Thursday, March 28, 2013

Adults and kids unite in geek love for YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE!

YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE arrives in stores next week!  The book is being published by Smithsonian Books and co-authored by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke, both of whom work closely with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Filled with breathtaking images of space alongside warm and entertaining pop-culture-relevant captions, YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE can perhaps best be summed up by the teaser trailer below:

If that doesn't do it for you, though, the book has also been receiving raves across the web in advance of publication.

Young Eyes on Science called it "a brand new treasure for our library of dreams" and lauded its ability to captivate both kids and adults ("Books that can make an adult feel like a 'wide-eyed' kid again are special indeed").  The site also noted, "The true magic of YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE is the style of writing that supports the breathtaking photography."

Cumbrian Sky praised the book for being "basically a masterclass in astronomy outreach and education. It's as if the authors got together somewhere and decided to put down on paper The Best Astronomy Outreach Presentation Ever, to show everyone else how to do it." The writer also said, "I can't recommend it highly enough."

Universe Today called the book "visually exciting and enjoyable" and stated, "This is my favorite kind of astronomy book." The site has created a giveaway contest for the book, so stop by here and enter before Monday, April 1, to win a copy!

YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE was recently featured on local TV station WPRI-12 in Providence, Rhode Island, on The Rhode Show. Watch Kimberly Arcand's interview below, in which she speaks about how she became involved in astronomy and why she and co-author Megan Watzke decided to write the book in the first place:

Other advance praise received so far follows:

"This is the 'Goldilocks' book for a reader who wants more than prety pictures but less than a treatise on astrophysics. It's just right, a great ticket to that space between a coffee-table book and a textbook. It contains just enough extra information to understand why these beautiful images of the Universe matter, to us all." --Alyssa Goodman, professor of astronomy, Harvard University

"A delightful jaunt through space and time, equal parts knowing verve and dazzling views." --Dan Vergano, USA Today

"One of the best things we humans can do is try to understand the Universe. With clear language and gorgeous imagery, YOUR TICKET TO THE UNIVERSE is more than just a ticket: it's a field guide to everything there is, and our place in it." --Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy

 Smithsonian Books, April 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to depict a female pope

In celebration of the convergence of a new pope and Women's History Month, we bring to the forefront POPE JOAN by Donna Woolfolk Cross!

Pope Joan is a controversial figure from the 9th century, whose story can be found in legend and disputed historical records. According to these sources, extensively researched by Cross, Joan was a medieval woman who took up her brother's identity upon his death in a Viking attack.  She entered the monastery in his stead so she could receive the type of education denied to women in the Dark Ages.  Soon, she became renowned as a scholar and healer and ventured into Rome's political sphere. Eventually, her intelligence and talent led her to be elected pope, a position she held for two years before the discovery of her true gender.

While some discredit the legend entirely, other historians argue that enough evidence exists to prove the legend's legitimacy. They also posit that historical records are so difficult to find in the first place due to efforts by the Catholic Church to cover up the facts of Pope Joan's papacy.

In her novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross compiled her historical research into a fictionalized recounting of the type of person Pope Joan might have been, the events she might have lived through, the triumphs she might have achieved, and the trials she might have endured.

Cross's POPE JOAN was originally published by Crown in 1996 (with newer editions being released as recently as 2009). Thirty-two other countries published the book as well, and it quickly became an international bestseller. In 2009, the book was made into a movie that turned into a #1 film in Germany.  Learn more about the book and film in our previous posts here.

A female pope, especially one as surrounded in historical controversy as this one, offers many challenges and possibilities for her depiction on book covers. Some editions of the book give Pope Joan a more masculine appearance with just a hint of her female gender, others have chosen an androgynous look, while still others depict her with undeniably feminine features. Below we present several samples of the wide variations in Pope Joan's depiction across the globe.

(If you enjoy the below covers and are interested in further ruminations regarding covers, check out our post “How covers evolve across the globe” here.)

Indonesia, PT Serambi Ilmu Semesta, 2007 - This is a slightly stylized version of the 2005 US cover edition. Pope Joan's clothing doesn't look particularly feminine, but her hair is pulled back with a feminine, pearl hairpiece. You can view the 2009 US cover update, which zooms in on Pope Joan's face and cuts out the hairpiece, on the Random House website here.

Poland, Ksiaznica, 2000 - This cover has a much more ethereal feel. A face in the sky gazes over a medieval city. Is it the face of Pope Joan, looking over her congregants? Or the face of God? Meanwhile, a smaller, ghostly white figure floats over the buildings on the left.

Poland, Publicat, 2012 - For this much more recent publication of POPE JOAN in Poland, the figure of Pope Joan has been given a very masculine feel.  The depiction of her from behind avoids showing the possible feminine features of her face.  The dark brown and yellow-green coloring give the book a decidedly darker tone than Ksiaznica's Polish edition. This image is actually from a still of the movie, with the coloring changed by the publisher.

France, Presses de la Cite, 1997 - Here, Pope Joan's hair is long and she wears a dress.  She is decidedly feminine in appearance. Joan almost looks saintly, with angelic figures holding up her garments, adoring priests on her right, and adoring nuns on her left.

France, France Loisirs, 1997 – This is a French book club edition that would have appeared around the same time as the above French edition.  While Pope Joan looks more masculine in the face here, her pose, with the baby in her arms, harkens to that of paintings of the Madonna and child.

Bulgaria, Bard, 2008 - As indicated in the last cover, there is a baby involved in Pope Joan's story.  If you look closely enough, you'll see that this Bulgarian cover features a male-looking Pope Joan and a rather graphic outcome of her pregnancy. The image is based on historical paintings.

Latvia, Jumava, 2000 – Pope Joan looks very much like a nun here.  The puzzle piece stylization, with one puzzle piece missing, gestures to the mystery behind her legend.

Japan, Soshihsa, 2005 - Pope Joan's gender is ambiguous here.  The jewels and curled hair could certainly be an indication of the refinery that would have been in the pope's possession, and yet, with pearls threaded the hair as they are and around the neck like a necklace, readers are given a hint that the above might be a female figure.

Taiwan, Sitak Publishing, 2001 – This cover, by far, features the most feminine-looking version of Pope Joan, who appears more like a 1980s prom princess than anything else.  The buildings behind her give only the slightest hint that the book takes place in historical times.

Germany, Rutten and Loening, 2001 - While it may be hard to tell from our scanned version of the above cover, the red background is actually red velvet. The image in the center shows POPE JOAN with just the slightest hint of breasts.  Something about Pope Joan's story captivated readers in Germany, a country whose majority religion is split fairly evenly between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  POPE JOAN became a mega-bestseller there, was beloved enough to be bound in velvet, and was turned into a play and a musical. Maybe the musical's next stop could be Broadway!

Korea, Yedam Publishing Company, 1999 - Here, Pope Joan's gender again appears rather ambiguous.  She looks ready for battle, sporting metal armor a bit like Joan of Arc would much later, in the fifteenth century.

UK, Quartet Books, 1998 – This cover depicts the type of wrap Joan might have worn around her chest underneath her papal clothes.  While the wrap and the necklace are certainly feminine in appearance, this cover cleverly reveals how any hints of Joan's femininity would have had to have been carefully hidden.

While a pope can be depicted in many different ways, as evidenced by the above cover images, it also seems apparent that it is a pope's actions that make a papal reign, or legend, or story, worthwhile--regardless of whether those actions were accomplished by a male or a female, a Benedict, or a Francis, or a Joan. 

In responding to the recent ascension of Pope Francis I, Donna Woolfolk Cross noted that nothing in papal edicts specifically states that a woman cannot become a pope. Maybe the next time we watch white smoke rise from the Sistine Chapel, we will be celebrating the election of a new female pope.

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Reminiscent of the best years of historical romance": Jane Ashford's Regency romances, new and re-released

Jane Ashford has been writing Regency romances since 1980. Her novels have been called “beautifully crafted” (Publishers Weekly), “riveting” (Rendezvous), and “scintillating” (Affaire de Coeur). In the words of Romance Communications, “Reading an Ashford novel borders on the euphoric as it tosses delight upon delight!”

Ashford wrote 18 Regency romances before taking a break from them in 1999, but this year she returns with a new Regency romance, ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE, which was published by Sourcebooks in February. Sourcebooks will also be re-releasing Ashford's 18-title backlist in stages over the next few years, with another, all-new, Regency romance coming out next year.

2013 is a very different time from the 1980s or 1990s, when Ashford's books first appeared. Accordingly, Sourcebooks has given Ashford's romances a shiny, new Regency look for our contemporary era. Below is the cover for Ashford's newest, ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE, featuring a mostly shirtless male and a Kate Hudson look-a-like:

MAN OF HONOUR will be the first Ashford book to be re-released by Sourcebooks. It was originally published by Warner Books in 1981 and will come out in September 2013. Below is the old, 1981 cover:

And, now, drumroll please for the 2013 cover:

THE MARRIAGE WAGER will be published by Sourcebooks in October 2013. Bantam Dell originally published it in 1996 with the below cover:

And, now, drumroll please for the 2013 cover:

Ashford has been traversing the internet, giving blog interviews, since the release of ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE. Over at Reading Romances, Ashford discusses the most important factors that go into the creation of her heroines and heroes: “I like them to be strong, able to bounce back from adversity, and kind.” Read more here, including which romance writer has influenced Ashford most and several fun facts about ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE.

Over at Historical Hussies, Ashford discusses how restricting marriage laws were for women in Regency England. The issue forms the basis of the plot in ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE. As Ashford explains, “As soon as she married, a woman's existence was incorporated into that of her husband, giving her the status of a feme covert (English spelling of a medieval Anglo-Norman phrase meaning 'covered woman'). She became, essentially, a non-person in the eyes of the law.” Read more about the ins and outs of Regency-era marriage laws here.

The reviews for ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE have been full of praise. Check out a sampling below:

“Ashford delights with a smoothly told Regency-era double romance in which gentry and faithful servants alike find family, love, and belonging...Offers a near-perfect example of everything that makes this genre an escapist joy to read: unsought love triumphs despite difficult circumstances, unpleasantness is resolved and mysteries cleared, and good people get the happy lives they deserve.” --Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Ashford spices up the plot of her latest Regency historical with an intriguing thread of mystery while at the same time realistically tempering the story with details about the social and political unrest of the time.” --Booklist

“Danger, mystery, and a Gothic slant add a touch of intrigue...Well-rendered, relatable characters, superb writing, an excellent sense of time and place, and gentle wit make this a romance that shouldn’t be missed. After an absence of ten years from the romance market, Ashford returns with a Regency winner that will please her longtime fans and garner new ones, as well.” --Library Journal

“ONCE AGAIN A reminiscent of the best years of historical romance. Sweet and incredibly refined, this is a historical romance that proves second chances at love are always possible...Jane Ashford returns to the romance genre with grace and if anything else could be expected. ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE is a passionate and emotionally engaging read that historical romance fans will love.” --The Romance Reviews

Reminded me of an episode of Downton Abbey slightly turned on its head...A good must-read for Regency lovers.” --By the Broomstick Blog

“ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE is a really exciting Regency romance filled with intrigue and suspense...This is a not-to-miss and highly recommended historical Regency romance that follows a dark trail of murder and suspense. If you like a bit of thrill with your romance then you'll definitely want to try this one.” --Night Owl Romance, Reviewer Top Pick

Be sure to keep your eye out for more of Ashford's Regency romances—both new releases and re-releases—in the near future!