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The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon's Bird of Paradise by Carolly Erickson: A Book Review

The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon’s Bird of Paradise 
Author: Carolly Erickson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 356
Source: Personal Collection 
Synopsis: The bestselling author of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and The Last Wife of Henry VIII returns with an enchanting novel about one of the most seductive women in history: Josephine Bonaparte, first wife of Napoleon.

      Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Josephine had an exotic Creole appeal that would ultimately propel her to reign over an empire as wife of the most powerful man in the world. But her life is a story of ambition and danger, of luck and a ferocious will to survive. Married young to an arrogant French aristocrat who died during the Terror, Josephine also narrowly missed losing her head to the guillotine. But her extraordinary charm, sensuality, and natural cunning helped her become mistress to some of the most powerful politicians in post-Revolutionary France. Soon she had married the much younger General Bonaparte, whose armies garnered France an empire that ran from Europe to Africa and the New World and who crowned himself and his wife Emperor and Empress of France. He dominated on the battlefield and she presided over the worlds of fashion and glamor. But Josephine's heart belonged to another man--the mysterious, compelling stranger who had won her as a girl in Martinique.


     My Review: Josephine de Beauharnais was Napoleon Bonaparte’s first empress. She was also known to be the love of Napoleon’s life and was the recipient of many of his love letters. In The Secret Life of Josephine, there is no love story between Josephine and Napoleon. Even though Josephine is married to the most powerful man in the world, her heart had already been stolen by a man whom she met as a teenager. However, Josephine knows that she can never be with him. 


     I did not care for Josephine. I found Josephine to be very reckless. She made many rash decisions. I also thought that she was very childish, narcissistic, flippant, and uncaring. She did not seem to be a caring mother. Instead, she mostly focused on being the most fashionable woman in society and on having a lovely appearance. She was a very unlikable character. Therefore, I really could not understand or empathize with her. 


     Overall, this novel is about first love, duty, and sacrifice. Most of the other characters are one-dimensional, especially Napoleon. There were many scenes that I thought were very unconvincing and some of them were very silly. I did like the descriptions of the Napoleonic era. I also liked how Josephine’s first marriage was portrayed.  However, I have read better books on Josephine, in particular Sandra Gulland’s trilogy on the subject. I also recommend Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb, Destiny by Bertram Fields, and Two Empresses by Brandy Purdy! Thus, I suggest you skip this book and read those other novels on Josephine! The Secret Life of Josephine is truly a forgettable read!


Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars


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