Less psychologically sophisticated than the granddaddy of all Roman historical fiction, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, but a...

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EMPEROR

THE FIELD OF SWORDS

Gaius Julius Caesar is back in the third of Iggulden’s projected tetralogy (Emperor: The Death of Kings, 2004, etc.), and he’s kicking Gallic butt and taking unpronounceable names.

It’s midpoint in the first century b.c. Having ranged widely throughout the eastern stretches of the Roman Empire, having put down slave revolts and attempted coups, having come and seen and conquered much of the known world, Caesar is still far from Rome, where fellow triumvirs Pompey and Crassus are enjoying Falernian wine and the other delicacies of the capital. Caesar has work to do, though, before he can join in the fun: when this installment opens, he’s in Spain among men who, unaccountably, bear modern Spanish names, but soon he’s in the field battling rebellious Romans and then off to the north to attend to successive swarms of Germanic and Celtic warriors, all with points of their own to prove. Iggulden has read Caesar’s Gallic Warscarefully, and most of the particulars here are supported, or at least hinted at, by the soon-to-be capo, who had the uncommon virtue of self-criticism and a good eye for detail. Where Iggulden really shines, though, is in putting flesh on historical bones and reading between the lines, providing, along the way, motives for old Brutus to be ticked off, not least of them a few costly tactical errors: “Brutus looked over the heads of his men, his heart pounding with anger. If he survived the retreat, he swore Julius would pay for the destruction of the Tenth.” Brutus holds his anger in check, however, and he and his fellow soldiers have many a merry day slaughtering everything they see; think of the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, and you’ll have a good idea of the tenor of Iggulden’s expertly rendered—and unfailingly exciting—battles.

Less psychologically sophisticated than the granddaddy of all Roman historical fiction, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, but a pleasure for those for whom the words “alea jacta est” mean something.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-33663-2

Page Count: 467

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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