Book Review: The Golden Ocean by Patrick O’Brian

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The main characters in this book are two Irish youths who grew up together: parson’s son Peter Palafox, now a midshipman on H.M.S. Centurion; and his servant Sean O’Mara, who starts out as a lowly fo’c'sle hand and works his way up to bosun’s mate. To be sure, they are fictional characters, and their adventure on the high seas reads somewhat like a very promising preview of the later Aubrey-Maturin novels. But the adventure itself ... Read More »

Book Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

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I had this book on my shelf for several years before I got around to reading it. When one of my co-workers saw me reading it in the break room he said, “I’ve had that book on my shelf for years, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it.” Now, I realize this doesn’t constitute a scientific poll, but I reckon there are a lot of people who can say the same thing. If you’ve ... Read More »

Book Review: Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian

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War is hell, but peace can be mighty inconvenient, too. Jack Aubrey feels this strongly as a Royal Navy post-captain near the top of the seniority list. Very soon he will reach the point where he may either hoist the blue flag of an admiral or be passed over for promotion: a terrible and irreversible disgrace, popularly described as being “yellowed.” And now that Waterloo has come and gone, and Napoleon is out of the ... Read More »

Book Review: Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Confession time: In my review of J. M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan and Wendy, I got a few chronological details wrong. First of all, the character of “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” appeared first in a 1902 novel for adults (in a passage later excerpted and published as a standalone book called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens), then in a 1904 play under the title set off in quotes above, and finally in ... Read More »

Book Review: The Hundred Days by Patrick O’Brian

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Here is Book 19 of the 20-volume novel of warfare, wildlife, society, and culture in the era of Napoleon, featuring a brilliant British frigate captain named Jack Aubrey and his medical officer, intelligence agent, musical partner, and longtime friend Stephen Maturin. And if book 18 (The Yellow Admiral) was a book of tragic forebodings, The Hundred Days is one in which the foreboding comes true. Don’t be shocked when a couple important, recurring characters’ deaths seem to ... Read More »

Book Review: The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O’Brian

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A critic’s endorsement on the cover of this book compares Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, heroes of this long series of historical novels, to Holmes and Watson. What devoted readers of this series will find astonishing is not the aptness of the comparison, nor yet its flattery of O’Brian’s characters, but frankly the paleness of Holmes and Watson over against Aubrey and Maturin. Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character and no mistake; but he was ... Read More »

Book Review: The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean

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It’s the 13th century. Kublai Khan has conquered China, spreading the Mongolian empire from Ukraine to Korea. His epoch-making attempt to invade Japan is about to get underway—the one that will end with Kublai’s army at the bottom of the Yellow Sea, thanks to a storm that will go down in Japanese memory as “Kamikaze” (divine wind). At that crucial point in history—to the Eastern world what the sinking of the Spanish Armada was to ... Read More »

Book Review: The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian

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This is the 17th book of 20 about the daring British naval captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, naturalist, physician, and intelligence agent Stephen Maturin. And although it takes its title from a development in Jack’s career – being put in command of a squadron, which entitles him to dress like an admiral – I find the narrative increasingly tilting towards Stephen’s point of view. Commanded to attack the slave trade off the Atlantic coast ... Read More »

Book Review: The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian

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This sixteenth book of the Aubreyiad, featuring the exploits of Royal Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey and his physician-musician-naturalist-secret agent friend Stephen Maturin, opens with the British privateer frigate Surprise chasing an American ditto through the South Pacific. Nature brings the chase to a terrifying conclusion, thanks to the explosion of a volcano. This stunning act of God sets the stage for the remarkable tragedy that unfolds in the pages that follow. Let’s put the pieces together: A French ... Read More »

Book Review: The Box of Delights by John Masefield

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The Box of Delights, or When the Wolves Were Running, is the sequel to The Midnight Folk by this sometime Poet-Laureate. So again we enjoy a charming young hero named Kay Harker, home from school for the Christmas holidays and experiencing another round of adventures involving wicked witches, talking beasts, ancient philosophers (of the Nicolas Flamel variety), mythical figures, and an appalling crime wave which can only be stopped by a boy with a magical box. And sometimes ... Read More »