The Queen’s Rival by Diane Haeger

King Henry VIII’s sexual liaisons have been well-documented in both fictional and nonfiction books as well as popular culture. His affair with Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount is often mentioned by authors who tackle this time period because Bessie gave birth to the King’s recognized but illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. Haeger’s novel is the first I’ve read where Bessie is truly the focus of the tale.

I received this book as a prize for my participation in last October’s read-a-thon. I had the book sent to my house so I wasn’t able to get my hands on it until I went home for winter break. It’s actually the third book in the series; a fact that really does not affect the flow and understanding of the novel.

Bessie is a really likeable character. She moves from a naive country girl to a confident woman determined to create her own destiny after the King stops courting her favor. Catherine of Aragon, however, moves in the opposite direction as her husband stops courting Bessie’s favor and turns his attention to Anne Boleyn. At one point, Catherine even longs for the days of Bessie.

It’s been said that Bessie’s marriage to Gilbert Tailboys was arranged, but Haeger doesn’t present it as such. Maybe this wasn’t historically accurate, but it certainly made the story way more interesting. I finished the book very quickly and did enjoy an escapade into the Tudor Court, but there isn’t really anything new or “wow!” about this tale.

Book Mentioned:

  • Haeger, Diane. The Queen’s Rival. New York: New American Library, 2011. Print. 405 pgs. ISBN: 9780451232205. Source: Gift.
Book Cover © New American Library. Retrieved: February 29, 2012.

Sea Shepherd by Paul Watson with Warren Rogers

Subtitled “My Fight for Whales and Seals”, this book is the first Watson (along with Rogers) wrote about his experiences using proactive and usually aggressive measures to prevent whales from being harpooned and seals from being clubbed to death. It begins with the founding of Greenpeace and leads up to the ramming of the phantom whaling vessel, Sierra, and the sinking of the Sea Shepherd. Despite what the title and subtitle might lead you to believe, Watson also had his hand in campaigns to prevent nuclear testing and the slaughter of African elephants for their ivory (something I knew nothing of).

The book is largely focused on his campaigns rather than his evolution into the controversial environmentalist that he is today and, as such, his own political philosophy is often muddled with the jump from one campaign to another. But Watson and Rogers both managed to express his disdain for environmental organizations such as Greenpeace – whom Watson claims become large bureaucracies whose fund-raising efforts serve only to perpetrate the organizations – very clearly.

I started out enjoying the interview style of this book largely because I felt like I was having a conversation with Watson. I changed my mind very quickly; there were so many follow-up questions I wanted to ask! I started Watson’s section autobiography as soon as I finished this one and although I haven’t finished the second book yet, I already prefer it much more than this one.

Book Mentioned:

  • Watson, Paul as told to Warren Rogers. Sea Shepherd: My Fight for Whales and Seals. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982. Print. 258 pgs. ISBN: 0393014991. Source: Library.
Book Cover © W.W. Norton. Retrieved: February 25, 2012.

The Likeness by Tana French

Alexandra Madison’s death pulls Detective Cassie Maddox out of domestic violence and back into Dublin’s murder squad. The young women seemingly has no connection to Cassie other than the fact that she could pass as Cassie’s double and carries ID identifying herself with an alias Cassie once used on an undercover job. Determined to catch whoever killed Alexandra, known as Lexie to her friends, Cassie assumes an identity she thought she had laid to rest years ago, moving into Lexie’s house and inserting herself into Lexie’s life.

French’s books, particularly In the Woods, made its way around the blogosphere for much of the past year. It was hard to avoid any mention of her books, harder still to avoid all the gushing reviews about her books. I had planned to pick up In the Woods but found this novel at a library used book sale and picked it up instead.

The novel requires one to suspend disbelief in a major way. The reader must be willing to accept the idea that Cassie could move into Lexie’s life without her flatmates noticing. I’m not particularly close with my own flatmates but I would like to think that I’d notice changes in their appearance (however slight) and behavior. It was difficult for me to accept this and I was originally put off by this idea.

However, my own curiosity as to who killed Lexie eventually compelled me to finish reading the book and solve the mystery. The killer is entirely too obvious considering the length of the novel, but the concentration is less on the murder and more on the characters. It is Cassie’s interactions with the ghost/spirit/essence of Lexie that drives the former to solve the crime and the reader to keep reading. I still couldn’t be fooled into believing this could actually ever happen and I didn’t love the novel. Yet I did see enough good things that I might still pick up another French novel should one come across my path.

Book Mentioned:

  • French, Tana. The Likeness. New York: Penguin, 2009. Originally published 2008. Print. 466 pgs. ISBN: 9780143115625. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Columbia University Press. Retrieved: February 25, 2012.

Whaling in Japan by Jun Morikawa

Subtitled “Power, Politics, and Diplomacy”, I picked Morikawa’s book in a quest to find a good introduction to the conflict between Japan and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society over whaling in the Southern Ocean of the coast of Antarctica. (The SSCS is probably best known from the TV series, “Whale Wars”.) This topic is the focus of my final, research paper for a class on trafficking and illicit commodities because I am intrigued over how whaling and efforts to stop the practice can be perceived and/or presented as illicit and licit depending on point of view. I am also intrigued by the idea of using whales as an alternative food source.

The book largely focuses on how “whaling traditions and whale-eating culture” has been used to support Japan’s current whaling operations under the banner of research and expand support for opening whales up to commercial fishing. Morikawa explains whaling and a whale-eating culture has largely been constructed by political leaders and is not entirely based in history. (Some smaller regions do have a history of eating whales, but this has largely stemmed from whales that wash up on shore.) He goes onto explain how Japan has shored up support within the International Whaling Commission by financially supporting smaller island and landlocked nations.

Unfortunately, Morikawa’s book was not everything I wanted to be. At times the book comes across as elementary, pointing out the obvious and repeating the same point over and over again. At other moments, it becomes so bogged down in acronyms that I felt as though I needed to Ph. D. to keep all the organizations and players straight. Certainly this book has provided the springboard to further research but I hope it does not turn out to be the best book I find in my quest for more information.

Book Mentioned:

  • Morikawa, Jun. Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Print. 170 pgs. ISBN: 9780231701181. Source: Library.

The Honors Project:

I read this book for The Honors Project, my own personal challenge to read more books about economics, food, and/or geography in preparation for writing my honors thesis. My goal for this project is to learn as much as I can about these topics so I can formulate better questions and, in turn, produce a better honors thesis. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover © Columbia University Press. Retrieved: February 23, 2012.

Global Outlaws by Carolyn Nordstrom

Nordstrom’s book was the second I read for my class on illicit commodities/trafficking, but it has the distinction of being the one that excited me about the class. Subtitled “Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World”, this book recounts Nordstrom’s travels through Africa, Europe, Asia, and the United States following the illegal trade in goods from cigarettes to food to blood diamonds to arms to pharmaceuticals to people. In roughly that order and through “stories”, Nordstrom shows how the mundane of a war orphan selling Marlboros in Angola is connected to the transnational networks that smuggle people (including herself) and drugs through ports across the world.

Throughout the book, Nordstrom shows how there are shades of gray when it comes to illegal trade. Acts of illegality are not homogeneously evil and paint them as such with a wide brush ignores the different approaches needed to address these crimes. The smuggling of cigarettes cost UK taxpayers 2.5. billion pounds every year, but how can you prosecute a war orphan selling cigarettes in an attempt to pull himself out of poverty? This side of illegal trade, which appears rather ordinary and common, will not attract as much attention as corrupt government officials, for example, but it is the side of illegality that appears to dominate illicit trade.

Utilizing ethnographic concepts and practices, Nordstrom’s book equates to an anthropological study of illegality and illicitness often times ignored or undervalued in the literature. Her use of isolated communities and cases uncovers the larger players and forces at work in our globalized economy, and her bottom-up approach matches how the small-scale builds up the large-scale, transnational industries operating under the radar of the common man.

Nordstrom’s readable text and presentation moves this problem from the jurisdiction of the state and academia and into the minds of the public. I cannot, and will not, claim much knowledge about this issues; my two majors tie me to visible/legal and the borders of the nation. But I learned so much from this book that I’m confident you will to.

Book Mentioned:

  • Nordstrom, Carolyn. Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007. Print. 235 pgs. ISBN: 9780520250956. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © University of California Press. Retrieved: February 19, 2012.