Book Review: H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / June 16, 2005

I am occasionally criticized for focusing my readings (and writings) too narrowly, and not posting enough reviews of adult novels. Well, here’s an adult novel for you, definitely. There is so much historical research behind these books, they should be required reading for history majors. Like a veritable Sybill Trelawney, O’Brian “channels” the style of speaking, the political situation, the social attitudes, and the intricate details of ship-to-ship warfare in the British Navy of the wee years of the 19th century. He even makes you feel like listening to music by composers rarely heard today (such as Corelli, Hummel, and especially Boccerini). If someone printed a set of CDs called “Music from the Aubrey-Maturin novels” I would buy it before you could say “Beat to quarters!”

Book Review: Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / June 3, 2005

This is the second book in the series that began with Master and Commander. It continues to follow the, at times, strained friendship between a brash young Royal Navy officer named Jack Aubrey and the physician, ship’s surgeon, naturalist, and sometime spy named Stephen Maturin

Book Review: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf
Book Reviews / May 27, 2005

In 1909, Selma Lagerlöf became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Three years earlier, she wrote this delicious book that weaves true lessons of the history, geography, and wildlife of Sweden into folk tale or fairy tale episodes. It is sometimes exciting, suspenseful, and scary. Other times it is witty or silly. And now and then, it is so wistful and even tragic that it will fill your eyes with tears. This book has breathtaking beauty, and a main character whose growh from a selfish twit to a sympathetic hero is heartwarming to behold. The book also has a very helpful guide to pronouncing Swedish names. What the book doesn’’t have is a satisfying ending, but be not dismayed. Ms. Lagerlöf also wrote The Further Adventures of Nils, which I am told is more a continuation of this story, than a sequel to it.

Book Review: Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / May 27, 2005

You may have seen the very excellent film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a curiously titled film, so named because it is loosely based on two different books by the same author. Patrick O’Brian’s long series of naval novels about a British captain in the Napoleonic Wars begins with this book; the one called The Far Side of the World was the tenth of twenty books, all of them centering on the exploits of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, surgeon, and conscience, Dr. Stephen Maturin. And if they aren’t the greatest series of historical novels about 19th-century naval warfare, they run a close second to C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series.

Book Review: The Callender Papers by Cynthia Voigt
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

This “gothic novel for young readers” won the Edgar Allan Poe award and comes from the Newbery-medal-winning author of Dicey’s Song. Set in the late 1800’s, it is the tale of a thirteen-year-old girl, raised by a schoolmistress “Aunt” (who actually isn’t a blood relative) who is hired to spend the summer sorting out the family papers of a cold and forbidding widower named Mr. Thiel at his secluded mansion in the New England countryside.

Book Review: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

All right, I’ve finally done it. After 4,322,845 e-mails begging, bribing, threatening, and demanding that I read something by Tamora Pierce and review it for the Book Trolley, I finally took the hint. Now PLEASE don’t say I never listened to you! And pleeeease believe me when I say that I WILL read more books by Tamora Pierce and review them in due time. So please be patient!

Book Review: The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Book Reviews / May 20, 2005

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish Congregationalist minister whose tolerant views caused him so much trouble that he switched to a career in writing. Even so, it wasn’’t until late in his career that he began writing stories for children, which are mainly what he is remembered for today. To MacDonald’s eleven fairy-tale-loving children, we owe not only the pleasure of reading their father’s books, but perhaps even Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, which were read to the MacDonald children before they were published, with encouraging results.

Book Review: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Book Reviews / May 4, 2005

The 1981 winner of the Newbery Medal takes its title from a Bible verse that says: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” Like the twins of Biblical lore, there is a bitter rivalry between Caroline and Sara Louise——at least, there is in Louise’’s mind. As the nation goes through the anguish of World War II, she is having a rough time of her own.

Book Review: The Witches by Roald Dahl
Book Reviews / April 5, 2005

A little orphan boy, being raised by his cigar-chomping Norwegian grandmother, comes to an English resort hotel for a seaside cure. While he is training his pet mice (William and Mary) to do tricks, he makes the horrifying discovery that all his Grandma’s stories about witches are true. They really do have square, toeless feet, pointy teeth, claws on their fingers, and eyes that glow purple, and they think children smell like dog droppings. This poor, petrified boy (who interestingly remains unnamed throughout the book) only learns that these stories are more than stories when he stumbles on the fact that his hotel is filled with a Witches’ Convention.