Article

In my mailbox

 

I am still good at not buying anything. But when I saw the following non-fiction book available on Netgalley I could not resist.

For review

  • Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
    I have read about Huguette Clark a few times in news magazines and always wanted to find out more about her.

What was in YOUR mailbox recently? 

Article

The Borgias–The hidden history by G J. Meyer

Cover The Borgias by G. J. Meyer

 

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

An unbiased (or maybe not quite, rather a little pro-Borgia) look at the Borgias from pope Calixtus III. to Cesare and Lucrezia.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Very much

For people who: like European history, the Renaissance


My thoughts: 

When I started reading this I knew next to nothing about the Borgias. I only knew that they are said to have been an infamous family, poisoning people to the left and right, power greedy as nobody else before or after, you know what I mean. Other than that I was clueless.

G.J. Meyer set out to write a book to rehabilitate that family and he does an excellent job. He starts at a time when the first member of the Borgias, Alonso de Borja, who later became pope Calixtus III., begins his career. We then are taken on a mind spinning journey through the next 80 years or so, learning about the rise of this incredible family, their drawbacks, the ramifications of their actions as well as all the political goings on in Renaissance Italy. And there is a lot to tell.

Alliances were formed one day and withdrawn the next, warlords were usurping cities all over the place, condottieri sold their services to one baron this moment and to another one the next, foreign kings were meddling nonstop. The intermarriages between families and the various relationships were mind-boggling; this is not a book that you can read without concentrating on it. The author, however, has a writing style that just flows and he explains everything so well that it is a pleasure to follow otherwise confusing events.

After every chapter he inserts a background chapter where he explains one specific aspect of the time, for example a short history of Venice and how come it was the only city state reigned over by a council of men, what condottieri were, great discoveries of the time etc. Those chapters were breaks where one could learn about a subject in more detail before the eventful family story was taken up again.

While being pro-Borgia the author still does not sugarcoat what the Borgias did. He tells facts and does not gossip. He interprets events for which there is no evidence in the Borgias’ favour, but always mentions other points of view as well. However, his interpretations make sense.

I feel that I can hold up a conversation about the Borgias now and know what I am talking about. Next time someone mentions Lucrezia Borgia being the ultimate venefica of the last millennium, I will be able to defend her with ease. What more can you ask for?

If you even have a faint interest in history and the Renaissance and/or the Borgias, you have to read this book.


Movie tip

I could recommend the TV series from 2011 “The Borgias”, but somehow I have the feeling it won’t do justice to the Borgias, so better stay away from it.


Product info and buy link :

Title The Borgias – The hidden history
Author G. J. Meyer
Publisher Bantam
ISBN 9780345526915
I got this book from the publisher via Netgalley
Buy link Buy The Borgias – The hidden history

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

This isn't Fiction Reading Challenge Button

This post is part of the This isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge which is hosted by The Book Garden.

Article

Encyclopedia of an ordinary life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

encyclopediaRead in print what you were always thinking!

In a nutshell:

Short synopsis:

Short musings of an ordinary person about ordinary things.

Language I read the book in: English

Did I like it? Yes

For people who: like snippets of thoughts, vignettes, encyclopedias, books where nothing is going on.

 


My thoughts: 

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has not survived against all odds. She has not lived to tell. She has not witnessed the extraordinary. She is just a person like you and me (provided you consider yourself to be ordinary – maybe you don’t). This is her book about her ordinary life and this is all it is. Don’t expect profound discoveries and complicated theories. Amy Krouse Rosenthal talks about everyday things in short dictionary entries.
Almost no thought that you will read here will be completely new to you, most likely you will have had the same thought yourself a number of times already. Reading this book simply makes you realize you are not alone.

More original than the content is how it is presented. Probably not many of us have imagined their life to be written down in alphabetical order, explaining your most mundane thoughts about truck cabs or the loudness of the car radio when you turn it on.

Want an example?

Butterscotch
I love Butterscotch but rarely think to seek it out.

You can read this in small doses or in one go, it doesn’t matter, as the entries are unrelated and stand-alone. It is nice to read, entertaining, with those moments when you say "Yes, exactly!"continuously happening, you close the book and then you forget about it. Just that you keep thinking those thoughts over and over again, because they are your own. Does that sound weird?

Anyway, a quick read, a fun book, but nothing more.


Product info and buy link :

Title Encyclopedia of an ordinary life
Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Publisher Three Rivers Press
ISBN 9781400080465
I got this book from I bought it because a few years ago it was trendy among scrapbookers
Buy link Buy Encyclopedia of an ordinary life
More info The Encyclopedia of an ordinary life website

If you click on the buy link above you will be taken to The Book Depository.co.uk. If you buy the book through this link I will earn a small commission. You can find my general affiliate links to The Book Depository, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Head over Heel by Chris Harrison

head_over_heelBlurb:

Presents the author’s story of leaving his previous life for La Dolce Vita – or rather the Southern Italian version of that seductive way of life,with its luscious foods, physical beauty and sun-drenched vistas.

 

 

 


In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it:     Yes, but found it too detailed and I lost interest

For people who like: Southern Italy, stories about getting used to another way of life, Mediterranean flair


My thoughts: 

Head over Heel is a fun book about the “adventures” of an Australian moving to Italy to be with his Italian girlfriend. He goes to Italy and has to deal with the very unusual everyday life, corruption, language and what not that every expatriate has to face in one way or the other.

I found the book very amusing and entertaining, however, I just couldn’t be bothered reading about all the details of Italian life. Chris Harrison describes many aspects and I just found it too tedious, maybe because I have been to Italy numerous times (even though never as a resident) and didn’t find the situations as strange as other readers might. I stopped reading after maybe 80 pages when the plot hadn’t gone very far yet and the couple was about to move from the South to the very different North of Italy, so I assume there were many more surprises in store for the narrator.

If you have never been to Italy and know next to nothing about it, you will enjoy this greatly.


Location: Andrano, Puglia, Italy

Map Andrano Festa Madonna delle GraziePiazza Castello 

All images from wikipedia. Image of piazza by user Lupiae


Product info and buy link :

Title Head over heel
Author Chris Harrison
Publisher Nicholas Brealey Publishing
ISBN 978-1857885217
I got this book from Netgalley
Buy link Buy Head Over Heel

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Empress by Evelyn McCune

empress Blurb:

Sweeping through exotic, turbulent seventh-century China, EMPRESS is the captivating epic of one extraordinary woman who would become the only female emperor in all of China’s history. The story of Wu Jao, set against the backdrop of medieval China, reveals not only an age of horrifying barbarism, daring treachery, and precarious power, but also an eternal culture of sophistication and enlightenment.

 

 

 


In a nutshell:

I read it in: German

I liked it:     Yes up to half of the book

For people who like: Ancient China, historical fiction


My thoughts:

 

The cover

Now, before anyone cries out and complains about the cover: Yes, yes, I know. Thanks to the amazingly knowledgeable reviewers on amazon.com I have learned that the cover of this book is totally wrong, a shame, incredible negligence on the publisher’s part, how could they?! This is not an image of anyone in China during the 7th century , but it is (or is supposed to be) Ci Xi, the Empress Dowager who lived from 1835 until 1908. An unforgivable mistake that occupies everybody more than actually reading the book does. Or so it seems.

Obviously I am the only one who did not immediately realize this and who didn’t jump at the throat of Ballantine Books or Goldmann, the German publisher who made the same mistake. The Germans only used a photo of the older Ci Xi. I wonder whether just one particularly scholarly person on amazon said “Hey, this can’t be Wu Jao, her dress is not right, this is a dress from 1889, and therefore this must be Ci Xi. The publisher screwed the cover up.” and all the following reviewers didn’t want to lose face and chimed in or whether really every reviewer knew this anyway. God, people, chill out a bit!

 

Another DNF

This is another DNF for me, I am afraid. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book. All the intrigues and the machinations of the courtiers were exciting and entertaining to read. After Wu Jao became empress I lost interest. Somehow I found her character right after that turning point in her life rather strange, because it was not in accordance with her previous one. I didn’t like at all one particular incident and therefore I gave up on her and her story. I couldn’t face reading another 300 pages or so just for the sake of finishing it.

Sorry!

 

You like Judge Dee?

Oh, one more thing. If you are a fan of Judge Dee, this might be of interest to you. He was mentioned by Wu Jao early on as one of her childhood friends when she was still living at home. Since he later became chancellor I assume he will play a part in the second half of the book.


Location: China during the Tang Dynasty, 7th century

China during Tang dynasty Taizong giving an audience

Official portrait of Wu Zetian at Wu's burial place


Movie tip

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

 


Product info and buy link :

Title Empress
Author Evelyn McCune
Publisher Ballantine Books
ISBN 978-0449907498
I got this book from some sort of bookcrossing
Buy link Buy Empress
More info More about Wu Jao on wikipedia

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

The winter palaceBlurb:

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

 

 

 

 


 

In a nutshell:

I read it in: English

I liked it:     Sort of. It was not what I expected.

For people who like: court intrigue, historical stories from the point of view of a non-historical character


My thoughts: 

This book is supposed to be “A story of Catherine the Great”. Let me tell you that it is not. If anything it should be called “A story WITH Catherine the Great”. It does NOT tell Catherine’s epic story but rather the story of a young girl who ends up working as a spy for the Russian chancellor and later for Catherine.

While it was interesting to learn more about the life of the common people, about the behind the scenes of the palace, about the servants’ viewpoint of events, it is not what I came here for. I read this book to learn more about Catherine and I wanted to compare it to Robert Massie’s biography of Catherine and, frankly, I could not have cared less about someone else’s wedding night. Unfortunately Catherine’s life plays the second fiddle.

I assume that Massie’s book gives us the facts so in “Winter Palace” Eva Stachniak seems to have taken some poetic license in order to weave Varvara into the story.
As everything is told from her point of view most events in Catherine’s life just happen but we don’t get to know that much about them. So the book did not meet my expectations at all. As a historical fictional story of a girl at the Russian court in the 18th century this was a good read, it was simply not at all what I expected or hoped for.

Location: Mostly St. Petersburg, Russia

Map St. Petersburg, Russia St. George's Hall

Winter Palace

Winter Palace

All images from wikipedia

Product info and buy link :

Title The Winter Palace
Author Eva Stachniak
Publisher Bantam
ISBN 978-0553808124
I got this book from Netgalley
Buy link Buy The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great
More info Eva Stachniak’s website

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Falling for Me by Anna David

falling for meBlurb:

Like most women, whether they’ve chosen the Fortune 500 career path or have five kids by 35, Anna David wondered if she’d made the right choices. Then she came upon the classic Sex & the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo’s fearless leader from the mid-sixties to the late nineties.

Immediately connecting with Gurley Brown’s unique message of self-empowerment combined with undeniable femininity, Anna vowed to use Sex as a lesson plan, venturing out of her comfort zone to meet men in new ways and date those she would have never before considered. She decides to open herself up in every way possible, hoping to overcome the fears that have haunted her for years.


In a nutshell:

I liked it:     Yes     

For people who like: self-improvement stories


My thoughts: 

"Falling for me" is the tale of Anna David almost re-inventing herself with the help of a book from the 60s written by Helen Gurley Brown about "Sex and the Single Girl". She takes every single advice from the book and tries to adapt it for her own use and integrate it into her life.

At the beginning of her transformation she is suffering from severe heartbreak and realizes she has to do something to change her attitude. She is a workaholic who has basically no hobbies and never sticks to anything. At times I wondered how on Earth she manages her life on her own. She can’t cook, she buys furniture simply because they are cheap with no sense of what goes together at all, her wardrobe is an eclectic mess, she always picks the wrong men. In some ways she is so naive that I was wondering how she ever gets anything done without being taken advantage of.

Even though she continuously tries to convince me that she is doing all that self improvement for herself and finding a partner is not the main goal, I could never shake the feeling until the end that it is. Even when she says that she is perfectly alright with being single now that she has found her best self, it didn’t quite ring true to me.

Also, on her various dates, there is always something that puts her off the guy. She continuously tells herself she has to lower her standards, but she doesn’t really seem to do that. Before you start arguing now, I am not saying that lowering one’s standards is a good thing per se, but Anna David’s standards seem to be unreachable for ANY man. She doesn’t seem to give them a chance at all or maybe she is just looking for things to complain about. I was starting to wonder whether she even WANTED a relationship and then her therapist puts my thoughts into words when he asks her whether she was available at all.

All her "adventures" are interesting and a lot of them very funny. I suppose that is because a lot of her dates are such failures that you can’t help but laugh.

I wouldn’t say this book is for someone who is looking for the same sort of self improvement project, as quite a few of the steps of the program require a good deal of money. Buying furniture, new wardrobe, taking classes, hiring professionals etc. doesn’t come cheap. So if you are a single girl looking for a man (or simply want to change your style in a big way) and have to live on a small income don’t use Anna David’s way as your guide.

Location: Manhattan, NY, USA & Sevilla, Spain

Manhattan  Sevilla

 Sevilla Sevilla

All images from wikipedia

Product info and buy link :

Title Falling for Me
Author Anna David
Publisher Harper Collins
ISBN 9780061996047
I got this book from Netgalley
Buy link Buy Falling for Me
More info More about the book at Anna David’s website

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

catherineBlurb:

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

 

 

 

 


In a nutshell:

I read it in: the original English

I liked it:     Yes      

For people who like: royalty, biographies, European history


My thoughts: 

“Catherine the Great” starts before the birth of Sophia (later Catherine) and tells us a lot about the background of her mother and father, which is important to understand later events. The first part of the story until Catherine’s accession to the throne is told chronologically, whereas from then on it is told in a mix of chronological and topical. At first I thought I might not like this topical approach, but it turned out to be the much better way.

A lot of topics, like for example the Turkish war, Pugachev’s rebellion or her relationship with Potemkin could be understood much better when told in one big chunk instead of split up in between other events. Often certain situations were mentioned later again in passing when it came to that moment in the chronological timeline. This helped to see why something happened without having to digress into long explanations.

External events like the French Revolution were given quite a bit of room to make the reader understand Catherine’s actions that sometimes contradicted her own previous beliefs. The story was structured very well and left nothing to be desired. It brought all the characters, not only Catherine herself, to life. It was not only extremely informative but also very entertaining.

For readers who want to know more facts about Catherine the Great, her time and her contemporaries this is the book to go to.

Location: Mostly St. Petersburg, Russia

Map St. Petersburg, Russia Peter the Great

Images from Google maps & wikipedia

Product info and buy link :

Title Catherine the Great
Author Robert K. Massie
Publisher Random House
ISBN 978-0679456728
I got this book from Random House Early Bird Read
Buy link Buy Catherine the Great

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Article

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

becoming_marie_antoinetteBlurb:

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?
Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.
Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

 


In a nutshell:

I liked it:  x   Yes       No

For people who like: young archduchesses that need to be moulded into shape, royalty, 1st person’s POV


My thoughts: 

This is the first book in a trilogy and covers only a few years in Maria Antonia’s life. It is very detailed and talks about lots of little things in the everyday life of the family of Habsburg at the time. Since I am neither an expert on the Habsburger in general nor on Marie Antoinette specifically, I have no idea how accurate the story is, but it certainly is very entertaining.

It is told from Maria Antonia’s point of view and gives a lot of insight into what was going on in the girl’s head when she heard that she is to marry the dauphin of France, a boy she has never seen (and will not see until after their wedding has already taken place) and during the following years.

I was shocked to learn that the French would not allow her to bring even one trusted maid, they allowed almost no personal belongings and not even her pet into France. She was only 14 when she married Louis Auguste.  She was alone in a foreign country, all of a sudden the dauphine at a court of bootlickers and schemers, with nobody to talk to in her native German, nobody she knew, only speaking mediocre French! Wow!

The title of the book is more than fitting. Maria Antonia really had to *become” Marie Antoinette before she was considered suitable to marry her later husband. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not educated enough, the teeth not straight enough….what else? She had to undergo considerable tutoring (mentally and physically) in order to please. And all according to the will of her mother Maria Theresia who, herself, refused to marry any other man than the one she loved! Double standards, anyone?

Throughout the story we read private letters between Maria Theresia and her ambassador in Versailles. This lets us peek into the mind of the woman behind the “marriage contract” and gives us an idea on how treacherous a path Marie Antoinette is walking. Not everything at the court of Versailles is what it seems to be – in fact, it is rather the opposite.

Now, for some necessary nitpicking (if you don’t speak German and have never heard of the Habsburger before you probably won’t care about those two little details):

  • Antonia’s family is the family of Habsburg. In the book they are referred to as the family of Hapsburg. I have never seen the name spelled like that before so I looked around and found an entry on wikipedia that the name sometimes is spelled that way. Don’t ask me why! “P” instead of “b” makes no difference in terms of ease of pronunciation. Then I  asked Birgit from The Book Garden, who is an Austrian, whether she has EVER seen the Habsburger as the Hapsburger. She hasn’t either. I wonder why Juliet Grey has chosen the uncommon version of the name. Seeing the name Hapsburg rubs every German speaking person the wrong way. If there are different versions of a name, shouldn’t one use the most common (and, in this case, original) one? Every time I saw the name Hapsburg in the story I flinched.
  • There are German words interspersed in conversations of people. That is ok, even though more often than not authors who are no native speakers sometimes make mistakes that spoil the reading fun.
    At one point Antonia is supposed to say “The butterfly is dead” in French. However, she is not very good at French, therefore mixes French and German up and ends up saying “Le papillon mort ist”. Sorry, but that makes no sense at all. In German, just as in French and English, the sentence structure would be subject – predicate – object, that means the correct (mixed up German-French) sentence would be “Le papillon ist mort”. No German speaker would ever put “ist” at the end of that specific sentence.
    I assume that somehow the generalisation that in German the verb always comes at the end has been taken too literally here.  There were a couple of more errors that just didn’t fit with the rest of the well researched story. I wish the author would have let a native speaker check the German because it was the only little flaw in the book. But little flaws like that annoy me. 

That being said, I loved the way the story flowed, there was not one moment of boredom or scenes I thought I could have done without. It was very enjoyable. The book ends at a point that makes perfect sense, still I was totally surprised that it came so quickly. I was reading and then all of a sudden I turned the page and – the end! For a moment I was shocked. Especially since a very important aspect in the private life of Marie Antoinette and her husband was still hanging in mid-air, and I was eager to find out how it would be resolved.

At the end of the book you will find an extensive list of books Juliet Grey used for her research, as well as some notes on writing “Becoming Marie Antoinette" and a glimpse into the beginning of the next book in the trilogy. “Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow” will be released in summer 2012. I can’t wait!

Product info and buy link :

Title Becoming Marie Antoinette
Author Juliet Grey
Publisher Ballantine Books
ISBN 978-0345523860
I got this book from Netgalley because I loved the cover and I know next to nothing about Marie Antoinette except for “Let them eat cake” and even that might not even have been her.
Buy link Buy Becoming Marie Antoinette
More info Interview with Juliet Grey about the book

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.

Want to know what others thought of this book? Have a look at:

TLC Blog tour of “Becoming Marie Antoinette”

Article

Book beginnings on Friday

becoming_marie_antoinette

Today’s book beginning is from “Becoming Marie Antoinette” by Juliet Grey. It is the first book in a trilogy about Marie Antoinette. “Becoming Marie Antoinette” is telling us how young Maria Antonia grew up in Vienna and what transformation she had to undergo in order to become the wife of the dauphin of France.

If you would like to know more, there is a video with an interview with Juliet Grey (pseudonym for Leslie Carroll) on the website of WCAX.

This is the beginning of “Becoming Marie Antoinette”…

Schönbrunn, May 1766

My mother liked to boast that numerous daughters were “sacrifices in politics”. I never dared to admit to Maman, who was Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, that the phrase terrified me more than she could know.

What is YOUR book beginning today?

Article

Joseph Goebbels by Curt Riess

Blurb:

Well, it is a biography of Joseph Goebbels, what else can you say?


In a nutshell:

I liked it:  x Yes       No

For people who are: interested in history, the Third Reich, National Socialism, WWII


My thoughts: 

To my disgrace I have to confess that I knew next to nothing about Joseph Goebbels, except for that he was in charge of the Nazi propaganda. I don’t remember how I even came across this book but when I decided to read about WWII for the One, Two, Theme challenge I added it to my list.

I got a German edition from 1950 (the book was published first in 1949), it is also available in various English editions. Curt Riess is a German-born journalist who emigrated 1933 to the US and worked as a war correspondent for the US Army. He published this biography in 1948 after researching documents he found in post-war Germany and interviewing relatives, friends and employees of Goebbels.

I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but it did keep me reading on and on. I finished it within a week, but read other things in between, as the whole story is rather hard to digest. The war itself is only mentioned “in passing” as Goebbels himself had rather little to do with the operational, military side of things. Also the known atrocities are only talked about on a few occasions, like for example when he was asked whether it was true that concentration camps existed and he – “after checking back” – answered that there was no such thing.

I would think that all the material Riess used must be fairly unspoilt and fresh as it was collected directly from remains of the propaganda ministry or from people who knew Goebbels personally and rather well.

There are a lot of quotes from Goebbels writings that show a glimpse into what he was really thinking and how he managed to be such a convincing devil’s advocate even in cases where he personally did not believe in what he was preaching.

If you are only slightly interested in the Third Reich and in one of its key figures, this is a must read.

Product info and buy link :

Title Joseph Goebbels
Author Curt Riess
Publisher Ballantine Books
ISBN ASIN: B0007EQ3Y6
Buy link Buy Joseph Goebbels: A biography

 

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear other opinions.