Despite the unadorned style and flat characters, the exciting, authentic plot will keep the pages turning.




A thriller for history buffs, this lengthy novel speeds through the rise of the Roman Empire.

How do you become the most powerful man on Earth? Don’t make mistakes. Parrelli’s portrayal of the meteoric rise of Octavian (now known as Augustus Caesar) shows how few Octavian made. His closest associates were among the most capable military leaders and diplomats; though not a warrior himself, his control of the often mercenary Roman legions rivaled the might of even Rome’s greatest generals; his enemies met swift ends as soon as politics allowed. With all his resounding successes and rare failures, Octavian seems almost inhuman—similar to Shakespeare’s portrait of him in Antony and Cleopatra, which Parrelli’s plotcentric narrative doesn’t markedly revise. The bulk of Parrelli’s narrative consists of negotiations, planning and depictions of battle. It’s clear Parrelli pays close attention to the facts of history (or at least, the facts as Roman historians had them), but even as he peppers the narrative with the characters’ laughter, family concerns and friendships, the plot details tend to overwhelm the text. In particular, Octavian’s lack of self-reflection feels like a missed opportunity. Within the nearly 700 pages, Parrelli rarely takes the risk of investigating the psychology behind Octavian’s rise; as such, it can sometimes seem as though he lacks a relatable conscience or coherent extrapolating motivations. This shallowness, coupled with a straightforward, unsubtle style, may disappoint readers looking for a new I, Claudius. The last days of Rome’s republic overflow with betrayals, reversals of fortune, loaded rhetoric and military maneuvering, and Parrelli gives each moment its due while expanding on the lead-up and fallout from each event in a realistic, if cursory, fashion. Still, Parrelli’s fidelity to the Roman historians and his use of maps within the text make for a remarkably accurate portrait of the actual events in Octavian’s life—or at least as accurate as history allows.

Despite the unadorned style and flat characters, the exciting, authentic plot will keep the pages turning.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450544313

Page Count: 700

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2013

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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