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Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art

Title: Sacré Bleu
Author: Christopher Moore
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 416

The Gist: In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor’s house for help? Who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent’s friends—baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec—who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh’s untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

The Review:  I enjoyed Sacré Bleus uniqueness and I’m impressed with Moore’s mix of historical fact with surrealism and fantasy to bring Paris’s late 19th century art world to life.  I will never see another Monet, Van Gogh, or Toulouse Lautrec painting the same way again.  Especially Lautrec.  An added treat: at least in the e-book edition, the paintings throughout the novel are in color and are reproductions of real pieces you can see in a museum.

However, it took some time for me to get into the book.  I don’t know if it’s the book’s pace (it was a little slow to me at first), its strangeness combined with its subject matter or what.  But once I fully suspended my disbelief, I had a great time reading Sacré Bleu.  It’s tawdry, shameless, shamelessly tawdry, and shamelessly irreverent — everything you’ve come to expect in a Christopher Moore novel.  What surprised me about Sacré Bleu is its solid foundation in history and art history with the Impressionists at its center.  Moore poured a lot of research into this novel.

I’m used to reading Moore’s novels Fool, Bite Me, You Suck, and A Dirty Job.  Those books do not have a historical basis if I recall.  Fool is just another take on Shakespeare’s King Lear.  With Sacré Bleu, Moore uses real people, events, and places to create his latest twisted story.  No longer just names listed in a book, in Sacré Bleu Monet, Van Gogh, and Toulouse Lautrec become real people with quirks, bad habits, and great passions.

In Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, Christopher Moore blends surrealism, fantasy, and historical fiction seamlessly together to bend space, time, and memory to bring a subtle creepiness to the story that flows from beginning to end.  Sacré Bleu, a wacky tale, discusses the source of artistic inspiration and the price required to obtain artistic genius.  It’s a story about love, creativity, inspiration, suffering and sacrifice, and the color blue. If you’re a history buff of any sort and like books that slide into odd dimensions or peek behind reality in some way, read Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Book Reviews, Christopher Moore

 

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Tutankhamun

Title: Tutankhamun: The Book Of Shadows
Author: Nick Drake
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 364

The Gist: Egypt’s next Pharaoh, the young Tutankhamun, is ready to claim his birthright–a vast, powerful, and sophisticated empire. It should be at the height of its glory, but it is troubled by long-lasting foreign wars, public dissent, and internal struggles. With his new wife, Ankhesenamun, the daughter of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun undertakes an audacious plan to consolidate his power and return tolerance and enlightenment to his land. But not everyone wants the ambitious new Pharaoh to succeed and soon sinister “gifts” begin appearing in the royal palace–evil objects designed to terrify the nineteen-year-old King.

Rahotep, the stalwart chief detective of the Thebes division, is summoned to the palace to investigate.

The Review: Nick Drake’s Tutankhamun: The Book Of Shadows is the second book in the Rahotep trilogy. And like the first one, Nefertiti: The Book Of The Dead, I had a great time reading this book.  I love to read historical fiction and mysteries and when an author combines these two genres in the same book, I’m in heaven.  I also love history and I love history about ancient Egypt, so Tutankhamun is an all-around winner for me.

Drake creates multi-dimensional characters no matter how minor and major a particular character is to the story, and Drake also pays attention to details so that Thebes and other cities of ancient Egypt come to life.  He creates a likeable and thoughtful character in chief detective Rahotep.  Like everyone in real life no matter the historical period, Rahotep worries about his family, his career path, and the state of the world around him.  Rahotep sees the ever-widening discrepancies between the poor and the wealthy which sandwiches on either side a slim, practically non-existent middle class.  Rahotep appreciates art, poetry, and philosophy, and when he’s on a case, Rahotep looks for patterns and clues in a crime scene that often run counter to “normal” detective thinking patterns. In short, Rahotep thinks outside the box, and he thinks outside the box on a myriad of issues which often set him at odds with his colleagues.  However, while Rahotep’s creative thinking separates him from his co-workers and advancement up the career ladder, it’s his creative thinking that gets the attention of the king and queen when trouble begins brewing in the palace.

I also consider the environment of ancient Egypt a character itself in this book.  Drake not only mentions the heat and the sun of ancient Egypt, but also the way light plays off of buildings and cliffs.  Darkness and shadows have an equal role to play when Drake creates the atmosphere in this story and darkness and light often overlap.  The Red Lands and The Black Lands become living entities themselves as they bring to life in the mind of the characters (whether they believe or not) the myths of the gods and the magic associated with them.

Finally, Drake (himself a poet) uses metaphors and similes that fit with ancient Egypt so that as I read Tutankhamun I felt that I belonged in ancient Egypt seeing the world and thinking about the world in the ways an ancient Egyptian most likely would.  You won’t find references to telephones or texting.  Everything fits and flows smoothly.

If you want a really good mystery combined with history and historical fiction then Nick Drake’s Tutankhamun: The Book Of Shadows is an excellent choice.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Book Reviews, Nick Drake

 

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The Astronomer

Author: Lawrence Goldstone
Title: The Astronomer: A Novel Of Suspense
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker & Company
Book Length: 290 pages

The Gist: During the reign of Francois I of France, student Amaury de Faverges, a student at the Catholic College de Montaigu accepts an assignment on behalf of the French Inquisitor to uncover an alleged reformist plot located in Nerac. If left to fester, the alleged plot could undo all of Christianity.

The Review: I found Lawrence Goldstone’s The Astronomer: A Novel Of Suspense interesting mainly because  99% of the action takes place in France.  I really enjoy historical fiction particularly those set in the Tudor period of which this story takes place, but most of these books that I have read take place in England.  So a story in the Tudor and Reformation period that takes place in France was refreshing to me. I enjoyed the parts of the story from King Francois I’s perspective– a perspective that treats Henry VIII and his infamous marital troubles like an insignificant gnat.

When he’s not overly concerned with creating atmosphere, Goldstone does a pretty good job creating an air of intrigue.  The interplay of the characters quickly becomes complicated and no one can be trusted.  And Goldstone does a pretty good job of layering on motives, creating gray spaces, and generally demonstrating the complexity of the politics of the time–of portraying the bad guys as having equally good motives while their methods to carry those motives out are highly questionable even evil.  It just shows that more often than not, no one human being is completely good or completely evil.  Although there are exceptions.  But that’s a whole different discussion.

Anyway.  The one big complaint that I  have about Goldstone’s The Astronomer: A Novel Of Suspense is: It could have been written better.  Many  times as I happily read along, I found my reading jerking to a halt because the sentence structure made me want to bust out laughing.  And the urgency of the situation that Goldstone tries to portray disappears.  For example, a major character who has intent to cause harm follows another major character.  This character is rather nervous about the assignment.  Goldstone writes: He exploded in perspiration. After I read that sentence, I could hear every English teacher or English professor I ever had tell me in scathing tones that people do not explode in perspiration. What Goldstone really wants to say here is that perspiration exploded or erupted on this character’s skin. Or something like that. Indeed, people do not explode in perspiration.

Why am I making such a big deal out of this one sentence? Because similar writing faux pas happen elsewhere in the book and the error above is a very basic writing error that should have been caught by an editor and it should have been corrected by the author. Such poor writing causes the writer to appear like an idiot in the eyes of the reader. A good editor should have caught this mistake and the author should have caught it before the editor.

So. Do I think Goldstone is an idiot? Of course not. What I do think is that Goldstone tries too hard to create atmosphere and he really doesn’t have to try so hard. When Goldstone describes wooded areas and forests and describes their dangers and intricacies, I felt like I was in those woods. I got the sense of fear and danger. All without the over use of similes and metaphors which lead to hyperbole.

So is Lawrence Goldstone’s The Astronomer: A Novel Of Suspense worth reading? It depends on your reading temperament. If you want a short, mostly suspenseful novel and you’re willing to ignore some basic writing errors, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. However, I became too distracted by the hyperbole and the writing mistakes to fully enjoy the book.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2010 in Book Reviews, Lawrence Goldstone

 

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