Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Secret Life of Josephine

I will be giving a book talk in September on historical women in fiction, and one of the books I will be talking about is The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon's Bird of Paradise by Carrolly Erickson. This is a fictionalized account of Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon I and empress of France. The story begins in Martinique, where Marie Jos├Ęphe Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie was born. At the age of 16, Rose travels to Paris to be married to Alexandre de Beauharnais. Although their marriage was unhappy, Rose gave birth to a son and a daughter. She and Alexandre eventually separate and Alexandre dies in the Revolution. Although she falls in love with a man she knows from her past in Martinique, she marries Napoleon Bonaparte, a rising star in France. Finding her name Rose too plain, Bonaparte decides to call her Josephine. As Napoleon continues to win battles, his popularity rises, as does Josephine's status. But Josephine continues her affair, and when rumors of her affairs reach Napoleon, his love for her changes completely. Napoleon takes his own mistress and their relationship is never the same. Napoleon allows Josephine to be crowned empress when he takes the title of emperor, but because she has not given him a son, he tells her that he must eventually divorce her so that he may remarry and have a son. Napoleon and Josephine are eventually divorced, and Josephine is finally free to be with the man she loves. Although Erickson admits that much of the story is imagined and facts are embellished, Josephine is an interesting character. I especially liked that she chose to live her life as she wished, regardless of the rumors, which was probably rare at that time. I also enjoyed the detailed descriptions of life during that time-the clothing, the parties and the changes in France after the Revolution.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Just What the Librarian Ordered

Although I read quite a bit, it's not everyday that I find a book that I enjoy so much I can't put it down, but yet don't want it to end. I am always getting asked by patrons for Emily Giffin's books, so I decided to see what the fuss was all about. Giffin would be considered "chick lit," which I enjoy, but really good chick lit doesn't come along every day. Something Borrowed is Giffin's first novel, and in my book, qualifies as really good chick lit. I was hooked from the very beginning. The main character Rachel, is facing her thirtieth birthday and is still single. On the night of her birthday party, she ends up sleeping with her best friend Darcy's fiance, Dexter. Now, I'm not usually sympathetic to characters who do this sort of thing, so I thought I might end up hating the book. But it turns out that Darcy has not always been that great of a friend to Rachel, and I actually ended up rooting for Rachel. With the wedding date approaching, Rachel finally delivers an ultimatum to Dexter: call off the wedding or their relationship is over. Usually I can predict the ending to this type of novel right away, but I will be honest-I truly wasn't sure which way things would go until the very end, which is refreshing. Rachel does start to verge on the I'm-truly-happy-now-that-I've-found-someone-character ("I feel freer with Dex than I ever did when I was single. I feel more myself with him than without."). Barf. If there had been much more of that, I wouldn't have been able to tolerate it. But it's a good story with a satisfying ending.

Giffin has three more novels, Something Blue, Baby Proof and Love the One You're With, which I will definitely be reading. I will have to pace myself though, and save her books for when I desperately need a good relaxing read. They are sure winners.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The White Mary

When I read a review in Publisher's Weekly of Kira Salak's novel, The White Mary, that described it as a blend of Heart of Darkness and Tomb Raider, I knew I had to read it (Laura Croft is awesome!). Although I enjoyed the book, I did not see any resemblance to Tomb Raider. More Heart of Darkness, but unfortunately, no Laura Croft. The main character, Marika Vecera, is a journalist who has covered many of the most dangerous places on earth. When the journalist who inspired her career choice, Robert Lewis, supposedly commits suicide, she sets off for Papua New Guinea to investigate a claim that Lewis was seen alive in the remote jungle. Marika spends weeks trekking through the dangerous jungle, battling leeches, swarms of mosquitoes, and dysentery. When she finally finds Lewis alive, she attempts to understand the reasons for his staged suicide.

This is Salak's first novel, however she was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea, which she wrote about in her nonfiction account, Four Corners: One Woman's Solo Journey Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. She draws on that experience to create the great detail found in this novel. Her descriptions of the jungle were exceptional and I really got a great sense of the location and Marika's struggle to beat the jungle. Papua New Guinea is not a place many people know much about, so I enjoyed reading about the people and how they live. Salak is a talented writer and I enjoyed the novel so much that I picked up Four Corners.


Michelle Watters of Flapart (mentioned in yesterday's post), informed me that the website's shopping cart provider had a default of $20 for international shipping. She informed me that this was a mistake. International shipping charges are $8.50 for one cover and $10.50 anything more than that. The website should be fixed to reflect the correct charges.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cover Art

Do you ever find yourself peeking at other people's books to see what they are reading? I do it all the time. I like to keep up with what people are reading. And I like to silently gloat to myself when I see someone reading something I have already read ("Eat, Pray, Love? I read that months ago. That is sooo last year!"). What if you saw someone reading How to Murder a Complete Stranger and Get Away With It? Don't worry-it's not a real title. It's Flapart. Michelle Waters came up with the idea of creating "misleading reading" book covers when her husband said "wouldn't it be funny if you were sitting on the subway reading a book and on the front cover it said, How to Murder a Complete Stranger and Get Away with It? Imagine what people around you would think." She has created many amusing book covers that run about $6 each, that should make the person sitting next to you on the airplane look twice. I think this could add some amusement to my vacation next month.* Some of my favorites:
Do-It Yourself Dentistry
How to Impersonate an Engineer
How to Steal From Your Neighbor and Get Away With It

*I just tried to order a few of these covers. It seems that the company is based in Canada and charges a $20 international shipping charge to anyone outside Canada. For a $5.99 product? No thanks! Too bad.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Warner Brothers Ruins November

I think November is a great month. The weather is getting cooler and the air smells crisp and fresh. We watch football games, rake leaves and eat pumpkin pie. And many of us look forward to the release of the latest Harry Potter film. But Warner Brothers has decided to ruin November this year by delaying the premier of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince from November until July 2009! Fox News has tried to suggest that the delay was triggered by Daniel Radcliffe's nude appearance in a Broadway play, which Warner Brothers doesn't want tarnishing the "virginal" image of Harry Potter. But alas, the delay seems to be driven by money. The studio claims it is still trying to recover from the prolonged writers' strike and a summer release of the movie will boost its box office potential. I think this is a terrible thing to do to the fans. We have been eagerly anticipating this movie for months, especially since we have no more books to look forward to. Warner Brothers is not hurting for money and this movie will be a success at the box office, no matter when it is released. But because the studio thinks it can make a few more bucks for their already overpaid executives, we have to wait another 8 months! Thanks for ruining November for me, Warner Brothers. Lame, really really lame.

Monday, August 18, 2008

This Land is Their Land

When Barbara Ehrenreich published Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, it was a real eye-opener for me. Of course, I was younger then and more naive, but I totally ate it up. Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream was good, but it didn't affect me like Nickle and Dimed. Maybe I was just more jaded by then. But I enjoy her writing, so I was eagerly awaiting the audio version of her latest book, This Land is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation. I don't usually listen to nonfiction on audio (for me, nonfiction requires more attention than what I usually give to audiobooks), but the book is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, who is one of my favorite narrators and I figured I would be hanging on her every word.

The book consists of several essays that cover what is wrong with America-mainly the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The essays are interesting and timely and have a touch of sarcastic wit to them. One of my favorite book bloggers, Citizen Reader, reviewed this book as well and I agree with her that the collection feels hastily put together. Some of it felt like just a reiteration of what she has said in her other books. Citizen Reader suggests Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant as a better read, so I think I'll give it a try.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Golden Compass

I had not read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass before it was made into a movie. I liked the movie, but was still confused by a few aspects of the story. When I was told by two different people that the audio version of the book was outstanding, I thought I would give it a listen. The book is narrated by a full cast and is absolutely outstanding. (Although they should have used Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison, as they did in the movie.) I'm not going to even try to sum up the story here-there is just too much going on. But Wikipedia has a good summary, if you aren't familiar with the story. For a children's book, the story is complex, with many characters and complicated concepts (I'm still confused about Dust). This is a wonderful story to listen to, and something the whole family can enjoy during a long car ride.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All the Latest...

Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union was declared the winner of the Hugo Award for best novel. The book also won the Nebula Award for best novel, the Locus Award for best science fiction novel and the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. It was also nominated for an Edgar Award. A film adaptation of the novel will be written and directed by the Cohen brothers.

The Romance Writers of America announced the winners of the 2008 RITA Awards. Dead Girls Are Easy by Terri Garey won the award for best first book. Take a look at the rest of the winners here.

The Private Eye Writers of America have announced the nominees for the 2008 Shamus Awards.

T.C. Boyle will be publishing a novel about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, told through the eyes of four women who loved him, titled The Women, due out in 2009.

Starbucks' latest book pick is the memoir The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood. In the book, Cooper chronicles her coming of age in Liberia during the 1980s. Following the country's fall into civil war and her family's exile to America, Cooper also recounts her return to Liberia, decades after she fled, to find the foster sister who was left behind.

Stephenie Meyer's fourth book in her popular Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, sold an estimated 1.3 million copies on its August 2nd release date.

The publication of Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina, a historical fiction novel detailing the origins of Islam through the eyes of the prophet Muhammad's youngest wife A'isha, has been cancelled by Random House. RH stated that they received advice from "credible and unrelated sources...that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment." An article in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, was the instigator of the book's cancellation. Apparently she was given a galley from Random House, which hoped for a comment to use on the book jacket. Spellberg, whose research on A'isha is widely cited, does not support the book, stating that it is a deliberate misinterpretation of history (although Jones' cites 29 scholarly and religious texts used in research for the novel). Spellberg refuted the accusations that she is the cause of the cancellation. RH has said that Jones is free to sell her book to other publishers and she has published the novel's prologue on the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. There is a good summary of the fiasco and links to articles from the WSJ and other news sources on Wikipedia. Hopefully she'll find another publisher-now I'm intersted in reading this!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Serpent's Tale

Ariana Franklin's second book in her series featuring Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, The Serpent's Tale returns us to 12th century England for another absorbing mystery. King Henry II's mistress, Rosamund Clifford, has been poisoned and Adelia, a doctor trained in the art of death, is asked to investigate the crime. Many suspect the Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Adelia must discover the truth before England becomes embroiled in a civil war. Adelia is once again aided by her guardian Mansur and her lover (and father of her child) Rowley Picot, who is now a bishop. When other murders occur, Adelia finds she is facing more than one killer.

The first novel in this series, Mistress of the Art of Death, was a great read and I found the second installment just as enjoyable. It has all the makings of a great read: a good mystery, a quick pace, great detail, and interesting characters. Hopefully there will be more to come in this great series.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes

Continuing with the nonfiction animal books, I just finished The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients edited by Lucy H. Spelman and Ted Y. Mashima. The book is a compilation of fascinating stories of zoo and wildlife vets who go to great lengths to diagnose and treat the animals in their care. Often, the vets are working in uncharted territory and really have to be creative in coming up with a solution to treat a sick animal. How is a 1000 pound whale shark transported from Taiwan to Atlanta? What special precautions are taken when repairing a hernia in a polar bear? And what do you do when a dung beetle has an infestation of mites? A stint in a decompression chamber for a sea dragon, a leg brace for a giraffe and special shoes for a rhinoceros are just a few of the unconventional treatments described in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mainly because I was just amazed at what can be done for these animals, and how dedicated the vets are to helping them. A lot of times it seems that the animals get better care than humans would! While I was reading this, I was thinking of a patron who recently asked me if we had any adult books about veterinarians that her teenage daughter (who wants to be a vet) could read. This would have been the perfect book for her, or for any young adult considering a career as a vet. Each story is short (5-10 pages), easy to read, and quite enlightening. And for animal lovers, it's a must read.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

House of Daughters

A few years ago, for no reason at all, I happened to pick up Sarah-Kate Lynch's novel Blessed Are the Cheesemakers and completely loved the wonderful story, the quaint setting and quirky characters. When I read her second novel, By Bread Alone, I enjoyed it (especially the bread baking), although I didn't love it as much as the Cheesemakers. I was excited to pick up her most recent novel, House of Daughters, to see if it would live up to my expectations. Lynch's novels all have foreign settings-this one taking place in the Champagne region of France. Food and/or wine also always play a big role in her novels, and obviously Champagne is the focus here. Clementine, a middle-aged, single woman and her grumpy, alcoholic father are vignerons (that's fancy talk for winemaker) and produce their own champagne. When Clementine's father passes away, Clementine thinks she will be left the vineyard to run on her own, but when her lawyer turns up to inform her that her father has left the vineyard to her, her estranged half-sister and another half-sister she was unaware of, Clementine's world is turned upside down. Although they do not warm to each other immediately, the sisters begin slowly by focusing on the vineyard. The future of the vineyard is uncertain as each sister confronts her own issues and they learn to accept each other.

Lynch has written another wonderful story. Great settings are something Lynch does very well. Her descriptions of the French vineyards and the caves where the wine is stored will transport you to France. And with her descriptions of the changing seasons, I could almost feel the frost in the air as I read. Although somewhat predictable, the characters are interesting and endearing and the plot kept me hooked. I believe Lynch has two other books I have not read, Eating With the Angels and House of Joy, which I will have to track down.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cats Rule

Lately I've been reading nonfiction books about animals for a nonfiction genre study I am participating in. I felt like I was showing too much favoritism to the dog books (Marley & Me, Merle's Door, etc.) and thought I should have a balanced selection of books, so I set about finding a good book about a cat. I chose Peter Gethers' The Cat Who Went to Paris. This was a fun, quick, light read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Gethers, a longtime dog lover was given a Scottish Fold cat by a girlfriend and immediately fell in love. Gethers named him Norton and began taking him around Manhattan, on trips across the country, and even to Paris. I was amazed at how easy it was for Gethers to take Norton so many places. He did have one incident with a stewardess-excuse me, flight attendant, on an airplane, but otherwise, Gethers takes him to hotels, restaurants, on buses, boats and planes with few problems. It's pretty astonishing that Norton never gets lost or runs away, even though he has every opportunity to do so. He follows Gethers on walks and always returns to the same spot where Gethers leaves him. Throughout the book, Gethers deals with the breakup of a serious relationship, a return to the dating scene and the death of his father. Norton is there throughout everything-even showing his distaste for a few of Gethers' dates. There is also a very humorous story of Norton using Roman Polansky's bathtub as a toilet. A great read for cat lovers!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

All the Latest...

Robert Downey Jr. has postponed the memoir he was writing and returned the advance to his publisher. Hopefully this is because he is too busy making more Iron Man movies.

Forbes reporter Christopher Steiner will be publishing a book called $20 Per Gallon, which will be similar to Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, in that it explores how the rising cost of gasoline will change the world.

The first authorized biography written in English of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be written by Gerald Martin. Martin interviewed over 300 people for the biography, including Marquez himself, Fidel Castro, four Colombian presidents, as well as Marquez's family and friends.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Author Visit!

Max Allan Collins, author of The Road to Perdition, will be visiting the Warren Newport Public Library to discuss his latest novel, Red Sky in Morning on Saturday, August 2nd at 1pm.