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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Heretic Queen


In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family–with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.


Moran's voyage through Ancient Egypt continues with this stark account of a young girl's struggle with a false reputation, in this case that of a heretic, quite the cardinal sin of that era. This vivid account of two high priestesses and their shameless vying for the attention of the god-like Pharaoh is as riveting as one has come to expect from an author in tune with herself as well as her specialized subject. Our heroine is Nefertari, niece of Nefertiti, as she embarks on the dauntless task of shedding her reputation as the niece of a heretic, to restore her mother's name and family to glory and to win the love of Pharaoh Ramesses.
Does she succeed? Well, that you will need to discover for yourself, but we'll give you a won't want to draw breath until that last page has been turned. This is a top-notch novel about a famous chapter in of the world's most intriguing settings and, as with all of Michelle Moran's Egypt books, there's a vast amount of vivid description concerning the rich variety of scenarios and customs of the time which is always an essential element in a historical novel. The protagonist and narrator is Nefertari, a very young princess - (aged from 13 to 16 throughout the course of the book) - who is the niece of Queen Nefertiti.
This book is a sequel to Moran's first novel, Nefertiti, but one does not necessarily need to have read or studied Nefertiti before, which is a tribute to the absorbing style and conciseness of Moran's story-telling. Indeed, it is a novel that consumes much of what we would expect from a literary epic filled with politics, interesting characters, and vivid descriptions of Ancient Egypt, rife with mythology and active with love, betrayal, bitter rivalries, death and war. Michelle Moran guides us through each scintillating passage of events with consummate ease and a skill that had me believing I was truly there in Ancient Egypt caught in the struggle of these two exhilarating characters as the plot thickens with every page and the mythology and religion portrayed in each scene becoming more and more part of the every day life that it once was. The novel does include definitions of Egyptian terms and names at the back to ease any confusion and also tells you about the real Nefertari and Ramesses, amongst many others.
The origins of Nefertari are somewhat vague but from the discoveries of her tomb there are strong suggestions that she may have been related to the 18th Dynasty. In The Heretic Queen, Moran manages to merge fact and fiction almost seamlessly on account of the thoroughness of her research and her ability to fill historical gaps with plausible imagination. It is a dazzling recreation of the life of an almost mythical queen in a story emblazoned with all the rigors of court politics, the passion of the all-mighty and overly-powerful, the sights and sounds of gruesome battle and the love of two gifted personalities. There's an old saying that a book's best page is its last and one can only feel a sense of frustration with a hint of disappointment when this point arrives in The Heretic Queen, because this book is simply brilliant and a pure pleasure to read, from beginning to end. Michelle Moran has a unique gift to tell a story in a most amazing, intriguing and fascinating way.
This is a no-sleep-until-it's-finished page-turner of the highest order. Born in the San Fernando Valley, CA, Moran took an interest in writing from an early age and in later in life as she travelled around the world, from Zimbabwe to India, her experiences took her to many of the most important archaeological sites which ultimately inspired her to write historical fiction, the fruit of which we have the pleasure of digesting in this excellent book.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Lacuna


The Lacuna is the story of a man’s search for safety in the grinding jaws of two nations, at a moment when the entire world seemed bent on reinventing itself at any cost.

Born in the US, reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is mostly a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salomé. From a coastal island jungle to the unpaved neighbourhoods of 1930s Mexico City, through a disastrous stint at a military school in Virginia and back again, his fortunes never steady as Salomé finds her rich men-friends always on the losing side of the Mexican Revolution. Sometimes she gives her son cigarettes instead of supper.

He aims for invisibility, observing his world and recording everything with a peculiar selfless irony in his notebooks. Life is whatever he learns from servants putting him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Making himself useful in the household of the muralist, his wife Frida Kahlo, and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, and the howling gossip and reportage that dictate public opinion.

A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in the internationalist goodwill of World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina, he remakes himself in America’s hopeful image. Under the watch of his peerless stenographer, Violet Brown, he finds an extraordinary use for his talents of observation. But political winds continue to push him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach - the lacuna - between truth and public presumption.

This is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Like no other novel yet written, it illuminates an era when bold internationalism gave way to a post-war landscape of narrowly defined ‘Americanism’. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the colour red, The Lacuna is as deep and rich as the New World itself.


This is the story of Harrison William Shepherd, son of a Mexican mother and an American father. The father is careless towards the boy whereas the mother wishes to embrace new romances and adventures in her life, thus she returns to Mexico, taking Harrison with her.
The book is written under the form of a journal of Harrison’s life from his earliest memories. It transports us through the details of his life in Mexico, where through a set of events he becomes Frida Kahlo and Diogo Rivera’s cook. Later he meets Leon Trotsky, after he became an exile of the Stalinist regime. Harrison’s life intertwines with that of historical characters, leading the reading to something extremely fascinating.
As an adult he returns to America where books on Mexican history become best-seller. However, the Commission against Un-American Activities starts taking place and he is called upon to testify given that it is believed that he may belong to the Communist Party, which brings him a huge feeling of anguish, as he was always a very private citizen and eventually leads to the decision ending the book.
Sometimes it seems to us that Harrison Shepherd is more of a passive observer than a strong participant of His own life. With such a strong group of characters, so marked, each one of them with such a decided and intransigent opinion to the vast majority of subjects, Harrison functions, in a certain as a counterpoint: he listens and observes, absorbing everything and breathing out his impressions in diaries and novels.
When Harrison asks his secretary to burn a childhood journal, he muses (to himself): "An invisible boy made manifest, seen for once by another's eyes, if only for a short while. A city of memories has gone up in fire and gas, and there can be no remorse." In these very words, Shepherd reveals his nature.
It is a passionate reading, whether by the story itself, by the fact of sometimes we do not exactly know who is telling it. The descriptions of life at Kahlo’s household as well as Trotsky’s personality have absolutely captivated us. E end up finding unexpected glimpses into Mexican history and culture, a little bit further from the common places we so often see. This work has already been referenced couple of times by the author allegedly having a political agenda underneath to the book. We disagree; it seems to us that this novel, despite centering itself on politics is about people, it does not glorify communism or socialism nor anti-communism or capitalism, but how people transport their lives and themselves into those currents. Makes us wishing to learn more about all those opposing visions and knowing the motivations of those who we do not know or have a different perspective of the world. It’s a message we find several times through the book.
It's a book finely written. The smallest details end up being very important. It is a story that takes its own time to be told, it is an immense and ambitious enterprise that this books aims to fulfill. The seamless integration of historical material with all the imagery and literary narrative motifs make of this novel something quite remarkable at any level we measure up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Moon Shell Beach


Lexi Laney and Clare Hart grew up together having wondrous adventures across picturesque Nantucket. And when it was time to share intimate secrets and let their imaginations run free, they escaped to their private hideaway: Moon Shell Beach. But nothing stays the same. With the complicated pressures of adulthood, their intense bond is frayed, hurtful words are exchanged, and Lexi flees Nantucket to a life of luxury while Clare stays behind.

Ten years later, a newly divorced Lexi returns to make amends with those she left in her wake–particularly Clare, who still simmers with resentment toward her friend. Their emotional reunion is beset with major challenges, as Lexi’s return sets off a series of startling events. And as Clare’s life takes an abrupt detour, Lexi wonders if the happiness and peace they once knew on Moon Shell Beach will, in the end, prove to be as fleeting as time and the tide.


This is a comfortable yet predictable summer reading “Moon Shell Beach” by Nancy Thayer brings to the reader all the normal elements of these types of stories – friends, betrayal, and deliverance at its culmination, romance.
Lexi Laney and Clare Hart grew up together in Nantucket Island, fast friends that enjoy themselves the most from beach adventures, namely those which involve a haunting, the hidden bay they have called Moon Shell Beach. While they were growing up, Clare always loved to the home princess whereas Lexi dreamt of great adventures. Both attend college together but in the first summer they return home, Lexi and Clare begin to grow apart. Clare dates Jessie and Lexi realizes that no longer has a heart for going back to college. She meets and older man who proposes to her and promises her the life she always yearned for, something she is just not able to say no.
When the bonds between them start fraying in the wake of Great disagreements, Lexi leaves the island with her now new husband, the wealthy Ed Hardy, while Clare stays behind immersed the life of the island, opens a chocolate shop, as Lexi travels the word, however, finding out that her relationship is fading fast and that now her husband is cheating her with another woman.
Ten years later, Lexi returns to the island, divorced and impoverished from wealth from any sort of comforts (she had signed a pre-nuptial agreement) but with the enterprise of opening a boutique just next door to Clare’s. She specializes in very unique articles, many of them luxuries and decides to name the shop “Moon Shell Beach”.
New resentments arise, given that Clare believe that the name of Lexi’s boutique is another sign of her betrayal as the chose something that belonged intrinsically and with great intimacy to them both.
These characters are highly believable and remind us of someone who we know or have grown up with. They lives are not absent of chaos but they likewise possess love and good light moments. Lexi and Clare had dreams and sometimes those dreams had to be abandoned or changed. As they learn what true friendship really means, they also learn something about themselves. Some events may stretch the friendship bonds to their limits and Lexi and Clare take their friendship to a point of rupture, and they will find out if it will resist or otherwise. This credibility can be extended to the secondary characters, whether they are family, classmates or lovers.
Their society, divided in the two tiers of the seaside resort is also very well portrayed. Those with money want big houses and secluded locations where they leave the world outside. Those whose families have always lived there had to deal with the increasing real-estate prices, which are more and more forbidding to the children of the locals who want to live there. With this real-estate pressure for very exclusive locations, the wildlife habitats may just be destroyed, leading to conflicts with the local population. Likewise, shops try to allure holidaymakers selling products that are too expensive for the local economy. All this brings a new dimension to the story, without being deliberately prejudiced or adopting a preaching tone.
The author leads us to a satisfying conclusion, although predictable, with both women creating a new bond and finding new romance to their lives. It is an absorbing reading that will remind readers of what is really important to their life. It is centered in the friendship of these two young women, between one another and those around them, and only after that any romantic involvement, which in this type of literature is not common. Having chosen Nantucket as the setting, it gives the reader in a sunny and balmy island, by using rich descriptions of all Nantucket’s natural wonders. A beautiful story of love, friendship and forgiveness.

Saturday, May 14, 2011



In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.


Malindo Lo's thought-provoking literary debut is in some respects a retelling of the Cinderella story, although in this case the heroine falls in love with a beautiful huntress rather than a prince, thus modernizing the whole concept but in no way de-intensifying it. Lo’s prose is as beautiful as the storyline suggests, and through her lush descriptions she offers an important twist on a classic story that will appeal to a wide readership, especially those looking for a adolescent romance.
But beyond these minor revisions, there are two major points of departure from the original Cinderella story. The first is the introduction of the fairy fairies, a complete culture in their own right, that used to have a fair amount of regular contact with us mortals, and second is the introduction of the King's Huntress, a nice change from the traditional all-male dominated society of most fantasies.
These two items provide the focus for Ash's development, first with her attraction to Sidhean of the fairies, and second her attraction to the Kaisa, the current Huntress, which is barely acknowledged by Ash at first, but eventually becomes an overriding force in driving the story to its conclusion. Our basic understanding of the planet upon which we reside limits the idea of fairies and everything relating to them as pure fantasy and mere subject matter for children at bedtime.
But other worlds do exist by the law of nature and our ignorance of them extends to whatever life-forms inhabit such places. How can be sure that fairies and other such spiritual beings don't have a place out there in the cosmos? We can't. And the reason we continue to insist that they are only make-believe is evidence of our ignorance as a species.
In the world of Ash, fairies are an older race of people who walk the line between life and death, reality and magic. As orphaned Ash grows up, a servant in her stepmother's home, she begins to realize that her beloved mother, Elinor, was very much in tune with these underworld folk, and that she herself has the power to see them too.
Against the sheer misery of her stepmother's cruelty, greed and ambition in preparing her two charmless daughters for presentation at court, and hopefully Royal or aristocratic marriage, Ash befriends one of these fairies - a mysterious, handsome man - who grants her wishes and restores hope to Ash's existence, even though she knows there will be a price to pay. But most important of all, she also meets Kaisa, a huntress employed by the king, and it is Kaisa who truly awakens Ash's desires for both love and self-respect, allowing her to escape the unpleasant life she leads with her grim and self-serving stepmother to find true love.
Although cleverly disguised as a fairy-tale, Ash is about the possibility and recognition of opportunities for changing our lives for the better. After all, it's something all of us are doing on a continuous basis. Through Ash, Malindo Lo's message to us is that from the deepest grief comes the chance for transformation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010



Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley—a wide-eyed and feisty young Irish girl—takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella—the "missus." Bessy lacks the necessary scullery skills for her new position, but as she finds out, it is her ability to read and write that makes her such a desirable property. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her mundane chores and most intimate thoughts. And it seems that the missus has a few secrets of her own, including her near- obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.

Giving in to her curiosity, Bessy makes an infuriating discovery and, out of jealousy, concocts a childish prank that backfires and threatens to jeopardize all that she has come to hold dear. Yet even when caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex, and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and raise the stakes even further, Bessy begins to realize that she has not quite landed on her feet.

The Observations is a brilliantly original, endlessly intriguing story of one woman’s journey from a difficult past into an even more disturbing present, narrated by one of the most vividly imagined heroines in recent fiction. This powerful story of secrets and suspicions, hidden histories and mysterious disappearances is at once compelling and heart-warming, showing the redemptive power of loyalty and friendship. A hugely assured and darkly funny debut, The Observations is certain to establish Jane Harris as a significant new literary talent.


I'm not sure how to set this book. It is indeed an historical novel occurred in the Victorian era, but it has many elements of thriller, mystery and even satirical humor. What I can say is that this book is unique and is sure to please a very large audience, it has a bit of everything for everyone.
The narrator of this story is the fantastic and unusual Bessy, a teenager who escapes from the mother, a woman with no scruples that sold her for sexual exploitation. The girl eventually finds employment in a degraded rural mansion as a maid to the beautiful and eccentric Arabella that studies the maid as guinea pigs and has her record her conclusions in a small book called Observations. The history of the book is set all around the relationship between the two with a few brief references to the past of Bessy.
The narrative point of view of the character is lovable, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, sometimes childish, sometimes lucid. The two main characters have many facets that are richly explored throughout the book, making it a historical novel so different from usual.
I also quite liked the satirical side of the book through the character of Bessy that caricatures the moral values, customs and hierarchy of Victorian society.
This book will, for all its qualities and its diversity, to please all readers.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010



At a New Englandboarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape.

A Pandora's box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices--those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal--that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment.

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in TESTIMONY a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.


This book has a very controversial issue and when we start reading we are, definitely, left without knowing exactly what can come out of a book with a plot so bold.
In an elite school where appearances and reputation of the students are valued, for the repoutation of the School depends on theirs, an orgy occurs between Sienna a 14 years old girl and three young boys. Everything would have gone by as a mere sexual experience (although a bit extreme) would it not had been shot and taken to the Director and then have been disseminated via the Internet.
Young boys participating in the orgy with Sienna are held accountable despite claiming that she had provoked them, the case is considered sexual abuse of a minor by the other three youngsters are already mayors of age.
Thus a situation that could be an almost innocuous experience will not only cause a hurricane on the lives of young people who took part in it, but for their familes, as well as the small community they belong to.
The innovative in this book, beyond the daring of its theme, is the story is told by various points of view, not just for the young people involved but also their parents and part of the community. This constant change of perspective has contributed to the enrichment of the story, it allows us to understand the various sides of the story in a much broader and the disastrous consequences that will have the discovery of this orgy.
The book is extremely well written and is of great boldness and daring, giving the reader an addictive reading, which admits no long pauses.

Friday, July 30, 2010



Every once in a while I come across a book that I love, a book that I could read again and again, a book that I want everyone I know to read. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is one of those books. By far the best book I read in 2008 (and I read a lot), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful piece of historical fiction that will make you laugh, cry and remember the transformational power of literature.


I must confess that the title of this book left me very curious. And I thought, "but who in his sanity will give this name to a book?".
Because usually the books have small and flashy titles. I soon realized that this was a book unlike any other, who wore a title like this to leave the reader curious to see what's behind it, and the synopsis is a real good help.
This book is partly posthumous because the writer was writing before she died and could not finish it. So was her niece who had to finish it, thus becoming co-author of the book. However the writing is fairly uniform and natural it is impossible to notice where an author started and where he ended another, which often happens in similar books, which could affect the quality of the story.
Another peculiarity of this book is that it is written in epistolary form, in the form of letters of the main character Juliet, for the inhabitants of an island near Guernsey Channel called to her friends and her brother. This format allows easy, quick and addictive reading.
This story is set in the period after the Second World War and tells how the inhabitants of the island of Guernsey faced the war with the help of this curious society. Because the book is set in a particularly difficult time it would be expected that the book became sad and heavy. What surprisingly it does not because the book is light and candid and puts in a smile even when talking about matters as serious as those.
This book also makes any lover of literature to identify with the characters in the book, because it is their love of books that allows them to remain united and overcome the most traumatic moments, it is perhaps what makes the characters in this book so palpable and real in the eyes of the reader,
In three words: I loved it!