The Real Jane Austen -- A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne, Harper '13, $29.99, 380 pages, ASIN #0061999091. Index, picture credits, notes, no bibliography, four groupings of color glossy images, other b&w images sprinkled through text.
The publishing industry must thank God for the calendar. Without it, how would its members celebrate centennials, sesquicentennials, and bicentennials of authors' births, deaths, and the publication of their great works. The Real Jane Austen, for example, is being published on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen's most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.
And while such celebrations are, for the most part, ho-hum affairs, what makes this one different is the approach author Paula Byrne takes to chronicling her subject's life. Rather than simply reciting the known facts biographically, she focuses instead on "a variety of key moments, scenes, and objects which helped determine the course of Austen's life and reappear, transposed, in her novels."
Each chapter, for example "begins by evoking an object that conjures up a key moment or theme in Austen's life and work -- a silhouette, a vellum notebook, a topaz cross, a laptop writing box, a royalty check, a bathing machine, and many more." Closer to home, perhaps, Byrne highlights family aspects to Austen's biography, such as "her father's religious faith and her mother's aristocratic pedigree to her eldest brother's adoption and her determination throughout her long struggle to become a published author."
Paula Byrne's first book, Jane Austen and the Theatre, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize and has been described by Paul Johnson as "the best book on Jane Austen." She lives in Oxford, England.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, Little Brown '12, $35, 503 pages, ASIN #0316228532.
Outside of Dickens, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway and a few others perhaps, it's rare that an author's surname is a household name -- even rarer for a living author. But thanks largely to our kids and grandkids, J.K. Rowling is as well known an author as we'll probably ever find, alive or dead. Now, after writing the iconic Harry Potter series of seven novels, Rowling has turned her focus on her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.
From the dust jacket:
"When Barry Fairbrother dies, in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
"Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war.
"Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils....Pagford is not what it first seems.
"And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?"
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, is distributed in more than 200 territories, has been translated into 73 languages, and has been turned into eight blockbuster films. She has been named an Order of the British Empire for services to children's literature and has been a commencement speaker at Harvard University.
Plataea 479 B.C. -- The Most Glorious Victory Ever Seen by William Shepherd, Osprey '12, illustrated by Peter Dennis.
From the back cover:
"Plataea was one of the largest and most important land battles of pre-20th century history. Some 80,000 hoplite and light-armed Greeks took on an even larger Persian army that included elite Asian cavalry and infantry, the troops from as far away as India, with thousands of Greek hoplites and cavalry also fighting on the Persian side. Following several days of close-fought combat, the tiny minority of Greek city states that actually took up arms against the invading forces of the mightiest empire yet seen in the ancient world had halted its western expansion and driven it back.
"This detailed reconstruction of the complex battle draws on recent studies of early 5th-century hoplite warfare and a fresh reading of the ancient textual sources, predominantly Herodotus, as well as a close inspection of the battlefield."
Author William Shepherd studied classics at Clare College, Cambridge, in the 1960s and then embarked on a career in publishing, which finally brought him to Osprey, retiring from the position of chief executive in 2007. Illustrator Peter Dennis was born in 1950. Inspired by contemporary magazines such as Look and Learn, he studied illustration at Liverpool Art College. He is a keen wargamer and modelmaker.