In the Heart of the Sea (CBR7 #54)

I was vaguely aware of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, and its role as the inspiration for Moby-Dick when I heard that there was going to be a movie* about it staring one of the many Marvel Chrises and that the movie was based on a book of the same name. In the Heart of the Sea is a book about 19th century history, sailing, oceans and a story of survival for some but not all? I was in.

In case you are similarly vague on the details, in 1820 the Essex sailed from Nantucket what was then a routine expedition for whales in the Pacific Ocean. Fifteen months later, in the watery desert of the South Pacific, it was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing the islands to the west, decided to make for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three twenty-five foot boats. During ninety days at sea under atrocious conditions, the survivors clung to life as starvation and dehydration began to take their tolls.

This seems a relatively straightforward story, and it is. But what Nathaniel Philbrick brings to the table in In the Heart of the Sea is the context of the actions and decisions of the men on the ship and the culture of the island that sent its men tens of thousands of miles away for years at a time to harvest the sperm whale from further and further reaches of the ocean. Using primary source documents and modern research a narrative of the full experience is brought to light for the modern reader. That in addition to the history of the whaling industry, of Nantucket Island, and of the suffering of the crew of the Essex are all bound together and make for both an interesting and edifying read that is powerfully engrossing.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

*based on the trailer alone it looks as though the movie has fictioned up the tale again, but it still looks breathtaking.

Anna and the French Kiss (CBR7 #47)

My first introduction to Stephanie Perkins was last years’ holiday anthology My True Love Gave To Me, which she both edited and contributed to. Her story,  It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown was my favorite of the group and I find myself thinking of its characters, Marigold and North, every so often six months later. Her characters were vibrant and their dialogue rang true. It really was a lovely story and I’m hoping that her contribution to 2016’s Summer Days, Summer Nights is a continuation of that story. But I digress… my love of Perkins world building and characterization had me adding Anna and the French Kiss to my TBR for Cannonball 7 as soon as I finished it.

Anna and the French Kiss has a lot of the things that made me fall in love with It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown. Young protagonists who are fully fleshed out characters with witty dialogue – yes, please. But this one didn’t sing for me. In spending some time thinking about how to review this book, I think it comes down to just not being in the right head space for these characters. I was almost able to travel to Europe this summer, but I wasn’t able to make it work so reading the descriptions of Anna’s time in Paris was exhilarating while simultaneously heartbreaking for me. And the fact that she is there against her will and basically refuses to enjoy the city in the beginning of the novel made me so sad for the character. You have 9 months in Paris! Don’t waste it!!

The other problem is that I just don’t know that I’m really the type of person that wants to read about high school romances. College, for whatever reason, works just fine for me. But senior year of high school? It just didn’t sit well with me. There are two more books in this series, and at least one moves to the college level, so maybe I’ll pursue it, I’m just not sure at the moment.

Not to leave you on a down note there were things that worked really well with this book, which leave me giving it a 3.5 rating. To quote the lovely Rainbow Rowell from her Goodreads review of this book (because she nailed the idea I was trying to find words for and I’m all about letting the professional take over): “It actually tells the story it sets out to tell. I’m really starting to hate books — love stories, especially — that skim the surface of the story they’re supposed to tell. They just say, ‘So these two fell passionately’ in love, and you’re supposed to believe it. These characters actually talk to each other (which I loved) and get to know each other. They have friends and problems and a life that you feel like you understand.”  The life that Perkins creates for her characters is rich and detailed and engrossing. You are with them at school, and in love, and in heartbreak. This is really something I try to be on the lookout for to distinguish good authors.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Yours to Keep (CBR6 #34)

Yours to Keep is a classic “strangers make a deal to pretend they’re in love and then fall in love in actuality” type romance novel. These are pretty common really because it places the protagonists together for extended periods of time and forces intimacy. And it works well in this novel by Shannon Stacey.

The set-up is as follows: Sean Kowalski arrives home from Afghanistan, his army service over, and within hours he’s recruited by Emma Shaw to be her fake fiancé. In order to give her grandmother peace of mind now that she’s moved to Florida, Emma lies about having a boyfriend (and subsequent fiancé) and having just heard her best friend discussing her cousin Sean, she drops his name and continues to do so for 18 months, crafting network of lies in the meantime. Now, with her grandmother’s upcoming visit only days away, she convinces Sean to fulfill the lies she’s told. He doesn’t like the deception, but being rudderless and freshly back in the States he could use the landscaping job Emma’s offering while he decides what to do with his civilian life. And, despite his attraction to Emma, there’s no chance he’ll fall for a woman with deep roots in a town he’s not planning to call home and she’s not interested in settling down with anyone either. This, of course, means in Romance Novel Land ™ that they will fall in love in 200 pages or less.

You know going in what to expect and that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment any. This is also the third book in the Kowalski Family series which means that characters we’ve grown fond of in previous books are back and more characters within the family are fleshed out. I think my favorite of the Kowalski books so far was Undeniably Yours the second book in the series which I read at the beginning of the year, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some fun things to be had in this book as well. And really, it’s a close second. Perhaps my favorite device to move the story along was the post it notes that Sean would leave on the bathroom mirror for Emma to fill her in about things. They become integral to the story and highly amusing as well.

The other thing I truly appreciate about Ms. Stacey’s writing style, aside from her adroit use of humor, is that her characters exist in a world that is very real. I know above I joked about Romance Novel Land ™ but these characters go to the grocery store, have families, obligations, jobs, bills, headaches, bad days, family vacations, and ride four wheelers. This is much more rooted in real life than many romance novels I’ve read.

If you’re looking for an easy read these books are a good choice. I’m going to read the fourth book at some point, as it focuses on Sean’s older brother Mitch. But since it moves the action from New Hampshire to Maine, I’m sure I’m going to miss the characters I’ve come to appreciate.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.