Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy by Sarah Bradford

Like most historical figures that interest me, I was first introduced to Lucrezia Borgia and her awesome, psychotic family through historic fiction. In high school I read The Borgia Bride by Jean Kalogridis, which was told from the perspective of Lucrezia’s sister-in-law, Sancha of Aragon. It was awesome (and, as I now know from reading this book, pretty accurate) for several reasons: first, lots of sex, which to a fifteen-year-old is a great recommendation in itself; second, it was full of poisonings, backstabbing both figurative and literal (I recall that Sancha carried a dagger in her gown and used it several times), political intrigue, and general skullduggery. Also the author decided that, yes, the rumors were true and Lucrezia was sleeping with both her father and her brother Cesare, so there was that additional bit of escandalo. It was an awesome read, is what I’m saying, and when I saw this in a bookstore I decided to buy it on a whim and find out more about the real Lucrezia Borgia.

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Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer

Vintage Scooby-Doo episodes, while fun to watch when you’re bored and there’s nothing else on TV, presented a lot of annoyances to me when I was younger. First there was that period where the episodes featured nonsensical guest stars (oh man, did anyone else see that episode where the gang solves a mystery with Batman and Robin?), and then there’s the fact that these kids always seemed to have the exact wrong response when faced with a monster or ghost or whatever – an average-sized mummy or ghost or whatever jumps out at them, and they all run screaming. For god’s sake, there are four of you and a large dog, just tackle the son of a bitch.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

*WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Before we begin, let me just say this: I feel really bad about the review I’m going to write here. Normally, I don’t mind writing negative reviews – in fact, much for the same reason I always get a little thrill when someone trolls my reviews, I sort of enjoy doling out negative criticism (for the psychology behind this, please refer to Anton Ego’s monologue on criticism at the end of Ratatouille) Especially when it’s an author I dislike – I can and will trash Twilight until its memory is wiped from the earth, but things get complicated when it comes time to give a negative review of an author I like. Because, lest you get any other ideas, I love Libba Bray. I loved A Great and Terrible Beauty, I loved Going Bovine, and I think she personally is brilliant and funny and I would love to hang out with her and talk about books and history and James Bond all damn day.

But I try to base my reviewing style off the advice of Lester Bangs, which is that “you have to make your reputation on being honest…and unmerciful.” So. Honest and unmerciful. Here we go.

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Paris: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones

This book’s front cover proudly features a quote by Neil McGregor, director of the British Museum, where he calls this book “Exhilarating.” Sounds like a good enough recommendation, but let’s consider the source: generally, the sort of people who become directors of world-famous museums are also the sort of people who think that looking at pottery shards is exhilarating.

What I’m trying to say here is that while Paris: The Biography of a City is certainly interesting for those who really want to learn about the history of Paris from pre-Roman times to modern day, it’s not exactly going to keep you on the edge of your seat.

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“Scarlett said to Bod, ‘You’re brave. You are the bravest person I know, and you are my friend. I don’t care if you are imaginary.’ Then she fled down the path back the way they had come, to her parents and the world.”

Nobody Owens, Bod for short, first comes to the graveyard as a toddler, having escaped his house after his entire family was brutally and (for the moment) inexplicably murdered. A ghost couple, the Owens, take him in and raise him, along with a guardian named Silas (who isn’t a ghost, but isn’t living. More on him later). Bod grows up in the graveyard, protected by the ghosts from the man who murdered his family, and the book follows him from ages one to fifteen. During the story he goes to school briefly, makes a living friend (that’s her in the above quote) and occasionally ventures outside the graveyard, but the majority of the action takes place inside the sprawling, complex cemetery. It’s a ghost story, with lots of good scary-exciting parts that I imagine would have thrilled me as a small child, like this part:

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Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, illustrations by Greg Call

*Reviewer’s Note: obviously, there isn’t a movie version of this book (yet, anyway – they’re supposedly working on one, which will probably be terrible but I’ll save that rant for later) so I’m going to tag this book as The Movie Is Better because I can’t be bothered to create a tag just for The Stage Adaptation Is Better.*

First, Some Background: (for review of actual book, please skip ahead to paragraph four) In the spring of 2011, I spent four days in New York with three of my college friends. As we are all giant theater dorks, our sole objective was to see as many shows as we could for as cheaply as possible (a feat we accomplished quite spectacularly, thank you verra much). One of my friends, the the giantest theater dork of us all, had heard fantastic things about an off-Broadway show called Peter and the Starcatcher, and convinced us that we had to venture away from Times Square in order to see it. After a subway adventure and waiting nervously to see if we got stand-by tickets for the sold-out show, we got in.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

Okay, I read this for exactly two reasons: one, I thought this book was on The List (it’s not); and two, the Scarlet Pimpernel is the inspiration for the Bruce Wayne/Batman dichotomy and I am a giant dork.

For a book about a secret team of English noblemen working to rescue French nobles from the scary revolutionists who want them dead, this is a surprisingly unexciting book. The pace is fast, and there’s plenty of spying and blackmailing and races against time, but there isn’t a single fistfight, swordfight, gunfight or slapping fight in the whole book. There’s sort of a chase scene at the end, but the pursued party is in a slow-moving cart and the pursuer is on foot. There’s plenty of drama and intrigue and excitement, but just one duel would have been nice.

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