Monthly Archives: October 2010

Cleopatra’s Daughter, by Michelle Moran

This novel tells the story of Kleopatra Selene, the daughter of Kleopatra and Mark Antony (for reasons not clear to me, the author spells Kleopatra’s name with a K in the book but with a C in the title — I suspect she thinks K is more authentic, but her publishers thought the C would be more recognizable).  Selene, her twin brother Alexander Helios, and their younger brother Ptolemy, are taken to Rome to be displayed in Octavius Caesar’s triumph after their parents commit suicide.  With the triumph over, they are raised by Octavian’s sister Octavia, in her large Roman-Brady-Bunch sort of household.  Barely twelve years old at the time of her capture, Selene waits to see what her future will hold in an empire ruled by the man who defeated her parents.

History tells us a little about the adult life of Selene, which gives Moran a framework upon which to hang her story.  Nothing is known for certain about the fates of her two brothers (her half-brother, Caesarion, was killed by Octavian — at least, most people believe he was, unless you’ve watched Rome!!) This allows Moran to invent an early shipboard death en route to Rome for little Ptolemy. As for Alexander — well, she fills in the blanks in his fate too, but that’s a crucial plot point so I’ll leave it for the reader to discover.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical

The Great Typo Hunt

My cousin Jennifer gave me this book for my birthday because she said it was something she could see me doing (actually, full disclosure, she said it was something she could see me and Tina doing, and it definitely is the sort of thing you’d want a buddy along for).  Jeff Deck enticed a few of his friends (including Benjamin Herson, who got into the idea enough to score a co-writing credit on the book) to join him on a trip across the United States, finding and correcting typos and other errata on signs.

Needless to say, they had no trouble finding mistakes. Correcting them wasn’t always as easy. They did some stealth corrections (one of which eventually landed them in trouble with the law, when they unwittingly “defaced” a sign that the U.S. National Parks deemed to have historic value, errors and all), but more often they informed employees about errors in a store’s sign.  Their polite requests to be allowed to correct the sign were met with everything from happy acquiescence to bald-faced denial that the error was even an error.  And then there was the memorable occasion when they were told that correcting the sign would make it look tacky, and incorrect is better than tacky.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Few books are getting more attention or acclaim this season — here in Canada, at least — than Emma Donoghue’s Room, which has just been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. All the accolades are well-deserved: this book is an amazing accomplishment and a thought-provoking look at a horrific situation, but it’s also simply an engrossing story. I could not put it down.

Room is the story of five-year-old Jack, who narrates the novel in a completely believable five-year-old voice.  Jack has lived his entire life in the eleven-by-eleven foot room where he was born. His  mother, known only as “Ma,” has been held captive there (it’s actually a soundproofed garden shed) for seven years, since she was abducted by a stranger at age 19.

What’s striking about the first part of the book is how content Jack is in the small self-contained world where his mother has obviously worked untiringly to make sure he is as healthy and well-educated as a boy in those circumstances can be. Ma’s patience, creativity and devotion might stretch the bounds of credibility, coming from a twenty-six-year-old girl who’s been the victim of abduction and sexual assault for almost her entire adult life.  But she comes across as a believable character because of her fierce love for her son, which any mother can understand, and because her heroic parenting skills are balanced by the occasional days when she goes “Away,” as Jack puts it, succumbing to depression as she lies in bed and lets Jack fend for himself.

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Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- general