Wednesday, March 28, 2007

HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian

Oh yeah! I'm on a roll here! I'm tearing my way through this great series.

However, before I tell you what I think of this book, I found this fun quiz on one of the many many litblogs I read.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next three sentences in your journal along with these instructions.

So here goes -- the nearest book, of course, being HMS Surprise:

"Hands wear ship," said the lieutenant of the watch, more from form than anything else, for not only did the Lively have a crew that had worked together for years, but also she had carried out this manoeuvre several hundred times in this very stretch of water and the order was scarcely needed. Routine had taken the edge off the Livelies' zeal, but nevertheless the boatswain had to call out "Handsomely, handsomely, now, with that bleeding sheet"; for the crew had been brought to such a pitch of silent efficiency that the frigate ran the risk of darting her jib-boom over the taffrail of the Melpomene, her next ahead, whose talents and sailing qualities could not have recommended her anywhere.

However, round they went in succession, each wearing in the spot where her leader had turned; they hauled their wind and re-formed their rigid line, heading for Giens once more, Naiad, Melpomene, Lively.

So there you have it, folks - a sample of Patrick O'Brian's knack for the long sentence which is at once replete with incomprehensible naval jargon and still very readable.

That was fun - I think I might do it for future books I write about here.

Anyway, about the book. In this installment, Captain Aubrey finally gets a decent command -- although he doesn't see it that way. He is asked to take an ambassador to China, an extremely long and treacherous sea-voyage which has little possibility of taking home the prize that he needs to help clear his massive debt so he can marry his sweetheart. Meanwhile, Dr Maturin continues to pine for a woman who's no good for him, but manages to distract himself with the local wildlife wherever he goes (and I really do mean wildlife - this guy is crazy for animals, insects, plants, you name it). He manages to acquire two odd pets before the journey is over, and they go over a little better than the bees he installed in the Captain's cabin on the last voyage.

I love these guys! I want to take Dr Maturin home and clean him up and feed him. All he needs to do is play his cello for me and I'll consider it a fair exchange.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

In this sequel to Master and Commander, aside from the obvious promotion of Jack Aubrey to Post Captain (gee, way to pick a title, there!), plenty of other stuff happens to our pals Aubrey and Maturin. They fall in love, fight over a woman, Aubrey is chased by debt collectors, and Maturin begins a potentially promising career as a spy. Who could possibly suspect an eccentric intellectual who forgets to wash his face and has moss growing on his overcoat?

Though the naval jargon continues to be totally incomprehensible in book two, I continue to find the story of Captain Aubrey and Dr Maturin utterly intriguing. There's something compelling about their exciting, romantic, cramped and dirty life on board one of Nelson's navy ships that keeps me reading, even while I continue to have no clue what a xebec is. (I have a feeling that if Hornblower is still reading this blog she will be able to fill me in.)

I was saying to my husband the other day that I feel like the universe has conspired to introduce me to this fabulous genre, naval adventure fiction. In spite of having many other interesting books on my shelf at the moment, I am gobbling up the Aubrey-Maturin series; and when I found myself without an Aubrey-Maturin book one day last week, I picked up the first book in the Horatio Hornblower series from the library at my university. So now you can consider yourself warned.

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

I'm somewhat embarrassingly behind on book blogging this month...

My daughter signed this book out from the library and I picked it up on a whim, hoping for some light and fun reading. It definitely fit the bill, though overall the book was quite a bit slower than the film. (See? This is why I should stick to my rule of not seeing the movie before I read the book!) I get the impression that Miyazaki pulled out the most dramatic events from this book and its sequels (apparently there are several) to make the movie Kiki's Delivery Service.

At any rate, it's a sweet coming-of-age story which would make a good read-aloud for an older child. The basic premise is that Kiki, the daughter of a witch, has reached her thirteenth birthday and by tradition must leave her home and find a town that doesn't have a witch living in it. So, bringing little more than her radio, her black cat Jiji and her mother's old broom, she sets off for the seaside city of Koriko and begins the sometimes difficult process of becoming an independent witch.

And if you've got kids and they haven't seen the film, can I just say it is truly delightful and well worth renting?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Another enjoyable Young Adult read recommended by Leila of Bookshelves of Doom. The protagonist, Mia Winchell, is a thirteen-year-old girl who has somehow managed to keep her family and friends from discovering her Big Secret, which is that she has synesthesia, and sees brightly coloured shapes in response to any sound, word, letter, or number she encounters. I've never read a book about this condition before, and Mia's experience was intriguing, particularly after her secret comes out and she begins to learn more about how to fully experience her "colours".

There were a few areas where the book didn't quite ring true to me; some of the secondary characters are a bit one-dimensional, and Mia's siblings are just a little bit too unique. However, on the whole it was a quick, absorbing read which made a very nice counterpoint to the jargon-heavy novel I just finished.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I'll tell you what I said to two librarians the other night about this book - "It's mostly incomprehensible, but the story is pretty good."

I had to read this for a school project, if you can believe it, and for the most part it was a pretty decent choice. Captain Jack Aubrey is a likeable dunce with a real knack for taking "prizes" (ie, capturing Spanish ships) and his sidekick, Dr. Stephen Maturin, is a charming intellectual who doesn't mind getting his hands and clothes covered in blood on a regular basis. What's not to like about these guys?

Nothing much happens in this book, but it sets up the extremely lengthy series to follow, where Aubrey and Maturin have many exciting adventures. Aubrey gets his first command, bumps into Maturin on the street and convinces him to be his ship's surgeon, and then away they float with their crew of assorted misfits, cruising around the coast of Spain, shooting cannonballs, and blathering away at each other in their incomprehensible naval lingo. I think I'd have been able to be much more absorbed in this novel if the publishers had taken the time to provide a glossary. As it is, they've included a lovely labeled diagram of the various sails on a ship, but nothing about the ropes, wooden beams, and other parts of a ship that are mentioned over and over again - let alone the various different types of ships.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Throne of Jade and Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

I promised myself that I wouldn't let this blog be a "chore" and so far it really hasn't been, but this semester has been unbelievably hectic for me and I'm falling behind on my book reviews. So about these two books I'll just say a few words.

These books were awesome. Read this series!

More detailed commentary will be coming on future books...