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Lindsey Davis

REVIEW:  Master and God by Lindsey Davis

REVIEW: Master and God by Lindsey Davis

Master-and-God

Gaius Vinius Clodianus is a reluctant Praetorian Guard, with a disastrous marriage history and post-traumatic stress – but he is a hero. Flavia Lucilla has given the imperial ladies a ridiculous hairstyle and makes toupees for the increasingly paranoid emperor – and she is good at her job. A devastating fire in Rome starts their story then a shared apartment brings them together, leading to a lifelong friendship, passion and love.

Together they watch Domitian’s once talented rule unravel into madness and cruelty, until the people closest to the Emperor conspire to delete him from history. As an imperial bodyguard, Gaius then faces an impossible dilemma, where the bloody outcome inevitably threatens his and Lucilla’s hopes of a future together and even their lives.

Dear Ms. Davis,

Lots of chapters here start with – and in some cases are almost all about – history or literature or whatever lessons. Interesting, certainly, but after a few pages it dawns that this is a history lesson and I begin to get a touch antsy for some action. Not necessarily fights or brawls or covert stuff but just any scenes with actual dialogue and movement. I suppose this was your way of using up all the bits and pieces of your years of research into classical Rome that had somehow never made it into one of the Falco books or perhaps only a touch here and there but not all the lovely stuff you’d discovered that was just sitting around on your research heaps just begging to be used more fully. Nonetheless, I did amuse myself by imagining these being told to me in the voice of Stephen Fry. His is almost perfect for dishing amusing tidbits and the salacious gossip of history

Master and God by Lindsey DavisStill some of the information is more interesting to me than – say – the philosophy stuff so some chapters moved faster than others. Choosing the Flavian dynasty to use as your time frame makes sense in that there’s enough going on to make events interesting and enable your characters to do and see interesting things without it being too unsettled a time – such as the year of the four emperors – or during Caligula’s madness so that readers would be constantly worried about people we’d be pissed about if they didn’t make it through.

I see that Seutonius is also a large source of the little details that are so cleverly worked into the story. I once tried to read “The Twelve Caesars” but found it dry going. This is so much more fun and easy to digest.

When I read the description of the book, I imagined that it would be two courtiers who would be the main characters but making the story center on Lucilla and Gaius is genius. They’re close enough to the various centers of action all over the city and even on Domitian’s military trips that their presence never seems forced or out of place. I never once thought, “Now why would he or she be there then? That makes no sense beyond needing it for the plot to work.” Yet they’re not well known historical figures so you can do whatever you want with their private lives. I also like seeing how the little people live in history. The tiny, mundane details of making a living, where to set up housekeeping, what they ate. Which reminds me that I must try some Chicken Frontinian at some point since it’s Gaius’s favorite.

Gaius and Lucilla aren’t perfect people and that sort of endears them to me. Gaius is a mess with the women in his life and indeed goes through five wives before finally coming to his senses about Lucilla and both of them catching each other at the right time in their personal lives. Sort of like Rhett Butler chivvying Scarlett to the altar because he didn’t want to wait to catch her between husbands again. They’re two people who others know are perfect for each other but who refuse to see or act on their feelings for each other until their friends are about ready to knock some sense into them. The first night they spend together after finally acknowledging their love is sweet and poignant and so deeply moving as to almost make me cry it’s so perfect. It takes them a while to get things right but once they do, it’s forever and I have no doubt of it.

Anyone looking for a quick or easy read needs to rethink or move on to something else. This story is like a rich, dense piece of chocolate cake or a hearty lentil stew vs a puffed up slice of angels food or a quick McDinner fast food gobble. At times it is slow going and one must occasionally stop and push back from the table to savor what’s already been consumed before going on but the rewards of learning all about the world of Rome during Domitian and seeing Gaius find his Gaia/Lucilla are well worth the time and effort involved in finishing it. B

~Jayne

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Reading/Watching/Baking List by Jayne for March and early April

Reading/Watching/Baking List by Jayne for March and early April

My goodness, it’s been a long time since I wrote my last “what I’ve been reading/watching” post. I know I’ve been bad, bad, bad about this. So with no more excuses, here goes.

Reading

Lessons in Laughing Out Loud by Rowan Coleman

I’m not sure what the author was aiming for here. I started this thinking it would be a Chick Lit book with a heroine who is plus sized. The heroine is overweight but it’s because she eats too much, not because she’s large boned. I was getting the feeling that by the end of the book, she would slim down. I have no problems with that but this seemed like it would be the weight version of those books with an unattractive woman who merely needs to get contacts, let her hair loose and get a clothes makeover in order to dazzle. Also, by the 100 page mark the hero (yes, I skipped to the end and peeked) had appeared only once. I debated continuing – the heroine’s boss was a delightful bitch who stole every scene she was in – but it was just too depressing at this point what with the heroine whinging on about her weight and her problems and getting dumped on by everyone. DNF

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The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

This is a book which Jane sent me unsolicited so I had no expectations going into it. For me historical fiction is usually either spectacular or a clunking bomb. This one turned out to be a winner. The period details seemed correct, interesting and dropped into the narrative with a delicate touch. The characters are intriguing and I quickly came to care about them and their fates. This is a book I didn’t want to end. Full review posted this morning.

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The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran

Jonah Gray doesn’t actually go anywhere in this book. His “return” is his tax return as investigated by IRS agent Sasha Gardner. There’s a lot more to the book besides tax codes and deductions as Sasha has a lot going on in her life besides waiting to audit Jonah. Some is funny, some is bittersweet but I found myself riveted to the book and the bold chances Cochran takes with the plot. Full review to follow.

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Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

I’m only one chapter into this one and already I can tell it’s going to be very different from the usual Moore offering. Before I go any further, I think I need to brush up on my late 19th century artists especially Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec so that I can catch more of the subtle jokes that Moore has supposedly included.

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Master and God by Lindsey Davis

Davis is a long time favorite author of mine who’s written the wonderful Falco historical mysteries set during the Flavian dynasty in ancient Rome. With this book, she’s doing something slightly different from those and – I believe – more like her book “Course of Honour.” The story follows the lives of two people during the reigns of Titus and then Domitian – the second and third Emperors of a dynasty of only three. Gaius is a Praetorian Guard while Lucilla is a hairdresser to the powerful at court. Between them, they manage to be in on most of the important happenings going on and perhaps might find a romance at the end of it all. I’m only a third of the way in but so far it’s fascinating.

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Watching

Gavin and Stacey – a UK comedy about a young Englishman who corresponds with a young Welsh woman for 6 months before they finally meet and begin a romance in person. They hit it off so well, that by the end of the first season they’re already married. I watched this first season while it was still streamable from Netflix and now need to move the next seasons up in the queue. A surprise delight is Alison Steadman in the role of Gavin’s mum. New to me are Ruth Jones as Nessa and James Corden as Smithy – Gavin’s and Stacey’s BFFs who say they hate each other yet end up hot smexing each other every time they’re in the same city.

Burke and Hare – It has Simon Pegg plus Andie Serkis and is directed by John Landis. How could it go wrong? That’s what I’m asking. How on earth could this have been as bad as it was during the 30 minutes I suffered through? Not only was it not funny, it was unfunny meaning for me it tried and painfully failed.

Nurse Jackie – a dramedy about a NYC nurse played by Edie Falco. Jackie is a wisecracking old battle axe of a nurse who’s seen it all and isn’t impressed by hotshot young doctors. She’s a great mentor to new nurse Zoey, a loving mother to her two daughters, a true friend to Dr. O’Hara of the Jimmy Choos, a loving wife to her husband Kevin and has been sleeping with Eddie the ER pharmacist while popping pills on the side. Jackie’s got issues. Season three just became available at Netflix and I can’t wait to see how the intervention goes.

Chariots of Fire – I can’t believe I’d never watched this one either but honestly I hadn’t. And after finally seeing it, all I can say is that tastes certainly differ. This won an Oscar? Really? Because it about put me to sleep. File it under “would probably have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it back in the day.”

Baking

What else have I been up to? Making biscuits, that’s what. I’m a Southerner born and bred yet I blush to admit that I’d never once attempted making biscuits from scratch. That’s what older female relatives, church homecomings and Biscuitville are for. Nevertheless, after our post on Australianisms I decided to give it a go. Armed with a bag of White Lily all purpose flour and Alton Brown’s recipe I finally made my first batch of biscuits. They might not be the prettiest biscuits ever baked but mah Gawd they are good.