Google+ Followers

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Review of Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Overview from Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper the young ruler’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods.
From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people but fails to see that powerful priests are plotting against her husband’s rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear.

My Review:

This week’s selection came to me by way of last week’s. I had checked out Madame Tussaud from the library’s e-book selection and, as you may have read last week, I liked it a lot. Then when I went to visit the library last week I found a hardcover copy of another one of Michelle Moran’s books. It turns out that it was her first and it is called Nefertiti.

As the title suggests, the book’s subject is Nefertiti, as told through the eyes of her half-sister (not a full sister as the publisher's summary above suggests), Mutnodjmet (or Mutny). Although I love history, I can’t claim to know much about the title character. I knew that she was important in Ancient Egyptian history and might have even been a Pharaoh in her own right after her husband’s death but beyond that I knew nothing.

Moran paints a picture of her as a queen and “chief wife” that is both ruthless and ambitious yet at the same time vulnerable. From an early age she is made aware of the fact that she will be the wife of a Pharaoh. (Another error in the summary as she was originally destined to marry Tuthmosis since he was next in line to the throne.) But when the crown prince Tuthmosis dies her future is in doubt.

Her father, the Vizier Ay, does not like the new prince, Amunhotep IV. After the death of Tuthmosis, Ay sees how the brother behaves and swears he will never allow a daughter of his to be married to the man. There are suggestions that the younger brother killed the elder in a bid for the throne and out of hatred for all of the things that his brother does that he does not agree with. But he quickly relents when he realizes that a rival vizier whose daughter, Kiya, is already married to the new prince would control his family’s destiny since Amunhotep is already under Kiya’s spell.

When they are first married, Nefertiti is not the favored wife. She must use cunning and seduction on her husband if she is ever to get him to see her as someone special, something more than his mother’s choice of a “chief wife.”

The story covers her efforts to first gain Pharaoh’s affection and then go beyond that and become a co-regent herself. She is the key to her family’s dream. She will make sure that they are remembered for all eternity but at what cost? Will she go too far?

Moran presents a Nefertiti that seems often selfish and callous but at the same time we see that there is real affection between her and Mutny, and at times between Nefertiti and her husband. Still Mutny wonders if it the Queen’s feeling for her stem only from her selfishness and insecurities. She often tells Mutny that she doesn’t really understand what she is going through. And she wants to deny her a family of her own in order to have her always available.

In the end, Mutny rejects this and makes something of a life of her own but she always comes back. She can never entirely leave her sister to her own devices. And so she is there still during the birth of the future King Tut. She is there at her sister’s death. She is always there to keep her memory alive.

Contains: some violence, sensuality

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Madame Tussaud

Review of Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Overview from Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

My Review:

Madame Tussaud achieved fame through her famous wax museum in London that featured figures that were so life-like people were forced to do a double take. What is not known by most people is who was she really? What was she like? And how did she survive the senseless, graphic violence of French Revolution? This book tells her story through her fictional eyes, though obviously it is not entirely accurate. Fortunately, the author provides information at the back of the story telling us what was changed and why.
At the start of this book, we are introduced to Madame Tussaud though, at this point, she is neither a Madame nor a Tussaud. She is merely a young girl who has had the good fortune to be taught her profession by her uncle and allowed to pursue it unhindered by a society in which women are still expected to marry.

We are introduced to her as Marie Grosholtz, talented apprentice to Philippe Curtius. Whereas Curtius has started this business of model people out of wax, Marie has turned it into a profitable business and appears to have the talent to outshine her uncle. And their fortunes seem to be destined to improve even further when Marie convinces Queen Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker to bring her to visit the salon. Suddenly the lines are down the street and around the corner.

Marie is optimistic about her future. In conversation with an acquaintance she defends her choice to remain single.

“’What about you?’ she asks. ‘Isn’t there anyone you care for?’
‘I have an exhibition to care for,’ I reply. ‘And there are options open to an unmarried woman with ambition. Look at Rose Bertin. From an ordinary seamstress to the milliner of the queen. She is the wealthiest self-made woman in France!’”

Everyone wants to see what the queen saw and eat what she ate. But there is the foreshadowing of dark times ahead.
Already the queen and her husband are becoming unpopular but Marie puts these thoughts aside. As long as she gives the people what they want, she reasons that no harm will come to her. The question is, can she give them what they want when all they want is death?
We sense from Marie’s independence and stubbornness that she will not leave France until she has gotten want she wants out of life. Even if in doing so she risks that same life in the process. She will fall in love and lose that love. She will handle many dead bodies to appease the blood lust of the revolutionary mobs. She will play both sides of the fence before facing her own possible execution, long before she becomes Madame Tussaud and leaves Marie Grosholtz behind. She will start a new life in London, eventually, but at what price?

Her heart-wrenching journey tells us all we need to know. We see all the leaders of the Revolution through her eyes. And it brakes the heart.

Contains: violence, small scenes of sexuality

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Home Front Girl

Review of Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison

Overview from This diary of a smart, astute, and funny teenager provides a fascinating record of what an everyday American girl felt and thought during the Depression and the lead-up to World War II. Young Chicagoan Joan Wehlen describes her daily life growing up in the city and ruminates about the impending war, daily headlines, and major touchstones of the era—FDR’s radio addresses, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Goodbye Mr. Chips and Citizen Kane, Churchill and Hitler, war work and Red Cross meetings. Included are Joan’s charming doodles of her latest dress or haircut reflective of the era. Home Front Girl is not only an entertaining and delightful read but an important primary source—a vivid account of a real American girl’s lived experiences.

My Review:

This one is a hard one to review but I decided that I just had to do it since I think it is such an interesting book. It is basically tells the story of the life of a young girl from the 1937-1943.

Her name is Joan and she lives in Chicago. This is her diary and we are witness to her private thoughts both about her personal life and what is going on in the world at the time she is writing. The diary takes her from age 14 to 20 and is often padded with entries from her school journals when the regular diary has missing periods.

I have been reading partly for research on a novel that I have been working on that also features a teenage girl as narrator. I thought it might help me with some tone and dialogue problems that I am having but it so much more than that.

Joan is still relatable today, even if some of the expressions she uses are not. And actually even a few of them surprised me, such as her use of the word “uh.”

Like most of us, she is full of contradictions. On the one hand, she gets excellent grades and considers herself the “intellectual” type but her spelling is terrible in some places. We also hear from her own pen that she is not so good at Geometry or German. I can relate to the Geometry part and was relieved to hear that some smart people have trouble with it too.

The German classes surprised me also since, from my research, I have also found that the government tried to convince people with blood of the Axis powers in their veins from speaking the Axis language. So why were they ok with non-Germans learning how to speak German when they wanted German Americans to stop. Hmmm.

Not sure what else to say since there really is no main storyline to talk about. But I knew that I just had to bring this book to your attention since I think it is well worth reading and will probably surprise you as it did me.

The only downside I found was her reference to Winston Churchill as "pigface" but I reminded myself that she was a teenager and maybe that is what he looked like to teenage girls once upon a time.

I think I will just end with a quote. Here it is: “Oh well…someday I’ll be a genius. Bruce wants to be a psychiatrist (I can’t even spell it!) but I wouldn’t let him examine my brain though Frazier said I wouldn’t miss it. (Grrrr.)” That says it all, right?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Overview from The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of ageing.

My Review:

My review for this week focuses on one of the works of Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Surprisingly I had never read this novel before. I think in my high school English class we only read, The Importance of being Earnest. While I liked that one I have always been curious about the other one. Now I have finally gotten around to reading it.

The tone of this novel is much different from “Earnest.” Whereas “Earnest” was a little comedy, this one is much darker—it’s opposite entirely.

The story centers around the title character who is convinced by another character, Lord Henry Wotton, that being young and good looking is the best think for his life. Having just had his portrait painted by an artist named Basil, he laments that the picture will stay forever young while he gets older, taunting him for the rest of his life. It is then and there that he wishes for the portrait to age while he stays as he is in that moment.

Not realizing at first that his wish has come true, he continues on with his life. He eventually falls in love with and secretly gets engaged to an actress. However, one night, in fit of anger, he denounces her and declares that he no longer loves her.

When he arrives home that night after that episode, he discovers that the image on his portrait has been marred, presumably by his cruelty.

The next day, he laments his earlier behavior and writes the actress a letter trying to make amends. He later discovers that she has committed suicide which he thinks probably accounts for the change in portrait—not only does the portrait age in his place, it seems to absorb all of his sins. But our “hero,” if he can really be called that only becomes worse in his behavior as his anger and hatred consume him.

The story is brief (less than 200 pages) but interesting, I think. The idea that Dorian thinks that he is getting away with so much but really is “losing his soul” made me wonder what my soul would look like if it were reflected on a painted canvas in all its glory (or ugliness).

The character of Dorian however, is not that likable. He has his moments of remorse but on the whole he seems mostly selfish. When he does something wrong he always finds a way to justify it no matter how far fetched the reason might be.

And everyone who challenges him makes him angry. He prefers to remain shallow so anyone who tells him he is not “the fairest of them all” is a threat to his ego.

Though the story is interesting, the main character is not. I guess it makes more sense with the ending that Wilde has written though. Anyone else would have tried to mend their ways long ago so in that sense his main character makes sense, even if we don’t like him. Still, the story is worth a look. At least it won’t take you too long to read it.