The Second Empress, by Michelle Moran

There be dragons and chick-lit.

What are you reading now?

“I’m one of those people who reads seven books at a time. I’ll read things from different genres. I’ll think, I need to feel good. I need a good romance novel. And I’ll read about 60 pages and then I’ll think, Okay, I need something less sappy. And I’ll read some historical fiction. And then I’ll think, Too many details, and I’ll go to chick-lit. You should have seen my C-bag when I went to Afghanistan. I had something like 50 books in there. It was like I didn’t even bring underwear; I just brought books.”

Tell me one thing you’re reading now.

“I’m reading the new one by Michelle Moran, The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court. She writes historical fiction about women. It’s all very historically accurate and very detailed. She wrote about Madame Tussaud — the wax [museum] lady — and about Nefertiti and about Cleopatra’s daughter. I love Moran because she shows how strong women have been through history, but subtle. You have no idea they were pulling so many strings. This one is all about Josephine, Napoleon’s wife.”

Tell me about it.

“It starts with her at the very beginning and how she came to meet Napoleon. It goes through her whole story — how she deals with it when Napoleon gets put on the island and all of that. I haven’t read the whole book, but I’m one of those bad people who skips ahead and reads the final chapter.”

Who’s your favorite author?

“Naomi Novik. She wrote the Temeraire series. It’s historical fiction again. It’s all accurate; the only thing is that she puts in dragons. So, she’ll treat the battle where Napoleon tried to cross the channel and invade England. In real life, Napoleon was stopped by the Navy, but here, he’s stopped by the Navy and by dragons. They fight in the air.”

So, the dragons are soldiers?

“There’s a whole class system, and it varies by place. In England, they’re treated like glorified warhorses. They have a place to stay and they’re preened upon and they have one captain who they bond with who is like their soul mate. But in China, they’re treated like gods. They have palatial palaces built for them, and they have servants just for the dragons. She’s a terrific writer; she has a way of taking a real event and tweaking it just enough to tie the dragons into it. I’ve read the first book in that series, His Majesty’s Dragon, at least seven times. I think I reread it three times when I was in Afghanistan. Even though I know what’s going to happen in the story, I love the story. I love the relationship between the captain and his dragon. The dragons get really jealous if the men have wives, and so none of them do. And there’s one dragon who responds only to women, so Novik tweaks history a little bit there, having women who serve in the army.”

What book was most life-changing for you?

Flags of Our Fathers, by James Bradley. It’s about the Battle of Iwo Jima and the six men who raised the flag that you can see in that very famous picture on top of Mount Suribachi. It’s written by the corpsman who was raising the flag, also. Half of those men died in the battle. The other three came back and just could not get their lives started. One of them ended up committing suicide. It’s a true story, and it was so good. I read it when I was probably 19. I had just joined the Marine Corps. I was, like, Oh my God, these guys invaded an island in shirts. Some of them didn’t even have boots. They just ran onto the beaches — no combat vests, no helmets, just a backpack. It was crazy. You really don’t understand what World War II vets went through; you read this and you get such an appreciation. They’ll come up to me now and say, ‘Thank you,’ and I’ll be, like, ‘Please, don’t thank me. You guys didn’t have helicopters. You couldn’t get medevaced out. You had to be carried.’”

Who do you talk to about books?

“I try to talk to my husband, but he’s not a reader. God bless him, he’s just not. My sister and my brother and my dad, we’re all readers. We turned our garage into a library. Our trips on the weekends were to Half-Price Books. It’s this place in Texas; you’d go and sell your books and buy half-priced ones. We don’t really debate books, though — I don’t think we’d ever read the same kind of book. For instance, my brother is really into psychology. That’s what he reads.”

Do you read everything on your Nook?

“Yes. And Barnes & Noble has about 50,000 free books for the Nook on their website. You have to wade through about 60 percent smut, but when they’re trying to jump-start a series, they’ll put a free volume on there. That’s how I found His Majesty’s Dragon.”

Neighborhood: MISSION VALLEY | Where interviewed: BARNES & NOBLE, HAZARD CENTER

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