Monday, August 23, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Review: Cleopatra Rules! by Vicky Alvear Shecter

While wandering through the exhibits at ALA, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this cover staring out at me from a backdrop:

Cleopatra Rules!: The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen
I just had to stop and look around and ask about that book! Luckily, the ladies staffing the Boyds Mill Press booth were more than happy to talk about it and other books they carry featuring strong women and unique takes on history with an excited blogger. Advanced copies weren't available at ALA, but they made sure to mail me a copy as soon as they were available!

I have always loved Cleopatra - when other girls had a princess phase, I went straight to the top and loved the Queen (okay, I enjoyed my share of Disney princesses too, I suppose). One of my favorite Shakespeare plays? Antony and Cleopatra. So to say I was excited about a teen-oriented biography of this much-maligned royal is an understatement.

Shecter takes the haters to task. She hammers home the point that the victors get to write history, so it's likely that much of the Roman-oriented biography that's been handed down through the generations is unflattering at best. In truth, Cleopatra was as loved by her subjects as a Greek Pharaoh could be. Where others in the line of Ptolemy ruled apart from their Egyptian subjects, Cleopatra learned their language (as well as 20+ others!) and their rites and rituals, making her well loved by her subjects.

Cleopatra wasn't a seductress - she gained her power the old fashioned way, through cunning and shows of strength. She allied herself with the most powerful men in the world - Julius Caesar and Mark Antony - to make sure Egypt could remain a sovereign nation. She built up Egypt's armies so they had a chance of defending themselves. And she was something of a book worm, ensuring that she had the strategic knowledge to use her forces in the best way possible.

This is a beautiful book, both in content and presentation. Lots of full-color photographs of Egyptian antiquities are included and there are colorful sidebars and in-sets to highlight important information. The one turn off for me as an adult reader, was that I couldn't get past the writing style. Shecter uses a very slangy voice for the book, going so far as to refer to Octavian as "O-man" at one point. Perhaps this is just what a teen or tween needs in order to pick up a book about someone who's been dead for thousands of years, but it made it a little hard for me to take the book seriously sometimes. I kept hoping I'd get used to it, but I never did.

However, my hang ups wouldn't prevent me from strongly recommending this to someone desperate for a positive look at one of the most powerful women who ever lived. Cleopatra Rules! certainly rocks as a biography.

Nonfiction Monday
Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Playing by the Book this week. Be sure to stop by and check out all the other great nonfiction finds this week!

Also, final reminder for NYC-area readers, Books of Wonder's Mockingjay release party is tonight! I had some uploading fail yesterday, so be sure to check out my post yesterday to see what I'll be wearing so you can introduce yourself at the party!

Review copy was sent to me by the publisher, Boyds Mill Press.
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