CAESAR, CICERO & CLEOPATRA

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

A lot of history packed into a short novel.

This fictional biography portrays Julius Caesar as a brilliant military leader and strategist.

In his debut novel, Paone casts himself as a high school Latin teacher forced into early retirement by declining interest in his subject. He moves to Rome and, in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones, discovers a hidden trove of scrolls from Caesar’s time. He uses the scrolls to write an account of the final years of Caesar’s life, starting with his rise to military power and subsequent civil war against Pompey the Great. The story begins in earnest with Caesar’s arrival in the famed city of Alexandria in 48 B.C.: “It is the center of all Greek learning, with its fabulous library and academy where scholars from all over the world study, discuss everything, and write books.” The Alexandrians present Caesar with the severed head of his enemy Pompey, but rather than gaining his admiration, the greeting repulses him. He takes Cleopatra’s side in the war between brother and sister for the throne of Egypt. While under siege in Alexandria, the two rulers begin a love affair and lifelong friendship, engaging in intellectual debates and strategizing how to expand their power. Caesar also befriends two Chinese scholars, who show him a new weapon and tell him tantalizing stories about the Far East. (In an intriguing subplot, after hearing about Caesar, operatives of the Chinese emperor hatch a bizarre scheme to topple him.) Paone relies heavily on dialogue to provide historical context and explain the complex relationships among the many characters, which tends to bog down the action. Occasionally putting modern terms—e.g., “weirdo” and “bookworm”—into the mouths of ancients seems anachronistic. Regardless, Caesar truly comes to life on the battlefield; at the battles of the Nile and Zela, he brilliantly outmaneuvers his enemies. After Caesar returns to Rome, a group of conspirators plot against him. Cicero, portrayed as a self-serving ditherer, is the most interesting of the bunch, but he enters the book too late to fully develop as the story rushes on to Caesar’s well-known ending.

A lot of history packed into a short novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0974636696

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Belmar Publications

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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