Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Catching Up on My Reading

In between everything else ---  a  couple of quick reviews:

Necessary as Blood (Kincaid/James, #13)Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always enjoy the Gemma Jones/Duncan Kincaid series, and I liked this one too. Tim Cavendish's friend, a Pakistani lawyer is murdered just a few months after his wife disappears.  Gemma becomes involved when Tim asks for her help, and she is immediately drawn to Charlotte, the 4 year old daughter left behind.   Kincaid is officially asked to investigate the murder in London's East End, but his hands are tied when the prime suspects are targets of big narcotics investigation.  The trail eventually leads to human trafficking and child abuse.  In their personal lives, Gemma is avoiding planning her wedding  -- she wants to be married, but doesn't to go through the business of "getting married."  Her mom is also battling leukemia.  The ending of this novel was very satisfying, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Here's why I decided to read this book:  I am trying to read more nonfiction, I usually enjoy biography, I teach middle school social studies and have taught ancient Egypt and Rome, and I really didn't know very much about Cleopatra.  The fact that it came highly recommended was another factor.

I really didn't know anything about Cleopatra other than the legends about her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, her beauty, and her suicide.  Stacy Schiff certainly filled in the gaps! She states quite clearly at the start of the book that there are a lot of unknowns.  Most of the primary resources are strongly biased, pro and con, and much historical record is missing.  Her tomb has never bee found,  her Alexandria lies buried under the Mediterranean, and 3 of her children either disappeared completely from history or were murdered after Octavian's triumph.  Schiff does a masterful job of sharing her research, commenting on the bias of the record she's citing.  I sometimes found the amount of detail overwhelming, and occasionally found my eyes glazing over.  But then I would be riveted by passages that I kept trying to share with my husband.  I "knew" the bare bones of her timeline, but didn't relate it well to other events.  I was surprised that she traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Herod, and in fact, I had had no idea that she owned many of the resources of Israel and Jordan.  Another passage that struck me was the description of how she tried to bring her naval fleet over the isthmus between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea after her defeat at Actium.  It would have been successful except for the Nabeteans who destroyed the 400 ft long ships as they came overland.

I have to admit that I sometimes find reading scholarly nonfiction is hard after a long day of teaching.  I mostly want to relax, and not tax my brain too much. And there were a few nights when I wondered why I was trying! I'm glad I put the time into this one.

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