Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran

  • Mata Hari's Last Dance (7:19)Title:  Mata Hari’s Last Dance: A Novel
  • Author:  Michelle Moran
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
  • Pages:  288
  • Published:  July 2016 – Touchstone
  • Source:  Publisher

About:  From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From Indian temples and Parisian theatres to German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.  (publisher)

My take:  When I hear the name Mata Hari an image of an exotic dancer from the early twentieth century comes to mind. Other than that I really didn’t know much about her. I used Google to see what she really looked like and was surprised by how many photographs were taken of her. In Michelle Moran’s hands she becomes a real person who reinvented herself when she was a young woman.

Margaretha Zelle MacLeod survived some devastating disappointments early in life but had the good fortune to meet people later who helped her create her public persona of Mata Hari. Her rags to riches story is quite amazing. Moran’s story fleshed out the years Mata Hari spent in European cities, World War I, and her ultimate demise (an emotional scene, for sure).

I think fans of Michelle Moran and historical fiction will enjoy Mata Hari’s Last Dance. It’s an incredible story and I’m glad I had the chance to learn about this fascinating woman. I appreciated the author’s note at the end that gave clarity to some of the details.

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

  • Rebel Queen (Mar3)Title:  Rebel Queen: A Novel
  • Author:  Michelle Moran
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – Touchstone
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves. (from the publisher’s synopsis)

My take:  From the first page I was completely captivated by Michelle Moran’s story. Rani Lakshmi is a heroine with honor, compassion, morals and backbone. She wants to lead her people and keep them safe as well. Rebel Queen is told from the perspective of Sita, one of the rani’s Royal Guard – the Durga Dal – comprised of women responsible for protecting the rani. Sita’s story was so interesting and fleshed out or enhanced the factual story of the rani.

Rebel Queen is the third Moran book I’ve read and, as usual, I learned a lot. I remember in high  school history learning a bit about Great Britain and it’s quest to take India. It saddened me to see the rani and her people lose their country. The British underestimated the determination of the rani and the people of Jhansi who refused to give up without a fight. The immediate results were heartbreaking and horrifying. That said, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a real page-turner.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction I think you’ll enjoy this book. There’s a helpful glossary as well as an author’s note concerning the factual and fictional aspects of Rebel Queen. I can’t wait to see who Michelle Moran writes about next!

Highly recommended.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Title: Madame Tussaud

Author: Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction

About: (Goodreads synopsis)  In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror?

My thoughts: Michelle Moran brings to life a familiar character while examining her place in history.  I learned things I’d either forgotten or never knew about the French Revolution.  Madame Tussaud and her family chronicled with wax models the royals and political figures of France in the time leading up to the revolution and beyond.  It was not unusual for Robespierre and other revolutionaries to sit at their table for dinner and discussion.  They also hosted private showings for the Royal family and other dignitaries.  The common people of Paris who could afford the fee relied on the gallery to depict recent events and to always be of the moment. Because of her dedication to her profession Madame Tussaud had very little private time.  She even tutored the sister of the King in wax modeling.  As the Revolution turned into a bloodbath Marie was called upon to make death masks of beheaded Royals and royalists.  She complied until the day she refused to make the mask of a friend.  That sealed her fate as well as her mother’s.  The story doesn’t end there but I don’t want to spoil it for other readers.

Michelle Moran’s gift for storytelling and detailed descriptions put me in the opulent halls at Versailles, the workroom at the Salon de Cire (the gallery), and in the middle of the crowd watching the executions-by-guillotine in the Place de la Révolution.

After reading Madame Tussaud I have a better understanding of this turbulent time in French history as well as an appreciation of one remarkable woman who is now much more than a trivia answer.

Recommend? Yes, if you like historical fiction I think you’ll like Madame Tussaud – it was a page-turner!

Source: Michelle Moran

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran (and a giveaway)

A few years ago I read The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. It is a huge book (900+pages) that made me a fan of historical fiction. What a story! When I heard about Cleopatra’s Daughter, I was very interested to see how the story continued. Author Michelle Moran immerses the reader in Rome at the time of Octavian. After he conquered Egypt (and following the suicides of Marc Antony and Cleopatra), Octavian takes Cleopatra’s children back to Rome. The story, narrated by Cleopatra Selene, points out the differences (and a few similarities) of Rome and Alexandria. It also shows the paranoia and fear the Romans lived with – slaves and wealthy alike. The book is filled with familiar historical names (senators, poets, relatives of Caesar) and events.

There’s a mystery to be solved – who is Red Eagle? He’s making trouble for slave owners and must be stopped. Could he be a freedman? A close friend of Octavian? A slave? Moran writes about the treatment of slaves as well as all the classes in Roman society. She also portrays a judicial system that left much to be desired – open air courts are depicted where the verdicts were known before the facts of the case were laid out.

There are detailed descriptions of many Rome landmarks such as the Pantheon, Circus Maximus, and Roman Forum. Moran includes a map of Rome in the age of Augustus (Octavian) as well as a map of the Roman Empire (in the age of Augustus). A timeline is provided that leads up to the deaths of Marc Antony and Cleopatra. Also helpful is a glossary. I really appreciated finding out what happened to all the main characters in the Afterword. I’ve added a book to my TBR list from one of the many resources.

From the gorgeous cover to the last page, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a wonderful book and one that I recommend to fans of historical fiction, the Ptolemies, and the Roman Empire.
Review copy from Michelle Moran and Random House. Release date is September 15, 2009.

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Michelle Moran and Random House are providing a hardcover copy of Cleopatra’s Daughter and a paperback copy of The Heretic Queen for a giveaway! I’m going to do separate drawings.

To enter: leave your email in the comment box (sorry – no email, no entry). You also must tell me which book you would like to win.

If you want to enter for both books you must do two separate comments.

This giveaway is world-wide!

Giveaway ends at 9pm EDT, this Friday, Sept. 11. Winners will be announced on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Giveaway is now closed

Cover Image

Guest Post by Michelle Moran

Today I’m very pleased to offer a guest post by Michelle Moran, author of Cleopatra’s Daughter.

Life and Libraries in the Classical Age

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by readers is what life was like two thousand years ago when Julius Caesar walked the corridors of the Senate house and Cleopatra visited Rome. Surprisingly, life for the ancient Romans was not unbelievably different from today. The Romans had many of the little luxuries that we often associate exclusively with the modern world. For example, baths were to be found in every city, and public toilets were viewed as a necessity. The toilets depicted in HBO’s Rome Series are copies of those discovered in Pompeii, where those caught short could find a long stretch of latrines (much like a long bench with different sized holes) and relieve themselves next to their neighbor. Shops sold a variety of wigs, and women could buy irons to put curls their hair. For the rain, there were umbrellas, and for the sun, parasols. Houses for the wealthy were equipped with running water and were often decorated quite lavishly, with elaborate mosaics, painted ceilings, and plush carpets.

In the markets, the eager shopper could find a rich array of silks, along with linen and wool. You could also find slaves, and in this, Roman times certainly differ from our own. While some men spoke out against it, one in three people were enslaved. Most of these slaves came from Greece, or Gaul (an area roughly comprising modern France). Abuse was rampant, and the misery caused by this led desperate men like Spartacus to risk death for freedom.

For those few who were free and wealthy, however, life in Rome provided nearly endless entertainments. As a child, there were dolls and board games to be played with, and as an adult, there was every kind of amusement to be had, from the theatre to the chariot races. Even the poor could afford “bread and circuses,” which, according to Juvenal, was all the Romans were really interested in.

For those more academic minded, however, there were libraries. Although I don’t portray this in Cleopatra’s Daughter, libraries were incredibly noisy places. The male scholars and patrons read aloud to themselves and each other, for nothing was ever read silently (the Romans believed it was impossible!). Other cities were renowned for their learning, too: Pergamum (or Pergamon) was the largest and grandest library in the world. Built by the Greeks, Pergamum became Roman property when Greece was captured and many of its people enslaved. The library was said to be home to more than 200,000 volumes, and it is was in Pergamum that the history of writing was forever changed.

Built by Eumenes II, Pergamum inspired great jealousy in the Egyptian Ptolemies, who believed that their Library of Alexandria was superior. In order to cripple this Greek rival (and also because of crop shortages), Egypt ceased exporting papyrus, on which all manuscripts were written. Looking for an alternative solution, the Library of Pergamum began using parchment, or charta pergamena. For the first time, manuscripts were now being written on thin sheets of calf, sheep or goat’s skin. The result of this change from papyrus to parchment was significant. Now, knowledge could be saved by anyone with access to animal hide. Manuscripts (although still quite rare) were now available to more people. Alas, so impressive was this vast Pergamese library of parchment that Cleopatra asked Marc Antony to ship its entire contents to her as a wedding gift. This transfer marked the end of Pergamum’s scholarly dominance, and is the reason why, today, we remember Alexandria as possessing the ancient world’s greatest library.

The death of Cleopatra was only the beginning…

Check out Michelle’s blog at

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Thanks, Michelle. I really enjoyed this post and the links to your photos.