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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.