by Heather Webb ‧ RELEASE DATE: Dec. 31, 2013
Webb adds new frisson to the often fictionalized travails of an unlikely empress.
Before she achieved the ultimate in distaff power, Josephine, nee Rose Tascher, was the least favorite daughter of a Caribbean sugar planter whose wealth was eroded by gambling. The death of a favored younger sister creates an opportunity for Josephine: In her sister’s stead, she is sent to Paris to wed Alexandre de Beauharnais. Her youthful expectations are soon dampened: While she gives birth to two children, Alexandre philanders. Fidelity in marriage is neither expected nor encouraged for either sex. (This is France, after all.) Josephine, schooled by her friend Fanny, hostess at one of Paris’ most illustrious salons, becomes an adept seductress. (In her 30s now, she is pressed for time.) Revolution interrupts her plan to be supported by a powerful man. Alexandre attempts to find his niche in the new regime, a strategy that will, eventually, lead straight to Madame Guillotine. Josephine languishes in a squalid prison for months. There, she meets Gen. Lazare Hoche, who becomes, pre-Napoleon, her first true love. Lazare engineers Josephine’s release, then departs for foreign service in the company of his new wife. Heartbroken, Josephine takes up with Paul Barras, Paris’ most notorious libertine and richest man, whose fortune derives from supplying revolutionary troops. He’s putty in Josephine’s hands until, all too soon, he’s not. Feeling more overshadowed than ever by time’s winged chariot, she takes up the military supply game herself and is almost ready to declare independence from men when she meets a certain height- and hygiene-challenged Corsican conqueror. After she finally succumbs to Napoleon’s persistent pleas for her hand, there is his large, scheming and vindictive family to contend with. Although the book covers the same ground as many other treatments of Josephine’s life and times, Webb’s portrayal of the range of Josephine’s experience—narrow escapes from bloodshed and disease, dinner-table diplomacy, and her helpless love for Napoleon, her children and a small dog—is exceptionally concise and colorful. A worthy fictional primer on Empress Josephine.
Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013
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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.
Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Pub Date: April 7, 2020
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020
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by Anthony Doerr ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2014
Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2014
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Winner
National Book Award Finalist
Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.
In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.
Pub Date: May 6, 2014
Page Count: 448
Review Posted Online: March 5, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014
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