California Literary Review

Historical Fiction

Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

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December 26th, 2012

Though some stories in Astray are more poignant than others, Donoghue once again shows herself to be a writer who excels at evoking characters with startling precision. The result is an exceptional collection that meditates widely on the way in which even the most stable-seeming lives can quickly unravel, revealing the contingent nature of the idea of stability itself.

Singin’ In The Rain: A 60th Anniversary Celebration

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July 13th, 2012

It is more than just one of the all-time greats, grouped with the likes of Casablanca and The Wizard Of Oz. Singin’ In The Rain is also an off-the-wall lesson in Hollywood history.

Trailer Watch: Les Misérables

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May 30th, 2012

This is, in showbiz terms, the textbook definition of “a big deal.” After all this anticipation, it will almost certainly become the definitive film version of the show, for good or ill. And so it must be done right the first time. We are a long way from Spider-Man now.

Book Review: Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

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May 24th, 2012

Her measured and elegant style does indeed evoke Austen, and the grace of the writing makes the book all the more chilling. With pitiless clarity, Jenkins limns the process of self-deception by which four people, for the most ordinary of motives, bring themselves to commit murder by deliberate neglect.

Book Review: HHhH by Laurent Binet

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April 25th, 2012

What results, however, is an awkward success story. Unseasonably dedicated to fact and accuracy, positively frightened of omission, Binet has written a tale of Heydrich to defy most academic study. Moreover, Binet has managed to engage.

Book Review: May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy

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March 14th, 2012

Troy’s novel has much to recommend it, including sensitive character delineation and powerful narrative set pieces. But all Civil War fiction is faced with the almost insuperable task of trying to heal wounds that just go on festering, of finding some sort of redemptive meaning for unparalleled carnage. From the first great Civil War novel, John De Forrest’s Miss Ravenel’s Conversion, published in 1867, the problem for the Civil War novelist is to find a middle ground of hope and harmony upon which the survivors can rebuild their battered lives.

Book Review: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

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January 4th, 2012

So for those who may have been a little lost amidst the religious politics of The Name of the Rose or the Byzantine byways of Foucault’s Pendulum, this latest might seem to offer a more secure footing from which to enjoy Eco’s intellectual gymnastics. If the endpoint of the novel is The Protocols and mid-century European anti-Semitism, that’s handy. We know what we think about that.

Trailer Watch: Sherlock Holmes 2, The Woman In Black, Chronicle

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October 20th, 2011

This week is rife with compelling but problematic new trailers. Compelling but problematic but informative. Without excessive judgment before the fact, here are a few early impressions.

In Case You Missed… Christopher Smith’s Black Death

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June 29th, 2011

Most movies like Black Death exploit the historical context to take shots at organized religion with impunity. A select few try to balance the mistakes of the early church with the importance of faith over dogma – an approach that Season Of The Witch admittedly tried, but got lost too far up its own butt to realize. Black Death tends toward the latter type of story, but pushes its acid satire into fairly new territory.

Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

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May 28th, 2011

It is the daily struggle of life that blights the lives of Russell’s protagonists. Ill-health and empty wallets are a greater danger than a Cheyenne raid. For Doc Holliday, the enemy is tuberculosis, a cruel, cunning disease that truly consumes him, body and — steadily, stealthily — soul. During a brief period of remission, Doc rides out to the surrounding prairie and experiences an epiphany of what life, during a good spell, can offer.

The Weekly Listicle: Three Rings Of Circus Movie Mayhem!

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April 22nd, 2011

The circus is a complicated enterprise, and its symbolic value in storytelling has many faces. It may tell of freedom and the charm of living as a nomad and artist. It may speak to the weariness of the road, and the ability of a lifestyle to trap those who do not know how to break free. It may celebrate the solidarity of those cast out from society. Or in the end, it may simply deal with the hideous antics of clowns. In any form, the circus plays upon the most fundamental feelings of wonder and fear, and makes children of us all once again.

A Watchful Eye On… Winston Churchill

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March 2nd, 2011

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, known best as the wartime Prime Minister, held in his distinguished career a number of other high positions, including Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. Renowned as an orator and statesman, he enjoys a permanent place in Western history. The adventure and controversy pervading his professional life seem ripe for an enterprising screenwriter to pick.

Book Review: Heartstone: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery by C.J. Sansom

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January 27th, 2011

Matthew Shardlake the lawyer and his friend Dr. Guy Malton represent the arrival of the professional classes. Landless but educated, open-minded, progressive and paid by the case, they bear a striking resemblance to the heroes of many modern thrillers.

The Weekly Listicle: Ballad Of The Soldier

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January 21st, 2011

This weekend, Peter Weir graces us with The Way Back, a tale of daring escape by prisoners of war. In due fashion this week’s Listicle salutes the soldier in film. From comedy to adventure to stark, sobering drama, soldiers have faced a great deal on the movie screen.

Book Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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October 18th, 2010

Pasternak ranges the individualism of Zhivago against the heartless society that is being erected by the Bolsheviks on the grave of Tsarist Russia. Where Zhivago questions his every deed from the standpoint of conscience, left-wing leaders like Lara’s husband, Pasha Antipov, who styles himself as Strelnikov or “Shooter,” kill without blinking or thinking.

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