all with Arabella; we get to read almost solely about Arabella and Beaumaris (and, anyway, it's a romance, so you don't reeeaally care about anyone else, when you're being honest) and otherwise about her brother Bertram, who gets up to some high-jinks of his own while racing about London... under his own alter-ego, of course...

In fact, aside from the wonderful romance, the best part was reading about the brother-sister dynamic between Arabella and Bertram. Heyer has some brilliant moments in this book, and their relationship, and how that relationship is affected by their strained relationship with their father, is relatable and adds so much depth to their characters.

Here was one of my early favorite passages:

It was quite impossible to explain to Papa why one chose rather to play truant, and afterwards take the consequences, than to ask his leave to do something of which one knew well he would not approve.

Bertram skipped lessons for a day and went off hunting only to come home with a broken collar bone, and all their father can do is ask Why?, and you know the kids are sighing and rolling their eyes like, Do I have to keep admitting to you over and over that sometimes I do stupid things? and I love it because that's what you do with your parents, whether you're in the Regency era or in the 1990s. You don't get each other, and sometimes you willfully don't get each other. And then when the other gives way and admits you were right, in the first place, you feel guilty for having been right... and it's just such a cute little truism of life, and one of many that Heyer always manages to capture in her novels.

Overall, I really liked this book and would recommend it to Austen fans, to anyone new to Heyer (I think it would be a great starter book for a Heyer reader), or the general historical romance fan. I don't know how you could be disappointed in it!

Buy this book on Amazon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday... Dinner?

So my loooong period of exams and insane amounts of reading for courses is over! (I'm serious-- just one of my four courses required 300-400 pages of reading per week. Is this normal? I'm a college senior and I've never seen this before, but who cares?!? It's over!) I plan to be around here, posting Gratuitous Pic Spams of lovely period films, reviewing historical books, and generally lolling about the internet as much as poss once again.

I have several important things to catch up on:

I'm going to a ball!

Okay, it's a virtual ball, but I'm still excited, and you're all invited, too!

The Pemberley Ball, hosted by vvb32 reads

It's an Austen-themed extravaganza to celebrate our love of one Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Come as your chosen, fictional lady (or gent) and enjoy three evenings of fun and chatter with like-minded fans. I will be following the festivities as Duchess du Lac. There will apparently be plenty of Austen-themed giveaways, too! It runs from November 20-22, and you can RSVP right over here.

Thing the second:

The Courtier's Book has received its first award, and from none other than the illustrious Marie Burton over at The Burton Review! Marie runs one of my favorite book review blogs, so this was such a nice surprise for me. Thank you so much, Marie!

Here's how the award works:

  • You must pass the award on to 5 other deserving blog friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he/she has received the award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
It has taken me almost a week to get around to this, but I'm really excited to get to mention more of my favorite bloggers-- I highly recommend each and every one:

1. Okbo over at OkboLover-- new, excellent book reviews are up there so often, Okbo puts the rest of us to shame!
2. Julie over at Outlandish Dreaming-- basically, anyone whose blog has a giant picture of Jamie Fraser as their banner is automatically my hero.
3. Robin over at Ups and Downs-- check this one out in particular; she shows you how to replicate modern versions of the beautiful hairstyles we see in our favorite period films.
4. Meghan at Medieval Bookworm-- a new review almost every day, and she even has a specialty in medieval history, so she has a fascinating perspective on historical fic.
5. The Girls at Whitebrook Farm-- umm... true story: I still love the Thoroughbred young adult book series... probably at an unhealthy level. These ladies bring the snark in their recaps and reviews of these and other horse books like it was always meant to be.

So, later this week you can expect a review or two of what I've managed to squeeze in to my insane required reading schedule, beginning with a delightful Georgette Heyer review tomorrow...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vive la Revolution!

Y'all remember how much I liked Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, right? Well, this little news item from Amy on Passages to the Past had me jumping up and down this morning:

Michelle Moran reveals UK cover for 2011 publication, Madame Tussaud

(I speak French and I still spelled that wrong three times.)

I'm really excited for this book; the French Revolution has always been one of my favorite fiction settings. But it's sooo far away...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm about to go medieval on your... well. You know. A Historical Novel Review.

It's blog tour time!

Pendragon's Banner
(Book 2)
by Helen Hollick

Cover: Overall, I like it. It's very *manly* looking, and will probably attract a lot of readers.

Summary: Arthur is king in a historically-based Great Britain. He goes on progress, he works in a world plagued by ethnic conflict, and he fights for his own survival as well as for that of his loyal men and his dream of a Britain under his single rule. It is a fast-paced novel of the early medieval period, with one man fated to bring light to to a dark age.
My Review: This is one of the better Arthurian books I've read in while. While I'm a huge fan of T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King, I'm probably a bigger fan overall of Arthurian books based on historical fact. Hollick has clearly done her research and kept this Arthur solidly based in a real time.

On a side note, I also appreciate that the author decided to write dialogue in a more sophisticated and style. Much as I loved The Mists of Avalon, I always felt taken out of the time period when so much of the dialogue was written in a modern syntax. At the same time, Hollick writes her dialogue in the way that Sharon Kay Penman does: stylistically, but not distractingly-old-fashioned. It's enough to help engross you in the period, but also easy enough to read through quickly.

I have to say that Gwenhwyfar ("Guinevere" from the traditional tales) was my favorite character. She was strong and made her opinion known whenever she had one, and it made her sections of the book particularly interesting. I think some criticism that might come her way would be that Gwenhwyfar is anachronistically spunky, but I think that she's rather more historically accurate by being portrayed this way. We don't know a fraction of what life was like for medieval women because of the lack of written information about them. Modern writers have to work based off of scant material, and as such it's easy to make mistakes or strange suppositions. However, I think that Hollick is fully justified in her characterization of Gwenhwyfar; after all, women didn't just turn "spunky" in the 1970s when they became much more equal to men in the official views of society. There have always been fierce ladies, no matter their social position or their period of time, and the Guinevere of legend, if there is any historical base, must have been one of them. She was descended from royalty, educated, and believed she was destined to marry the greatest king of all time; why wouldn't she speak her mind? For all intents and purposes, she and everyone around her believe her to be one of the most influential women of the age. Plus, reading about a lady like her is always entertaining and makes you turn the pages as fast as you can.

And yes, I did just use the word "fierce."

Arthur is noble and easy to like. The action scenes are great fun, too. One of the most beautiful and horrible parts of Arthurian literature, for me, has always been the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, and immensely hard to understand. Hollick approaches this part of the lenged from a different angle that is more satisfying.

While this definitely feels like the "middle" part of the trilogy that it is, I read it without having read the first one and was able to follow along and enjoy it without feeling like I was missing something. I look forward to the next book in this series, and to going back and reading The Kingmaking.

Visit the author's website

Buy this book on Amazon

The Courtier's Book is part of the Sourcebooks blog tour for Pendragon's Banner-- see what everyone else has to say about this exciting book by following along on the next tour stops:

The Tome Travellers Weblog (10/12)

A Reader’s Respite (10/12)

Carla Nayland’s Historical Fiction (10/13)

Enchanted by Josephine (10/14)

Fumbling with Fiction (10/14)

Found Not Lost (10/15)

Nan Hawthorne’s Booking the Middle Ages (10/15)

Jenny Loves to Read (10/16)

The Review From Here (10/17)

The Courtier’s Book (10/18)

Chick Loves Lit (10/19)

Love Romance Passion (10/20)

He Followed Me Home… Can I Keep Him? (10/20)

The Impasse Strikes Back (10/21)

S. Krishna’s Books (10/22)

Books Like Breathing (10/23)

Passages to the Past (10/24)

Virginie Says (10/25)

Readaholic (10/25)

Reading with Monie (10/26)

Rundpinne (10/26)

Books & Needlepoint (10/27)

Capricious Reader (10/27)

Books are my Only Friends (10/27)

A Sea of Books (10/28)

Bloody Bad (10/28)

Revenge of the Book Nerds! (10/28)

Booksie’s Blog (10/28)

Devourer of Books (10/29)

Peeking Between the Pages (10/29)

Starting Fresh (10/29)

Historical Tapestry (10/30)

Medieval Bookworm (10/30)

Book Soulmates (10/30)

Susan’s Art & Words (10/30)

Steven Till (10/31)

Café of Dreams (10/31)

There are plenty of interviews, guest posts, and book reviews to interest anyone-- enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is technically "historical," right? An Intelectual Thriller Review.

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

I hate it. What is it? Is this a novelization of National Treasure?

Summary: Oh, god, yes, I've been waiting to write this...

Renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has been summoned to talk about something historical, and eerily-related to the mystery that unfolds when he discovers a gruesome-but-esoteric crime scene. Of course, he is immediately under suspicion for the crime, and he must flee from a Javert-esque police officer. He finds an encrypted object that he must solve before time runs out, but doing so might unleash a secret... a secret that could turn the whole world on its head if it is released. Some people want this secret out; others do not. Nevertheless, time may be running out for Langdon.

Also, there is a chick involved.

My Review: I loved it.

What can I say? You get what you pay for. Refusing to buy this butt-ugly book in dead-tree form, I downloaded it to my eReader and proceeded to plow through it in three days. I'm sure that's not fast to most of you fellow bloggers, but I read this along with two other books for a class, I read during lecture, and I read standing in line at the bank. It was kind of awesome.

If you like other Dan Brown books, you'll like this one, and I must admit that I think he has improved as a writer. He still has his problems... there are a lot of italics, for one. A lot. Sometimes he uses them to indicate the thoughts of a character. But sometimes he just uses them to tritely emphasise an otherwise average sentence. There are some useless factoids I could have done without, like what kind of engine was in the plane that Langdon flew to D.C. There were a few moments where I actually figured out a clue before Langdon... and that's saying something for me. All that said, I think he has improved. He's more socially aware, for one. His characterization is less telltelltell and much more nuanced. His villain is much more horrible (although... probably not more believable) than in his previous books. The love interest is 50, and easily close to the age of Langdon, making this a respectable move from a female character construction standpoint.

In the end, this is a great book on an entertainment level. Not everything has to be perfect. We can't all be Michael Crichton. Get charmed by Langdon's weirdness. Lose yourself in an action sequence. And hey, if there's one thing you can't fault Dan Brown on, it's pacing. I didn't want to put this book down because I always had to turn one more page (electronically, that is). I'll say it here and now: I enjoyed this book and I look forward to the next Dan Brown book, hopefully featuring the irascible Langdon.

Check this out: Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences, as collected by The Telegraph

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's website

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I know, I know...

I appear to have disappeared from the blogosphere over the past week or so, and... that's pretty much what happened. I'm not making excuses, but what can I say? I just started my final year of college (including one class where I'm reading 1-2 academic books per week), I'm working on several personal projects, and on top of all that I have to have time to *read* these historical fiction books in order to review them!

So, if I don't post a whole lot for several days or a week at a time, never fear, I will return! Here are a few things I have in the works for October:

**I just downloaded my copy of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, and I am unsuitably excited about reading this. I can't wait to see what harrowing adventures "renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon" has gotten himself into this time!
**More above-average romance from the Tudor Rose series by Susan Wiggs.
**Profiles to historical blogs I've been reading and LOVING lately.

And as a sort-of sidenote, since I do often read books that are not distinctly historical or historical-fiction in nature, would anyone be interested if I post reviews on those here, anyway? I've done a few in the past, but I wasn't sure if it seemed too digressive from the point of The Courtier's Book.

Monday, September 28, 2009

That rare Mary Bennet sequel!

A Match for Mary Bennet
by Eucharista Ward

Cover: Mary is adorable. A little too adorable...just kidding. Pretty, follows the trend for Austen sequel style.

Summary: Mary Bennet is one of two sisters left from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice who remains unmarried, but she is the only one who does not wish to be married. She attends balls and assemblies at her mother's beck and call, but she longs for deeper conversation. She wants to do charitable works and discuss poetry and literature, but she must rather spend her time primping and gossiping. In short, she's not sure she will ever be married, if this is the kind of compromise she'll have to make.

The other beloved characters from P&P also make prominent appearances. Colonel Fitzwilliam has set himself to marrying Caroline Bingley, the snobbish sister of Jane Bennet's husband. Elizabeth and Darcy, married and now parents of a son, play host to their families at Pemberley. It is there that Mary meets Mr. Oliver, the new vicar of Kympton, who seems anything but the typical clergyman to her. Mary is very serious, after all, so she has decided opinions on what a parson should be like, and Mr. Oliver is not it. He is straightforward and bold and charms everyone except her. Worst of all, when she finds occupation helping instruct the local church choir, Mr. Oliver is there to distract her and her students.

Everything seems to be going wrong for Mary. When she wants to have a quiet evening in the library at Pemberley, Mr. Oliver is there. When she can't acknowledge Lydia as her sister because of her embarrassing behavior, Mr. Oliver is there to tell her that she must learn to forgive the faults in others. If familiarity can breed attraction, then Mary is starting to see the value in Mr. Oliver's constant presence.

Then Mr. Stilton arrives on the scene. He's a handsome, rich, flirtatious rake. He rides his horses fast, and in his wooing of Mary he insists that she do so, as well. We can guess how this is going to end up.

Amidst the everyday joys, sorrows, and gossip of Regency country life, Mary Bennet must find a balance between her natural inclination to spend her life educating herself and serving others, and in finding the man who will complement that life.

My Review: I got an advance copy from Sourcebooks during the summer and passed an afternoon or two enjoying this light regency romance.

I was never a fan of Mary when I read Pride and Prejudice. In fact, much like Jane Austen, I didn't really like, or find much potential for interest in her. She was judgmental and hypocritical, and it always seemed to me like she didn't want to be anywhere that she was.

Once I got into Ward's book, however, Mary became a person with flaws, but she was rounded-out, and her flaws were explained. She's not just judgmental; she, herself, is judged quite harshly on a constant basis by her mother and her sisters, and her own criticism acts almost as a defense mechanism. She comes to be more accepting throughout the story, and begins to find that others will treat her the same way.

As for the other P&P characters, I loved her portrayal of Lizzy. She was smart and sparkling, but not overwhelming or lifeless now that she is married. I never pictured her as a retiring character, and I was pleased to see her as a well-received, active member of society. Mr. Darcy, while a minor character, is generous to his family members. Caroline Bingely and Lady Catherine remain huge snobs, much to my joy.

The writing is tight and clear, and of the best example of derivative Jane Austen fan fiction. This is no bodice ripper! The characters behave as Austen herself might have written them, rather than a modernized interpretation. Die-hard Austen addicts and the casual fan will appreciate Ward's attention to period style and detail.

It is a true romance novel in the sense that we come away satisfied with the pairing of Mary and her fiancee. We know quite early on whom she will choose, but the way that it happens, the interactions between the love interests, and some surprises along the way are what make this a pleasant, relaxing read.

Overall, if this is the way that Jane Austen sequels are going these days, then I look forward to reading plenty more!

A Match for Mary Bennet comes out on October 1st, and is available now for preorder.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the Sourcebooks Jane Austen center,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More, more, more!

Today, Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter hits bookstores everywhere!

If you didn't win my giveaway, there are still plenty more opportunities at:

The Burton Review (along with an interview with the author)

Historical Tapestry (and a guest post by Moran)

Michelle Moran's Treasure Hunt! (this one involves a little detective work)

Good luck!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Today's Sunday Brunch is dedicated to my Michelle Moran giveaway. Without further ado, the winners are...

Linda and Austenfan!

The publishers will be sending you the books within the next week or so!

And now I would like to wrap-up this exciting week by saying a big THANK YOU to Michelle herself! She reaches out to bloggers like me on her own time to give readers like you great opportunities to learn more about her work, and to possibly win one of her books. She was unflaggingly friendly and generous in every contact I made with her while hosting this special week and giveaway.

Finally, thank YOU, readers, for joining me in this exciting adventure to Ancient Egypt and Rome, and in reading along with me. My first contest on this blog was a lot of fun, and I hope to have more in the future.

Even if you didn't win a book here, you still have the chance for a Michelle Moran book at quite a few other blogs. I will be posting links to some of those that are coming up in the next week, along with more exciting Historical Fiction news and reviews.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How much do I love this? Let me count the ways... A Historical Novel Review.

There's one day left to enter my giveaway for Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen! Go HERE to enter!

Cleopatra's Daughter
by Michelle Moran

Cover: Pretty. I like the color scheme-- all red and gold, and the colors are also wrapped around the book to the back cover, too.

Summary: Cleopatra VII, last of the Egyptian pharaohs, has taken her own life, and so has her Roman husband, Marc Antony. They leave their kingdom in ruins and at the mercy of Octavian, Julius Caesar's appointed heir. But the vast empire isn't all they leave behind... their three surviving children must fight to survive the end of their world.

Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios are the eldest; twins that Cleopatra used to know as her "Moon and Sun." Ptolemy is the youngest, and the first to fall; he passes without ever setting foot in Rome. Selene and Alexander are left alone, prisoners in the house of Octavian's sister, wondering every day whether it will be their last. Rebels roam the streets, threatening Caesar's power as well as the survival of the Egyptian princes. We see the changing of Rome through the eyes of Selene, and the changing of a young girl into a woman.

My Review: I was lucky enough to get an advance copy from the author, and as soon as it landed on my porch (which was at night, for whatever reason), I ripped open the package and read through it. I will say right away: this was a book that I didn't want to finish, because I liked it too much!

This is the kind of book that I wish had existed back when I was the Young Adult target age. I used to read all the Ann Rinaldi historical fiction novels, the Dear America and Royal Diaries historical books, and this would easily fit alongside those. I hope that they market this book a little towards the Young Adult sector as well, because there is so much to be had from it for readers of all age levels.

Selene is entirely believable as a young teenager. At first she is traumatized by witnessing both of her parents' deaths, and is wrapped up within her own world. She will get back to Alexandria at any cost, to take her rightful place on the throne beside her brother. (sidenote: Egyptians had a tradition of symbolically "marrying" their siblings in order to further legitimize their claim to the throne. Cleopatra VII was "married" to her younger brother, and typically referred to him as "little husband," though these marriages were, for all intents and purposes, entirely platonic) Everything about her new home in Rome is disagreeable to her, from the humiliating rituals she must participate in as a servant of Octavian to the rampant sexism and violence that run through the streets.

Here, I would like to give a shoutout to Moran's writing talents and say how much I appreciated her attention to detail. As I may have mentioned, the Classical Age is not my forte when it comes to history (though heaven knows I would like to learn sooo much more about it), so I felt like I was learning about daily life in Rome along with Selene. While I got so much out of the reading, I never felt bogged down in the details. She doesn't just throw something in without a purpose to furthering the plot and the character development.

I also loved the side characters we meet along with Selene. Ovid, Virgil, the emperor Tiberius, and more appear, creating a fun kind of "Which historical figure will appear next?" sort of atmosphere. And the great thing is that Selene would have actually met all these people that, today, we revere as pioneers of their respective fields.

Selene was a unique and important figure in history, particularly because she was educated. Roman women, especially at the onset of Octavian (Augustus)'s rule, were meant to maintain the household and nothing more. As a daughter of Egypt, she was educated by world renowned scholars in the library of Alexandria, and her mother had always ensured that she was raised alongside her brothers, rather than beneath them. She is a strong and likeable heroine, and one that I was sad to say goodbye to.

My only qualm about Selene is how anti-slavery she is in this book. She comes off as "surprised" by the presence of slavery. She treats the horrible slavery of Rome like it is a unique activity to that region, and it wasn't. Egypt had slaves as much so as Rome, from what I know (though if I'm wrong, please correct me). I would have preferred to see Selene "mending her ways" and learning that slavery is wrong, rather than acting like she had never seen it before. I just thought that was a slight anachronism.

Overall, this was very high quality historical fiction and a wonderful story, and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's website

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ancient Egypt brought to life on screen... of a sort...

Don't forget-- just two days until my giveaway for Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen comes to a close! You still have plenty of time to enter HERE for a chance to win one of the two signed books!

Today's entry is not meant to be a be-all-end-all of Ancient Egypt in film. I am, after all, only mentioning the few that I have seen. But if, like me, you're still enraptured in the world of Michelle Moran's novel after you finish reading it, then maybe you'll want to check one or two of these out:

HBO's Rome (2007)

This is the best television show ever made.

That being said, there are some historical inaccuracies. Some shady timelines, some characters never aging. The fact that they imply Octavian's mother, Attia, was in love with Marc Antony, and ruled Rome as his mistress. That sort of thing. But it's soooo good. And if you're a history geek like me, you can overlook some problems and fall in love with the amazing detailing instead. The costumes and sets are impeccable because they're real. They are in Rome. The extras are all Romans, and the rest of the actors are a superb, ensemble British cast. It is horribly violent and crude, but then, so was much of Ancient Rome. It's not a show for everyone, but if you can stomach it, I think you'll love it, too.

Cleopatra is, I think, very realistic. She's not exactly pretty (which we are now learning is probably closer to the truth of her physical appearance), but she controls the men with her sexuality and uniquely Ptolemaic confidence. I'm not sure whether I think Cleopatra would have been shorn underneath her wig like this actress is, but I'm sure they had reason to believe it could have happened. Overall, A+ portrayal of Cleo.

Cleopatra (1963)

I don't remember a whole lot of this movie because I've never seen it all at once.

It is almost 5 hours long.

That being said, it has a certain entertainment value that makes it worth viewing. Elizabeth Taylor is at her most beautiful here, which is saying a lot, though whether she resembles anything of the actual Cleopatra is anyone's guess. I'm willing to bet no, but again, I will overlook that inaccuracy in light of good theater. I mean, this is where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love. That's epic enough in itself! They practically portray their own lives! I'm giving it a B+ for that alone!

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

Ditto on this, I don't really remember it. Of what I do recall, it's kinda goofy. It's written by George Bernard Shaw, but I don't think the man read just the right history books for this one. And Vivien Leigh is a miscast, I'm sorry to say. I wouldn't exactly recommend this movie, but it has an archival appeal to it. D+ (see, I can't actually fail Vivien Leigh-- that's my problem...)

Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

I looked this movie up on Amazon and it is currently out on DVD under the series "Camp Classics." That sums up this sword-and-sandal epic so well. Joan Collins. Need I say more?

I mean, let's forget historical accuracy altogether here and get right into the story. In the 18th Dynasty, the pharaoh hires a man to build him a labyrinth in his tomb so intricate that no thieves could ever find their way out once inside. While building this masterpiece, he takes as his bride the lovely Joan Collins, a princess with a chip on her shoulder. The princess conspires with her lover to assassinate her controlling husband, but the pharaoh is determined to never let her go... I won't even TELL you the ending, it is that good! I'm serious; the ending has a twist you will NOT see coming, and it turns this around from a cheesefest to kind of a good story. B+/A-!

ETA: Holy crap, William Faulkner wrote the screenplay. What?!?

The Mummy (1999)

Whatever, I threw this in. I LIKE it, okay? The original one is really funny, and while it's not exactly Ancient Egypt, there are enough elaborate crypts and crawlies to satisfy most viewers. Solid B.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter will sweep you away to Alexandria

Cleopatra's Daughter
Cleopatra's Daughter by thecourtiersbook featuring Missoni accessories

Hey guys, check out the collage I made! Maybe these are a few things I would want to wear if I were traveling to Egypt... or maybe only Ancient Egypt... at any rate, it's what I wanted to wear after I finished reading Cleopatra's Daughter. One thing I'll reveal about the book before I post my review of the book in two days is that I felt transported to the place and the time period. The author lets you get a taste of what daily life would have been like for the patricians of Rome, but she does so by sweeping you up in the story, rather than getting bogged down in the details. You're surprised to look down and find yourself wearing jeans and a t-shirt, rather than flowing silk tunics and elaborate pearl necklaces.

In a different way, today I'm going to link to a few places where you can find out how you can see Egypt today, and possibly some of the places that appear in Cleopatra's Daughter.

Official Tourism Website

Lonely Planet: Egypt

Atelier Egypt
The main website for this company appears to be down right now, but I'll link you to a satisfied customer review... this travel company allows you to rent a personal dahabeeyah, or the type of cruising vessels favored in the earlier part of the twentieth century, to take down the Nile. You're of course paying for a full crew to man the boat, but it kind of sounds like my ultimate vacation. You get to stop in docks that tourists can't always reach on the big boats, and their appeal also comes from their personal touch to make each trip a unique voyage.

Remember, you have until midnight on Saturday to enter my giveaway for a signed copy of Cleopatra's Daughter or The Heretic Queen -- go HERE to enter!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Five Steps of Moving-on after Cleopatra's Daughter

Don't forget-- you have until midnight on Saturday to enter my giveaway for a copy of Cleopatra's Daughter or The Heretic Queen, both of which are signed by the author, Michelle Moran! Go HERE to enter!

But once you've reached that saaaaaad point... you close the back cover of Cleopatra's Daughter, having finished such a wonderful journey... where do you turn? What book can follow?

Your first step might be to read Michelle Moran's previous two books:

Both of them have gotten the same sort of rave reviews that are accompanying Cleopatra's Daughter, and both take place in Ancient Egypt, though much farther back in time.

Perhaps you might turn to Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mystery series:

Beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank, this bestselling mystery series is not one to miss. Amelia Peabody is a self-proclaimed "spinster" who decides her happiness lies in travel and adventure, and so she is daring enough to set off for a cruise on the Nile by herself. This is the 1930s, after all, and it's still unique for a woman to travel alone. But she's not alone for long; she rescues a young woman from certain corruption by an erstwhile lover, so she is gifted with a helpful, friendly traveling companion. And those two are not alone for long, either; they encounter the Emerson brothers while visiting some archaeological sites. The younger brother is quick to recognize Amelia's natural proclivity for cultural studies, but the elder brother is tougher to crack. He can't see any reason to include any women on their trip, let alone feisty Amelia and her decided opinions. You can bet that high-jinks and capers will ensue.

The Amelia Peabody stories are some of the funniest books I've ever read-- I have yet to finish the series, in fact, because I want to always have another new one to read and enjoy when I "need" it.

A third option is to tackle any of the non-fiction books that Michelle recommended in my interview with her.

I would love to hear what books you all have been reading after finishing Cleopatra's Daughter-- I know I was so enthralled in the time period that I had to step away and read some non-historical fiction afterward. Nothing is quite the same thing, really.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Get a little more insight on the world of Cleopatra's Daughter.

I finished reading Cleopatra's Daughter yesterday, but I haven't written up my review yet; this is one I'm going to need a little time. Let it sink in for a while.

In the meantime, I had the chance to ask the author, Michelle Moran, a few questions about the process of writing the novel, and about what she is reading today!


1. You’ve studied history, and even done archaeology, throughout your life, so you must be familiar with good source material for writing your own historical fiction books. What original historical sources did you use the most while writing Cleopatra’s Daughter?

I did most of my research on-site (in Rome, Alexandria) and in libraries. In order to describe the Palatine, I went there (not that this was necessary… but it was certainly fun!). To get a feel for life on Capri, my husband and I booked a week there and took several trips into the Blue Grotto (where you can no longer swim). I also used dozens of books and contacted scholars such as Duane W. Roller whose work on the life of Kleopatra Selene was invaluable to me.

2. What books would you suggest to someone who is interested in reading more about Egypt in the time of Cleopatra? Is there a good “primer” book for someone who doesn’t know much about the time period?

I highly recommend Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak. It was a wonderfully entertaining book, filled with fantastic tidbits and written as though it’s a modern a guidebook. Other resources I used included:

3. Have you read historical fiction since you became a published author? What fiction have you been reading lately?

Yes! My library is filled with at least a thousand books, and almost all of them are historical fiction and biographies. Recently I've read and really enjoyed C. W. Gortner’s The Last Queen and Robin Maxwell’s Signora Da Vinci.


Her bio reads:

Michelle Moran was born in the San Fernando Valley, CA. She took an interest in writing from an early age, purchasing Writer's Market and submitting her stories and novellas to publishers from the time she was twelve. When she was accepted into Pomona College she took as many classes as possible in British Literature, particularly Milton, Chaucer, and the Bard. Not surprisingly, she majored in English while she was there. Following a summer in Israel where she worked as a volunteer archaeologist, she earned an MA from the Claremont Graduate University.

Remember to visit her website: for more info and PLENTY of extras, including more chances to win one of her books!

If you haven't done so already, don't forget to enter my giveaway HERE for the chance to win a signed copy of The Heretic Queen or Cleopatra's Daughter.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Good morning, all and sundry!

Food: Fresh-baked banana loaf, and the ubiquitous coffee

Book at Table: Finishing up Cleopatra's Daughter!

Today marks the first day of the Cleopatra's Daughter celebration week here at The Courtier's Book. Every day I'll post a little something Egypt or Rome themed (the main character of the book, Selene, straddles both worlds), leading up to the giveaway for a copy of Cleopatra's Daughter and Michelle Moran's previous work, The Heretic Queen!

Don't forget to enter the contest HERE if you haven't already done so! This time next week, I'll be posting the winners!

Here's the schedule for the rest of the week:

Monday: My brief-but-awesome interview with Michelle!
Tuesday: What to read next when you've finished Cleopatra's Daughter
Wednesday: Modern Egyptian travel
Thursday: The films of Ancient Egypt (that is, *portraying*, not *from*)
Friday: My review of Cleopatra's Daughter
Saturday: The giveaway contest ends at midnight!
Sunday: Winners announcement!

Friday, September 4, 2009

"There are as many kinds of Austen adaptations as there are moments in time." Friday Film Review.

Mansfield Park (1999)

Director: Patricia Rozema

Cast: Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, et al.

My Review: Hey guys, remember when this movie came out? And everyone was really excited because finally a *woman* was going to direct an Austen adaptation? And it got good press because it had a hot, up-and-coming young cast? And then when it came out in theaters it got bad reviews because it took so many liberties with the source material?

Okay, technically I don't remember any of that... but that's what I've been reading on IMDB in preparation for reviewing this film. What can I say, I was in grade school when this came out, and just slightly too young to have gotten caught up in period pieces. Anyway, I find the responses to this film to be fascinating; you either love it or hate it. There is no in-between.

I'm not going to summarize this story because, really. Fanny Price is born poor, goes to live with rich relations, falls in love with her pseudo-brother, the end. I want to get to the good stuff (illustrated!).
Fanny, as played by Frances O'Connor, is judgmental, yes, and preachy, yes, and all the same stuff that we always complain about regarding the character, but overall I thought she did a decent job. She is *not* as prudish as the book character, so she had that going for her, as well. Jonny Lee Miller is adorable, of course. I heard that he will play Mr. Knightley in a new BBC adaptation of Emma to come out next year, and I think that could be excellent.

Let's get to Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford, the ne'er-do-well who almost steals Fanny's heart. The problem here is that he is TOO good in this role to make it believable that Fanny would choose Edmund over him. Edmund, destined to be a parson for... no discernable reason... is really harsh on everyone. Perhaps we're meant to believe that Fanny chooses Edmund because she doesn't think she deserves anyone different. Maybe she hates herself and wants to live a life of judging others and being judged. I don't know. All I know is that Austen (allegedly!) had wanted Fanny and Henry to get together, but someone who read an early draft of the novel basically told her Henry was "too good to be true," and suggested she make Fanny choose Edmund. So then Austen wrote in the little section where Henry and Maria run off together. In this movie, Fanny catches them in flagrante delicto before they run off, but still. I feel like, if I were a director, and I had a cast like Frances O'Connor and Alessandro Nivola, I would just change the ending. Actually, I would forget about an Austen adaptation and just make it a really awesome Regency romance. There, I said it.

Another thing people didn't like about this movie is how sexy it is. Ooo, yeah, check out that hand on the neck... for shame! How dare anyone introduce physicality into a romance!

I know the rebuttal is that Austen didn't write about it, but... I don't really care. People held hands, even in Regency times.

Oh my lord, what is that?!?

Aaaanyway, what I'm so sarcastically saying is that I actually enjoyed most of what Rozema "added" to the original Austen in this movie. It made it younger and fresher. There are still too many really boring, dry BBC adaptations out there, that this one stirred the pot in a nice way. I agree with the validity of the argument that it's not "true" Austen, but I will counter that with another... just because she didn't write about her characters kissing or anything of that sort, doesn't mean she didn't imagine them participating in those activities at some point in their lives. She also didn't talk about them going to the bathroom (and I bet you won't find any Regency writer who did), but you know that Regency people did, in fact, have to use the facilities at some point. They are human just like us.

So, enough ranting on that subject. I LIKE THIS MOVIE.

Also, this:
That is James Purefoy in the really, really tiny role of Tom Bertram, heir to Mansfield Park. He would go on to be Marc Antony in Rome and star in plenty of other great movies and shows. I just think the fact that he has approximately 3 lines and all of them are performed intoxicated is hilarious.

Visit the IMDB page for this movie

Buy this on DVD on Amazon

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Get your Regency fix and the chance to win big!

If you're big into historical fiction, you're most likely aware of Georgette Heyer. As the progenitor of the "Regency Romance" genre, she's basically unparalleled in success and style. To me, her books are the only ones I would ever consider comparing to Austen-- in other words, once I read all the Austen books, all I will have left will be Heyer.

Her books were published in the last century, but have enjoyed such lasting appeal that Sourcebooks has been republishing them. At my local Barnes & Noble, there is a lady who comes in every month to pick up the latest reprint! I've been enjoying a few of them over the last couple years... Venetia and Bath Tangle are two that stand out in my mind. Heyer is one of the few authors who can make me actually laugh out loud.

Luckily for us, Sourcebooks is putting out another reprint:

Amazon synopsis:
One of readers', librarians' and booksellers' most frequently requested Heyers, The Foundling features Gilly, the seventh Duke of Sale.

A diffident young man of 24 years, easily pushed around by his overprotective uncle and the retinue of devoted family retainers who won't let him lift a finger for himself, the Duke sometimes wishes he could be a commoner. One day he decides to set out to discover whether he is "a man, or only a Duke."

Beginning with an incognito journey into the countryside to confront a blackmailer, he encounters a runaway school boy, a beautiful but airheaded orphan, one of literature's most appealing and well-spoken comic villains, and a series of alarming and even life threatening events from which he can extricate himself only with the help of his shy and lovely fiancĂ©…

The Foundling
will be exclusively in Barnes & Noble stores this month, so there is a very cool receipt promotion going on between Sourcebooks and the bookstores:

"Send us your receipt/proof of purchase of The Foundling from your local Barnes & Noble to our office or a scanned receipt in an email to and you’ll be entered to win a $200 Barnes & Noble gift card! Receipts must be dated between September 1 – September 31, 2009, and can be from an in-store or online purchase."

Send your Barnes & Noble The Foundling receipts to

Sourcebooks, Inc.

c/o Publicity

PO Box 4410

Naperville, IL 60567

Just think of all the other Heyer books you could buy with that gift card!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

RIP Challenge is in progress!

The R(eaders) I(mbibing) P(eril) Challenge IV has begun! Follow the button on the sidebar of the blog to see what all the fuss is about.

All the reviews are being collected here in a blog unique to the challenge, and already I have so many books I'll have to add to my TBR list, it's crazy. A couple of things I've noticed so far:

  • Shirley Jackson is making a serious comeback in popularity. Is that correct to say? Did she ever go "out" of popularity? Regardless. I've been afraid of The Haunting ever since I was traumatized by it as a child, so I suppose I'll have to pick up one of these at some point. Maybe I'll read "The Lottery" for my first weekend short-story post.
  • Vampires. Every sort of vampire you could want: Charlaine Harris', Guillermo del Toro's, the Swedish vampires from Let the Right One In, everything. Notice that Twilight is not included. Excuse me while I raise a glass to book bloggers everywhere.
  • Historical fiction-wise, we can't escape the Gothic, and why would we ever want to? The Name of the Rose (okay, not Gothic, but not far off from *actual* Visigoth times!) and some Sarah Waters Victorian creepers are appearing, as well.
I'm loving everything about this challenge so far, and I hope you are, too!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'm hosting my first book giveaway!

Happy September!

I'm so excited about this month already-- there's plenty of great historical fiction being released, and I'm having my first book giveaway on this blog!

Michelle Moran's third novel, Cleopatra's Daughter, will be hitting bookstores on September 15th, and to celebrate, I will be running a special giveaway... of TWO items!

Amazon Synopsis:
Moran's latest foray into the world of classical history (after The Heretic Queen) centers upon the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra . After the death of their parents, twins Alexander and Selene and younger brother Ptolemy are in a dangerous position, left to the mercy of their father's greatest rival, Octavian Caesar. However, Caesar does not kill them as expected, but takes the trio to Rome to be paraded as part of his triumphant return and to demonstrate his solidified power. As the twins adapt to life in Rome in the inner circle of Caesar's family, they grow into adulthood ensconced in a web of secrecy, intrigue and constant danger. Told from Selene's perspective, the tale draws readers into the fascinating world of ancient Rome and into the court of Rome's first and most famous emperor. Deftly encompassing enough political history to provide context, Moran never clutters her narrative with extraneous facts. Readers may be frustrated that Selene is more observer than actor, despite the action taking place around her, but historical fiction enthusiasts will delight in this solid installment from a talented name in the genre.

Amazon Synopsis:
The intricacies of the ancient Egyptian court are brought to life in Moran's fascinating tale of a princess's rise to power. Nefertari, niece of the famed heretic queen Nefertiti, becomes part of the court of Pharaoh Seti I after her family is deposed, and she befriends Ramesses II, the young crown prince. When Ramesses is made co-monarch, he weds Iset, the granddaughter of a harem girl backed by Seti's conniving sister, Henuttawy, the priestess of Isis. As Nefertari's position in the court becomes tenuous, she realizes that she, too, wants to marry Ramesses and enlists the help of Seti's other sister, Woserit. But when Nefertari succeeds in wedding Ramesses, power struggles and court intrigues threaten her security, and it is questionable whether the Egyptian people will accept a heretic descendant as their ruler or if civil war will erupt. Moran (Nefertiti) brings her characters to life, especially Nefertari, who helped Ramesses II become one of the most famous of Egyptian pharaohs. Nefertari's struggles to be accepted as a ruler loved as a leader and to secure her family's position throughout eternity are sure to appeal to fans of historical fiction.

You can win either a hardcover copy of Cleopatra's Daughter or a paperback of her second novel, The Heretic Queen, simply by replying in the comments section of this post. I will draw two names using a randomizer. Best of all, both items will are signed by the author herself, Michelle Moran!

Here's how you can get extra chances to win:

1 entry- Reply to this post with your email address. If you don't, I won't be able to contact you to get your address and send it to the publisher.

3 entries- Become a follower of this blog. If you're already a follower, you will automatically receive these points.

5 entries- Post about this contest in your own blog, and link to your blog post in your comment.

You have until midnight, September 12th, to enter the contest. Winners will have 48 hours to respond by emailing me their information before different winners will be chosen (I want the winners to get their books as soon as possible).

I'm practically jumping up and down in my chair typing this out, I'm so geeked. I've heard such great things about Michelle's work, I looooove reading her blog about archaeology, and I will soon be reading my own copy of Cleopatra's Daughter. The week of September 6th-12th, I will be featuring some Ancient Egyptian and Roman fare on this blog to get us in the mood, and will post my own review of the book then, too.

Make sure to check out Michelle's blog and her website, There are even more opportunities to win her books there, as well as a wealth of historical information.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Love in the time of Henry. A Historical Novel Review.

At the King's Command
(The Tudor Rose Trilogy, Book 1)
by Susan Wiggs

Cover: I like. Generic, but pleasing. Headless woman strikes again! What cover will she appear on next?!?

Summary: Juliana Romanov is a young girl when she witnesses her family's murder at the hands of treacherous aristocrats. She was princess of Novgorod, and now she is nothing; if she wants to keep her life, she'll have to go on the run. Fleeing with a band of loyal gypsies and her dog Pavlo, she sets out for territories unknown.

We jump forward in time to catch Henry VIII, king of England, in bed with Stephen de Lacey's intended. Stephen, baron of Wimberleigh, has had enough of the hypocrisies of the Tudor court, and doesn't hold back from mouthing off to the most frivolous king of the age. Luckily for him, the king is in a magnanimous mood, and only commands that Stephen get himself re-married as quickly as possible. Unluckily for him, the king assures that Stephen get himself re-married that day, to the first eligible woman he sees: a gypsy stealing his horse.

Of course, the gypsy is none other than Juliana, forced into exiled poverty, having finally made it to England to beg King Henry's help in righting the evils done her family. She never counted that no one would believe her to be the daughter of a Russian lord, however, and so she finds herself carted off to be the bride of the reluctant Stephen at his home in the country.

Stephen can only count the days or weeks until he can be rid of the upstart gypsy girl and continue mourning his dead wife. Juliana is determined to free herself from this unwanted marriage and continue pursuing justice. But perhaps the two of them can find strength and hope within each other...

My Review: This historical romance follows the classic Pygmalion storyline: a wealthy, stuck-up gentleman must prove himself by taming a half-wild girl. There is a makeover. There are lessons on how to behave in society. There is no singing, but there is gypsy dancing, so...

I really liked the pacing and characterization of this book; I think they set it apart from the typical romance novel. While there is an enormous leap forward in time, of which we never learn much, it takes a significant amount of time and development for Juliana and Stephen to discover that they are each others' perfect matches.

And that isn't to say that they start out as perfect lovers. Stephen must overcome his introversion; his natural inclination is to keep all his sorrows and shames to himself. I don't know whether that is a result of the fact that he feels entirely alone since his wife's death, or that he maintains an old guilt complex. It's probably a mixture. He keeps himself from becoming attached to Juliana not because she is uncouth, which is what he tells himself, but rather because he is afraid to love someone. He's not sure he deserves the happiness of a good marriage again. He's nothing special; why should he get two lovely marriages when he has only ever done the wrong thing? He also hides an enormous secret, which we don't discover until well-into the novel, that explains a lot of his brash behavior.

Juliana, on the other hand, must to a certain extent give up on her inimitable drive for justice. She is so caught up in getting what is her due that she finds she must slow down and take the time to help others before she can help herself. As the years pass she loses sense of who she truly is. She can't figure out where she belongs: in a royal court of Russia, with a roving band of gypsies, or settled in this bedeviling lord's home.

It takes time and individual will for the two to come together. Neither one is able to change the other; change must come from within. They must choose each other. And, of course, the ending is entirely satisfying.

The two protagonists are definitely people of their time. While Juliana is spunky and willful, it is as a gypsy that she became so, not as a court lady. Stephen treats his wife, and women in general, as a Tudor man might have done. Though Henry VIII's fictional command to Stephen was outrageous, we can possibly believe that something of the like could have happened, especially later on in the monarch's life.

There were a few instances of weird description that had me smiling. "Clever laces" and "rosy bosom"... so Stephen's dressing laces are members of Mensa, and Juliana has rosacea?

There was some questionable historical content, as well. I don't know how likely it was that a Russian noble lady would be perfectly fluent in English and understand English court customs. This novel takes place, after all, more than 100 years before Peter the Great idolized Western culture and modernized Russia into a unified, powerful empire. She more than likely would know nothing of England, from what I understand of the situation.

Still, this was a thoughtful and charming romance. I think I will keep an eye out for the sequels coming out in the future.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's website

Note: This is a reprint from the original, known as Circle in the Water, published in 1994. The final two books in the trilogy are slated to come out in September and October of this year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I read on my summer vacation... A Non-Historical Book Review.

Duma Key
by Stephen King

Cover: Cheeeeeeeeeeesy.

Summary: Edgar Freemantle, a rich and successful businessman, is the victim of a horrific construction accident that results in the loss of a limb, brain damage, and his life turned upside down. He's jobless, his wife has left him, and he can see little opportunity for happiness in his future.

So he drops everything and moves down to Duma Key, a remote island off of Florida, for an extended vacation. Perhaps a change of scenery and a little alone time is all he needs to set things right with his life. He settles in a large estate he begins to call "Big Pink," and is lulled into a sense of contentment to the sound of the shells clacking in the surf underneath the house.

Elizabeth Eastlake is the owner of his rented property, but she's certainly not keeping up the place; she suffers from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and depends entirely on her lawyer, Jerome Wireman, to take care of everything. Edgar comes to enjoy his time with Wireman and "Ms. Eastlake," but something in the Key is disturbing him. Ever since he took up painting as a hobby to take his mind off his pain and loneliness, he has found himself painting things he couldn't know are true. He paints his daughter standing with a man, and the next day discovers his daughter is engaged. He also goes into trance-like states and paints horrific images. His greatest concern, however, is that he can paint things that become true. Is it a gift or a curse? And is he the only person who has been affected thus on the island?

My Review: This could have been 200-300 pages shorter than it was. Or rather, several hours shorter, since I've been listening to this one on CD in my car for some time. It was read by John Slattery (whom you may know as Roger Sterling on Mad Men), who did a fantastic job.

That being said, I can't help it: I'll always love a Stephen King novel. I probably read one every summer. I'm biased to this work because I love so much of his other stuff. I was bound to like some things in Duma Key, so I'd be interested to hear if any of you have read this and little-or-nothing else by Stephen King. Once again, I must split this review in two:

The Good:
  • Stephen King is one of the few writers who can truly cause me to have nightmares. I watch horror movies every once in a while, and I've read Poe, Stoker, and others, so I consider myself somewhat desensitized. King can still freak me out long after I put the book down, and Duma Key still contained a few of those terrifying scenes. When Ms. Eastlake says into the phone, "My father was a skin diver," I heard it in my head, perfectly creepily. Say what you will, the man can still create atmosphere like no other.
  • Edgar himself was a likable enough hero. He seemed to genuinely care about his family, even though he had absolutely no sense of saving himself from certain peril.
  • Ms. Eastlake is a great, creepy character. While I didn't have a personal attachment to her, I liked the darkness that seemed to permeate the chapters where she appeared.
  • King has been working lately with a theme along the lines of reality is thin. This appears in his short story N. and is spoken aloud by several characters in Duma Key. The idea that there is a darkness, perhaps a chaos, lurking all around what we know as reality, and that there are some places on Earth where it breaks through, and maybe we help it break through, is frightening and believable, and very intriguing. I'd like to see him develop this theme in future stuff, but perhaps he has to think about it a little more before he continues to tackle it.
And now The Bad:
  • Edgar, horrible things are happening to you. Why did you not leave the island when you had the chance? I know the obvious response is, "Well, then there wouldn't have been much of a novel, would there?" But come on, King, you're better than that: give us a good reason he would stay there.
  • I didn't like the character of Wireman at all and he's quite prominent throughout the story, so this was something of a problem. He kind of has this hackneyed, cliche manner of speaking, and he's kind of an oversharer, and basically I didn't understand why Edgar was so eager to become friends with him. I mean, I understand that Edgar was lonely and would have made friends with a dog if he'd had one at that point, but still, King, you're better than that. Don't let your secondary characters become Saturday morning TV show cutout types.
  • Oh, man, there's a little, "With our powers combined, we will defeat this evil once and for all!" at the end that almost made me throw the CD out the window. I listened to 16 CDs for this ending?!? I'm not going to say what happens, but it was disappointingly mundane.
  • Edgar's adult daughter is written as a very childish figure, in her speech and behavior. While it could just be a character distinction, I'm more inclined to think it was a lack of realism in writing how young women speak. I have to admit: I've never met someone who spoke like her.
  • So. Much. Digression. I feel like King is sometimes high in concept, low in practice. He comes up with a great idea, but then fizzles out when he fails to come up with a satisfying conclusion or explanation. Here, I think that's exactly what happen, so he leans on digressive scenes and plotlines and character arcs to distract you form the fact that he doesn't know where the story is going. That never used to happen in his old work, like 'Salem's Lot and Cujo and Carrie. There was so much that did not add to the story that I felt like it was really a mark of poor plotting, and was just to add another hundred pages or so onto this cinder block of a book. I like a long novel as much as the next person, but I like it when it's full of relevant plotting and characters.
  • The worst offense was the "revelation" of truth behind the bad things happening on the key. There wasn't a whole lot of logic to it. It was anticlimactic. This wasn't a good villain, and I feel like his other work develops the "bad side" of the story so well, so I was terribly disappointed.
So, there you have it. It's not as bad as it could have been, but it could also have been better.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's web site