Cleopatra Confesses comes so close to being a great book. The writing is detailed, but not at all dense, andOriginally posted at Small Review
Cleopatra Confesses comes so close to being a great book. The writing is detailed, but not at all dense, and flows at a level that is both accessible and entertaining. There is a ton of information here (and it's pretty accurate), so readers looking for a crash course in Cleopatra's history would do well to pick up this book. Short chapters and the simplistic writing make this an extremely fast read.
Cleopatra's famed confidence and shrewd intellect shine clearly through the first-person narration. Carolyn Meyer does a great job of crafting a character for whom modern readers can feel sympathetic. Though this isn't a diary-format book, it almost feels like one. Much of the story is told through Cleopatra's observations and there is very little dialogue. The other characters in Cleopatra's life are not as vividly drawn as she is, but their roles are clearly presented.
To me, the writing style was less like a novel and a lot more like reading a well-presented Wikipedia article with lots of information and a little bit of personality from the narrator to make it less dry. I didn't mind this feel at all. I'm the type of reader who always wants to read non-fiction, but I never actually do because my novels look way more interesting. Cleopatra Confesses was the perfect balance. It almost felt like reading non-fiction but it was way more entertaining. I loved it! It was like eating diet food that doesn't taste like diet food. Based on all of this I would have happily given this book a 4 star rating.
But there's a but...
If you don't know anything AT ALL about Cleopatra, what I'm going to say next would probably be spoilery for you. Just warning you.
The reason I have to deduct stars is not because of what was written, but because of what wasn't written. Everything was going great, but around page 200 I started to get a little nervous. Too much still had to happen, but there weren't enough pages. At page 250, I started to wonder if this was only part one of a series (it's not. This is a standalone). By the time I had finished the epilogue I was super disappointed.
The story goes into great detail about Cleopatra's life up until she rolls out of the carpet and meets Julius Caesar for the first time. And then the book ends! Ok, I'm not saying the stuff before this part isn't important, because it totally is and Carolyn Meyer did a fantastic job recounting those events, but the meat and potatoes of Cleopatra's history is her time as Queen! Her epic loves, the way she managed Egypt--this is an essential part of any book recounting Cleopatra's life...and it's all completely cut out!
As soon as Cleopatra meets Caesar the book pretty much ends. There are a few chapters (remember, chapters are very short) and the epilogue briefly recounts that Caesar died and she had a relationship with Marc Antony and then he fought with Octavian. Cleopatra then opens a basket filled with vipers and Ta Da! THE END. All of that is summed up in the tiny epilogue.
I have no idea what the author or publishers were possibly thinking by ending the book like this. This book would have been fantastic if Carolyn Meyer had given the second half of Cleopatra's life the attention she had given to the first half of her life. I would have loved it and passed it out to my upper-MG (there's brief mentions of sex) and YA readers. I wouldn't have hesitated to buy a copy for my library and myself. Maybe the publishers were afraid of scaring away readers with a high page count (probably would have been in the 400-500s!)? I get that. I would have been scared away. They should have broken the book up into two volumes then. That would have been a fine solution and I totally would have gone for that. But what they did? Terrible.
I'm so conflicted with this review. What I read was great, but what wasn't written is just not acceptable in a book about Cleopatra (even the blurb talks about her two lovers!). I do recommend the book, but...just know you're not getting the full story at all. If you want to read an excellent book about Cleopatra, then I highly, highly recommend Martha Rofheart's book The Alexandrian (an adult book, though probably fine for YAs, and totally readable. I LOVE her Cleopatra. Like, BFF crying at the end because I don't want her to die kind of love. Ignore the ugly cover).
I don't even know how to describe this book. It's Vivian Vande Velde. I like Vivian Vande Velde. I haven't read a booOriginally posted on Small Review
I don't even know how to describe this book. It's Vivian Vande Velde. I like Vivian Vande Velde. I haven't read a book she's written that I haven't liked, though some I've LOVED (but this one I liked). I recommend her to everyone because she's just that kind of author. Basically, amazing.
What I mean to say is that this is a solid read. It didn't leave a huge impression on me, but that's mostly because it's the more MG Vivian Vande Velde as opposed to the more YA Vivian Vande Velde, and I like her YA stuff more than her thinner MG stuff.
Her YA stuff has more character depth and deeper plots, whereas her more MG stuff sits a little closer to the surface and the characters aren't nearly as developed.
But that's ok, because YA or MG, I can pretty much always count on Vivian Vande Velde to give me these things:
Sarcastic, sly, witty humor
A sweet, but background, romance
An imperfect main character who is fun, stubborn, smart, and ultimately good
An engaging mystery or conundrum with a satisfying conclusion
A plot with no boring filler and enough momentum to keep me engaged from start to finish
A feel-good, comfort read story
Funny side characters
Slap-in-the-face characters who aren't as good or nice as typical MG/YA book characters tend to be
A unique twist on ho-hum plot
And I got all that, so I'm happy.
Also, I loved that her prologue basically chastised me for remarking on how I usually skip prologues and author's notes. Ha! Well, I assure you, while I STILL skip most author's prologues (you know, the kind that are ABOUT the book and not actually a PART of the story), I ALWAYS read Vivian Vande Velde's prologues and author's notes (and you should too. They're funny!)
Recommended for fans of Vivian Vande Velde and fractured fairy tales.
You know how sometimes you can read a historical fiction book and not really feel lOriginally posted on Small Review blog
This book is gross.
You know how sometimes you can read a historical fiction book and not really feel like you're IN the time period? Yeah, not this book.
Hats off to Kristiana Gregory because this lady nails the historical time period despite the thoroughly modern middle grade voice used for Eleanor (complete with groan-inducing "diary I must hide you in a clever place!" thoughts scattered throughout the book. I swear these diary book heroines spend 1/4 of the pages talking about hiding their diary).
Mostly Kristiana Gregory accomplishes this sense of "place" by throwing in every random bit of disgusting 12th century detail from parasitic worms to bathroom accommodations. You can also play a rousing game of 1000 Ways to Die in Old Timey Europe! because, holy cow, red shirts abounded in this book.
On the plus side, all these bits of barf-inducing gore totally made me spend at least three hours on Wikipedia looking up all the historical bits Kristiana Gregory threw in (Wikipedia confirms them, btw, though I still haven't found that eye worm thing described in quite that way. Oh, and that reminds me, Ms. Gregory, mind explaining to my students why I was gagging in the library?).
But, hey, what do I expect from a book set in the 1100s? Those were gross times and life was definitely cheap. So points to Kristiana Gregory for keeping it real and packing in a ton of historical details between covert diary stashings (and even managing to combine the two! Flea ridden diaries, yay!).
And, ya know, I know it was a total diary gimmick, but I SO wanted Eleanor to snoop in her sister's diary. Which is to say, I was getting pretty into these characters and I'll be the first to say I'm shocked because they weren't written with that much depth, but I was still totally invested.
Of course, like all these Royal Diaries books, this one ended right before the good stuff really started. But that's necessary because all the good stuff is hardly fodder for middle grade books. Still, these books serve their purpose better than I would have ever expected.
Packed with historical detail, the Royal Diaries series is an excellent way to read about the early years of great historical figures (years often skipped over in adult books).
Don't expect great depth of characterization or to know the real Eleanor (or any of the historical protagonists in this series) because she's written with the voice of a modern middle grade girl (albeit one expected to do needlepoint and marry for political gain).
But that's ok, because as an introduction to Eleanor's childhood and her world, this book definitely serves its purpose.
I don't have much to say about this book. I read it a while back and then stalled on the review, to the point where I don't really remember all that much. Which, I guess, says a lot in and of itself. As an entry in The Royal Diaries series, this one isn't bad, but it didn't really stand out much either. Given their short length (made even shorter by the diary format and big historical notes section padding out the back end) and overall solid recounting of history, I don't think it's ever a waste of time to read a Royal Diaries book, this one included. That said, I enjoyed Carolyn Meyer's take on Mary in The Wild Queen a lot more. ...more
This is the kind of non-fiction book I can get behind! A narrative style that follows events consecutively and clearly unfurls the story just like a novel. Delving into Marie Antoinette's thoughts and feelings made her come alive as much as any fictional character and made me emotionally invested in her triumphs and plights.
And, yes, I did rage at all the raging parts (her shameful defrockings at her Austrian hand-off and coucher, the horrible aunts, the scurrilous printings, the revolutionary indignities and the sheer hypocrisy of it all) and I did cry at all the crying parts (MA's heartache during her barren years, her multiple mourning periods when she lost her loved ones, her briefly mentioned but still impassioned speech at her trial, and, of course, The End).
There was a ton of historical detail packed in this, relatively, short book (it's 412 pages, but really it's only 292 pages long. All the rest of those pages are filled with references, bibliographies, and the index). Caroline Weber did her research, and boy does it show!
But it doesn't show in a showy way where you're bombarded with disjointed facts in a way that gives the impression the author is just trying to show off all their knowledge. Not at all. Caroline Weber's approach is so easy and pleasurable to read. I cannot stress enough how this is a perfect book is for the fiction-inclined.
A non-fiction counterpart to one of my fictional favorites
As I was reading, I began to highly suspect Juliet Grey pulled much inspiration and information from Caroline Weber's book. Sure enough, a glance at Juliet Grey's bibliography shows this is the case. There are many parallels between the two, but this is a very good thing and only furthers my appreciation for Juliet Grey's work (she does a fabulous job incorporating fashion into her narrative).
Because of Juliet Grey's already exhaustive look, Queen of Fashion did not add a ton to what I already knew. But, it did add some new bits of information and did a great job fleshing out some of the politics surrounding the time (particularly during her time as dauphine). Caroline Weber's voice is stellar, too, so I do not at all feel like I wasted my time in reading her book.
Much like MA's fashion, this book's strength is its weakness
By exploring and centering her focus on fashion, Caroline Weber necessarily glosses over and even outright omits several important historical events. This was frustrating, because she does such a good job at crafting a non-fiction account of this time, but also mostly excusable given the parameters of her approach. However, I think this is also the book's greatest weakness.
I do think the first part of the book is stronger than the latter part. Caroline Weber delved deeper into the politics and "whys" behind Marie Antoinette's choices and experiences during this part. She also attributed a great political acumen to Marie Antoinette during her dauphine years, which is in stark contrast to the woman she painted during her queenly reign as a spendthrift run amok and largely unaware of the political impact her clothing and lifestyle choices had at the time.
I had a harder time reconciling these interpretations as it just doesn't make sense to me how she would have had so much political awareness and then so little (and then so much again, at the end). I think this impression is less a conflict in Caroline Weber's assertions as it is an unfortunate side effect of her focus on fashion.
In the dauphine years, Marie Antoinette's fashion was much more strictly controlled by court protocol and while she certainly rebelled, these rebellions were within a necessarily political context and so Caroline Weber necessarily discussed this political context.
However, in her queen years, the fashion frenzy took center stage and the ever shifting styles provided Caroline Weber with much to write about. Political motivations and effects, while discussed, took a backseat to describing the fashions themselves, and I think the narrative suffered as a result.
There was significantly less focus on Marie Antoinette's personal motivations and feelings during this section, and I think, especially in contrast to how much focus was put on this in the earlier parts of the narrative, helped give the impression of a queen with little in her head except pretty clothes.
This doesn't quite ring right and undermines Caroline Weber's earlier (and later) evidence of a woman who was extremely conscious of her stylistic choices and their political effects. If she was so sartorially savvy, then why this huge period of missteps? It doesn't add up, but I don't think this is a weakness in Carline Weber's ultimate argument, but rather a fumbling of her presentation. She just isn't consistent in carrying her argument through this time period, and I think that is partially the fault of her focus.
The fashion focus does also at times feel forced, even though the evidence is clearly there to draw such conclusions. Again, I think this is less a fault on Caroline Weber and her excellent research, than a result again of her focus on fashion to the exclusion of other important political events at the time.
This exclusion made the fashion highlights seem tenuous at times, when in reality they are not at all. Had Caroline Weber included the other political factors and events, they would have served to bolster her arguments of just how powerful fashion and symbolism was to the revolution. It would have provided even more context to her arguments and therefore support (as it had in the dauphine sections), but I get the impression they were nixed from inclusion because they were not directly related to fashion. A shame.
I know this seems like a lot of criticism, but really I don't mean it to be. It is really because Caroline Weber does such a fantastic job overall, that her one weakness here stands out so much. I know she has the knowledge and the authorial chops to shore this up.
Queen of Fashion is an impeccably researched powerhouse of a book that I will be making a fixture in my personal library.
Highly recommended to those interested in Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. For those who did not appreciate Juliet Grey's flowery writing style but did like her detailed history, Queen of Fashion would be a perfect alternative. This is also an excellent place to start for those who love historical fiction but are nervous about dipping their toes into non-fiction.