Cleopatra Ascending

Cleopatra Ascending by Maureen Lipinski is an entertaining look at the life of a young girl who is Cleopatra reincarnated. Rhea Spencer comes from a family of unusual women. Witches, a shaman, a muse, psychics…all the Spencer women have some sort of supernatural ability. Rhea’s claim to the ether is the fact that, on her 16th birthday, she starts to acquire the powers of Cleopatra as she absorbs the dead queen’s magic. Problem is, there’s a team of bad guys digging up Cleopatra’s tomb, looking specifically for her own personal Book of the Dead, which they intend to use to….get ready for it….take over the world!

Rhea finds herself protected by the good guys, who have pledged, father to son/mother to daughter, for centuries to take care of the Queen when she returns to this world. However, being a 16 year old girl who has a hot boyfriend (albeit one from the Dark Side), Rhea insists on trying to live as normal a life as possible, which includes having dinner with her boyfriend’s parents. The dinner turns out worse than she could have possibly imagined, and she soon finds herself on her way to Egypt, where she will begin her training to understand Cleopatra’s power and control the Book of the Dead. All of this ends in what I had anticipated being an exciting climax, with a big battle between the forces of good and evil.

This is where I was mistaken. Lipinski does an excellent job of developing the story, up until the time Rhea gets to Egypt, where it all just kind of falls apart. There is shocking betrayal, to be sure, but the final battle felt rushed, predictable, and pretty lame. I was also put off by the number of times Rhea “shrieks” or “shouts.” I can overlook that descriptive overuse, but I really wanted a more exciting ending. Even so, the author and her subjects intrigued me enough to go find her first novel and read more about the Spencer family. One redeeming factor is the awesome cover art, which is rich and lovely, and will certainly attract readers.

The Scroll

Not long enough to be called anything but a short story, The Scroll is somewhat of a departure for Anne Perry. The reader is immediately introduced to Monty Danforth, a bookstore clerk hard at work unpacking boxes from a new acquisition made by his employer. At the bottom of the last box, he finds a mysterious scroll. Unrolling it, he discovers patchy writing in a language he thinks is Hebrew. He attempts to copy it, but the copies come out blank; the same thing happens when he photographs the mysterious scroll. As he tries to come to grips with the idea that the scroll is something very special, a man named Judson Garrett and a young child appear in the store, offering to buy it. Their appearance is followed by two other potential buyers, one a Prince of Church and one a scholar.

Monty seeks advice from a friend who recognizes the language as Aramaic, and dates the scroll to the time of Christ. Monty frantically attempts to contact the store owner, and eventually travels to his home, where he finds the man burned to death and the house tossed upside down. Monty eventually comes to believe the scroll is the lost Gospel of Judas Isacariot, and he suspects each of the three buyers have devious motives for wanting to acquire the scroll. He invites them all to the shop owner’s home for a private auction, where all hell breaks loose.

This cautionary tale reminded me of classic folktales in which antagonists appear in groups of three to torment or aid the protagonist. Perry causes the reader to speculate upon who each antagonist represents and why they want the scroll, while at the same time identifying with Monty as he struggles with whether he should allow the information in the scroll to be released to the world. Perry has offered up a delicious little morsel of a tale that blends philosophy, theology, and hubris, all in a neat package. Very nicely done.

Family Vault

The Family Vault by Charlotte MacLeod is a reissue of the first in the Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series, originally published in the 1980s. I often enjoy going back in time and reading good mysteries from great authors, and I was not disappointed in this trip back in time. There are plenty of anachronisms, and I was somewhat put off by the shrinking violet Sarah and her chauvinistic relatives, but she grew on me as the story progressed.

We first meet Sarah as she accompanies a relative to open a family vault in a cemetery in Boston where a batty old uncle has decided he wants to be buried. The vault hasn’t been opened in decades, so Sarah goes along to supervise. Imagine her surprise when the body, or rather the bones, of a well-known stripper is discovered sprawled inside the family vault. The grisly discovery sets in motion a series of events that result in several deaths, one shockingly close to Sarah herself.

MacLeod’s writing is always enjoyable – good plots, decent characters, and a hefty dose of tongue-in-cheek humor – and Family Vault did not disappoint. Take this one on vacation, or keep it for a rainy Sunday afternoon when you’re in the mood for some light reading.