Blogging for a Good Book
I have written about John McPhee before, but in looking back at my reading list, I came across this book of McPhee’s that I had just re-read. I enjoyed it immensely. McPhee’s interests are truly catholic, and he has written about everything from oranges to Scotland to geology, and he has profiled characters as diverse as Bill Bradley (in his college basketball playing days) and environmentalist David Brower. There is however a common thread that runs through all of his writings. McPhee always connects his stories to people. McPhee’s classic work The Pine Barrens examines not only the unique ecology of this remnant of the great eastern forests, but also the lives of the people who have chosen to live in this remote place.
In Looking for a Ship, McPhee profiles Andy Chase, a merchant mariner who is “looking for a ship,” as well as examining the state of the U.S. Merchant Marine at the end of the 1980s. He does this by joining Chase on the S.S. Stella Lykes, a carrier ship that takes on Chase as Second Mate. As in any McPhee book, we learn a lot about the workings of the ship, from the engine room to the bridge, and we get thoughtful and clearly drawn portraits of the crew from the captain on down. They are a fascinating bunch, if a bit idiosyncratic.
Looking for a Ship shows McPhee’s strengths in many areas. He is a nature writer without peer, his delight in the ocean and the smaller waterways is evident. McPhee also has an eye for both details and for the larger picture, and his descriptions of the Stella Lykes echo the issues in the larger Merchant Marine. McPhee also has a clear curiosity for how things work and how individuals do their jobs. He seemingly effortlessly conveys this enthusiasm to readers leaving them equally fascinated.
With appealing characters, writing that is both detailed and crisp, McPhee can be read and enjoyed by a broad audience. Looking for a Ship is a great starting point.
Check the WRL catalog for Looking for a Ship
Although I have been lax this past year in keeping a reading list, I have more or less kept track of all the things I have read since 1984 or so. It is nothing complex, just a title and author list to help jog the memory when I need it. This week’s posts are mostly ones from that list — older titles that I think warrant a second look, or, if you are not familiar with these authors or books, a first look. These are, in many cases, the titles that I go back to when I am looking for something familiar to read. I think that these titles are ones that have retained their currency.
I am always interested in well-researched historical mysteries, as readers of this blog know. One that I have particularly enjoyed is Wilder Perkins’ Bartholomew Hoare series. Set in early 19th century England, Perkins’ books follow the career of former naval captain Bartholomew Hoare. Hoare’s promising naval career is cut short by a throat wound that renders him unable to speak above a whisper, preventing him from assuming command of a ship. Instead, Hoare is assigned to investigate a variety of crimes that involve both civilians and the navy. Here, we find Hoare in command of a motley crew of spies serving King George III. When two prominent navy officers are found decapitated in Dorchester, Hoare and his crew have to figure out if this is a ritual murder of some sort, or part of a more sinister plot by Bonapartists to overthrow the royal family.
With lots of detail of both civilian and naval life and its mix of espionage and mystery, this story should appeal to fans of Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding series as well as to those who enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series, but really, any fan of historical crime fiction should give Perkins a read.
Check the WRL catalog for Hoare and the Headless Captains
Grave Mercy is the first of Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series. It takes place in Brittany in the late 1400s. The Duke has recently died, leaving 12-year-old Anne facing many suitors for her hand and her kingdom.
Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer, is unaware of the precarious situation in her country. Her world is the small village where she grew up abandoned by her mother and brutalized by her father. When her circumstances can get no worse, she finds salvation at the hands of strangers who secret her away to the convent of St. Mortain, the ancient god of Death. Her days are spent learning swordfighting, poisons and their uses, hand-to-hand combat, and the “womanly arts” because as a handmaiden of Death, she must be ready to use any means necessary to fulfill Mortain’s will.
During her trials to prove her readiness for service, she meets Gavriel Duval, one of the young duchess’ most trusted advisors. Duval catches Ismae moments after she killed a traitor who was marked for death by the saint. He follows Ismae to the convent where he tries to get the reverend mother to cooperate with his need to catch and question the traitors before they are killed. The reverend mother neatly traps him into taking Ismae with him to court in Guerande so as to keep the convent better informed of the factions warring for the kingdom.
Viscount Crunard, chancellor of Brittany, and the reverend mother put another task to Ismae, keep Duval under surveillance to determine if he is the traitor working against the Duchess.
Now Ismae faces court intrigue, complex family dynamics and the unfamiliar feelings of falling in love. But while out of her element, she doesn’t sit idly by and wait for orders from the Convent, nor does she follow every directive from Duval. She shows spunk and an appealing independence. Her training as an assassin and special talents as a follower of Mortain come in handy more than once.
And while Ismae grows impatient waiting for her saint to indicate who among the many suspects she should kill, time is running out for the young Duchess as France makes moves to invade.
Grave Mercy is a fast-paced story based on actual people and events. While the first of a series, it neatly stands alone. Don’t get me wrong, I want to read what comes next, but I wasn’t left unsatisfied after I read the last page. I can see this book, and the rest of the series, appealing to adults as well as young adults. The main characters are well-developed, and the supporting cast is interesting. And did I mention the falling in love part? Well-written and satisfyingly believable.
I particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook which was skillfully narrated by Erin Moon. She did a terrific job changing her inflections for the different characters. I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the character and city names. The audiobook is about 14 hours long.
Check the WRL catalog for Grave Mercy
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Grave Mercy