The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Ever since I read Margaret George’s book on Cleopatra, I have been a big fan. She takes history and makes it come to life through her storytelling. Many times, when I read historical fiction books, they can get very dry and boring as they try to provide context. George is one of the few who can give you the facts without it becoming dry. I was super excited to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say that the author has once again created a masterful story.

In the Roman empire, one’s ancestry can lead to death. Even as a young boy, Nero’s royal heritage has put him in harm’s way, first when emperor Caligula tried to drown him, then when his great aunt tried to have him killed to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with such shocking betrayal by his own kin, Nero knows that it is better to be cruel than dead. And Nero’s survival rests in the hands of his mother, a cold-blooded woman whose goal in life is to control the empire, be it through her son – or by other means. Through cunning and poison, Nero’s mother manages to dispatch all rivals and remove all obstacles. But Nero is determined to escape her grasp, and this desire is what will shape him into the man he was fated to be: a legendary Emperor.

In this story, Margaret George paints a very sensitive picture of Nero, one that shows his generosity, his love for his people and nation, and his desire to be loved. It humanizes him in a way that no textbook could ever do. Steeped in interesting historical facts from this time period, we see Nero growing up and bear witness to the psychological trauma he endures. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for him; everywhere he turns, someone is being killed and no one can be trusted. We also see the negative aspects of Nero: his paranoia, his sexual deviances, his outlandish spending. Nero is in no way perfect. By acknowledging and showing these sides of him, it creates a fuller picture of this man who became Emperor. I also loved the way that George integrates cultural facts about Roman and Greek society into the story in a seamless way; it makes it all come to life and in a very interesting and amusing way. Nothing about this book is dull, there is depth and focus and appropriate detailing throughout. Overall, an enjoyable read that has given me an intriguing glimpse into ancient Rome! Anyone who loves historical fiction should definitely give Margaret George and her novels a chance!

Happy reading ~

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I was really hesitant to read this novel. It just seemed too … tragic. And I also don’t really like reading novels that deal with issues of race and culture and stereotypes. I think this hesitation comes from the fact that I myself had to deal with these issues as a child and would read a plethora of books on these topics back in elementary school. It never made anything easier and I almost began to resent the ease with which the main character solved their problems. But I knew I had to give this novel a try, especially after all of the raving reviews I had heard about it. So here goes:

In the 1970s, it is a rare thing to see Chinese Americans. It is even more rare to see a mixed family where one parent is Caucasian and the other is Chinese. Such is the case with the Lee family; Marilyn and James Lee went against the odds and got married, lived happily, and had three children. Their daughter, Lydia, is the apple of their eye and the child that they know will fulfill all of the dreams they were never able to reach. But when Lydia goes missing – and then is found dead – the Lee family is torn apart. Through this tragedy, we see a portrait of relationships between each family member to each other – and to Lydia, the child that made them all whole.

This novel was so sad. Very good but extremely sad. The story revolves around Lydia and is told from every family member’s perspective. It moves between different time points so that you have to put the pieces together to get the full story. At the end of the day, I just felt bad for every single one of the children. It broke my heart to see the ways in which James and Marilyn tried and failed to understand their kids – until the very end, when it was too late. This was a beautifully tragic novel and I can definitely see why people recommend this novel. If you are looking for something emotionally raw and beautifully written and incredibly deep, then this is the book for you!

Happy reading ~

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Another Neil Gaiman novel! I’m sure you’re all sick and tired of hearing me gush about him but I really must say that his work is fantastic and definitely worth checking out. Every time I read a book by him, I get something unexpected out of it!

Shadow is a quiet man who is on his last stretch at prison. It’s been three years and now that he is about to be released, all he wants is to be reunited with his wife, Laura. But just days before his release, he discovers that she and his best friend have died in a car accident. Now, he is out in the world with nowhere to go and no one whom he can call his family. So when he meets a stranger with an interesting job offer, he agrees to take it. This decision will take him on a journey that he could never have imagined.

This was definitely a different book than the other novels I’ve read by him. For one, it’s much longer. Also, it is decidedly more adult than his other books. It goes on a much deeper level and really makes you think about the way society is today versus the past. This wasn’t my favourite book by him but it was definitely a good read. At times, the story would wind along and I would wonder where it was going. However, the plot was strong and everything that happened in the story was  important. All in all, it was a really good read and I recommend this to anyone looking for something deep!

Happy reading ~