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Book review: Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution

28 Mar

When Marie Grosholtz first learns that the royal family is to visit the wax museum she runs with her step-father, she is overjoyed at the publicity and money she knows it will bring. But she never expects to be asked to become a tutor to the king’s sister, and she doesn’t know that these are the first steps in a long journey that will require all her strength to survive.

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran is only one woman’s story of the harrowing years between 1788 and 1799, when the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for more than nine hundred years collapsed as a result of a sustained assault from both liberal political groups and masses of citizens on the street. The years that followed this transformation were brutally bloody, rendering Jean-Paul Marat’s famous statement that “in order to ensure public tranquility, two hundred thousand heads must be cut off” more true than false, and resulted in a France that was forever changed.

That Marie Grosholtz – the woman who later became internationally famous, and whose wax empire still thrives today – survived is almost unbelievable, and Moran tells it for the surprising and fascinating story it is. Though her writing is quite good, she thrives on pure story, the plot progressing like a newspaper – or a wax museum – perfectly in pace with historical events. Add Marie, a ambitious, intelligent, and fiercely independent woman to this heady mix, and the excitement of revolution practically explodes off the page.

Highly recommended both for fans of history and historical fiction, Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution is an enthralling story of one country’s most tumultuous and uncertain period, and one woman’s unlikely, unexpected survival.

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This book was published by Crown Publishers in February 2011. For more information, visit the author’s website, which includes an excerpt from this novel and other fun things. Purchasing this book from an independent bookseller and supporting me as an IndieBound affiliate will help the masses keep their heads. As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of the book that I received from the publisher.

Book review: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

4 Jan

If one day you told me, “You can be a powerful queen and ruler, you can have riches beyond imagining, you can possess an exceptional brain, a confident manner, a loyal nature, a brave soul, and gifts for both pageantry and persuasion, but…you must also withstand being misunderstood as a seductress, a succubus, and a whore for 2,000 years and counting,” I might have some inkling of what is was like to be Cleopatra. (I might still also agree to the bargain.)

In her 2010 biography, Cleopatra: A Life, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff peels away the dual layers of time and history to reveal the multi-faceted woman behind the myth, and in doing so, she has written an excellent book.

For any lover of non-fiction, this is a rich and engaging read, but Schiff’s real talent is making Cleopatra’s story as accessible as fiction. Accompanying Cleopatra from the time she ascends her throne at age 18, through years of uncertainty and triumph, through both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, until her suicide (which did not happen the way you think it did) at 39, Schiff offers a portrait of a real woman. An accomplished writer, with a clear sense of pitch and timing, Schiff renders her subject matter not merely interesting, but downright fascinating.

That Cleopatra was a complicated and compelling woman is undeniable. That her true story – rather than the one that has endured – is just as complex is a riveting and welcome surprise.

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This book was published by Little, Brown, and Company in 2010. For more information, visit the author’s website. To purchase this book from an independent bookseller and to marginally support me as an affiliate of IndieBound, please follow this link and pat yourself on the back. As always, happy reading.

FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.

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