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The Story of Land and Sea

2.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,609 Ratings  ·  325 Reviews
Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love.

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshe
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Harper (first published January 1st 2014)
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The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. RoseWritten in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana GabaldonA Burnable Book by Bruce HolsingerA King's Ransom by Sharon Kay PenmanThe King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
Historical Fiction 2014
198th out of 373 books — 2,337 voters
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasDays of Blood & Starlight by Laini TaylorA Matter Of Death And Life by Andrey KurkovLives Of Girls And Women by Alice MunroThe Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
A Noun of Things and Stuff
5th out of 35 books — 5 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jul 27, 2015 karen rated it liked it
Shelves: free-from-work
Regret only exists once the opportunity for change is gone.

this novel set in north carolina during the years 1771-1794, and is split into three separate narratives. it is a very quiet story, with some lovely writing in it, but i'm having difficulty trying to understand its "why." i see where there are references and flare-ups between the stories, but i'm struggling to find its cohesive purpose. all i really have is that it is a very subdued story about faith and duty and sacrifice and family, sp
Will Byrnes
Jul 29, 2015 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing
…to save her from the graveyard he must take her to the sea. He took her mother once, and being on the water only made her bloom.
In 1793 ten-year-old Tabitha is smitten with the idea of the sea. Her father, John, an erstwhile pirate, and soldier in the Continental Army, owns a shop in Beaufort, NC. Tab’s affection for the maritime may have to do with her mother, Helen. John and Helen had eloped, over her father’s objections, and sailed together under a black flag. But her father’s tales are a
Jul 15, 2014 Melanie rated it did not like it
I received a free ARE copy from Harper Collins. And I really, really tried to like it: the jacket description sounded like something I would love. And I gave it a really good chance, completing the first two parts, but then got to Part 3 and am just not invested or interested enough to continue, and find out what happens. Once I found myself reading anything else but picking this up to finish, it was time to admit defeat and move on!
Sep 27, 2014 Mary rated it it was ok
There's some lovely writing here, but the story itself is quiet, so subtle that the emotional moments were really lacking in vibrancy, and I felt disconnected from the characters. I disliked the disjointed structure of the book, and knowing the tragedies up front made me less inclined to finish it. I read Parts I and II, and I don't need to read Part III to tell it's, sadly, not the book for me.
Jan 05, 2015 Julia rated it did not like it
Can't I give it zero stars? It was like the author wanted the prose to sound pretty but didn't really care that the plot was tedious and depressing and her characters were uninteresting. A main character dies rendering that whole section pointless, the plots lines are disjointed and I was bored, bored, bored. Bored. I love historical fiction (which this was billed as) but THIS is NOT hitorical fiction. It's an author looking to write "literature." How about we write something readable next time.
Feb 08, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Melancholic read about life's disappointments and the pain of living. Bleak but with intelligent writing (though I wondered a bit about the choice of present tense). I waffled between giving this 2 or 3 stars.
Sep 03, 2014 Becky rated it it was ok
For ten years now John has raised his daughter, Tabitha, alone. His beloved wife, Helen, died in childbirth leaving the two of them to fend for themselves. And now Tabitha has taken ill. The doctor says there's nothing to do but wait and John's father-in-law says that he must pray. But John knows exactly what will heal his daughter - the same sea air that his Helen once thrived in.

Wow, what a freaking downer of a book! That is not what I was in the mood for at all.

Katy Simpson Smith's fiction d
Nov 16, 2014 Carla rated it it was ok
I'm rather at a loss on how to review this book, but the only difference is whether I should give it a 3 star or 2, as I eventually did. This story is about an ex-pirate, during the waning years of the Revolutionary War, in a small coastal community of North Carolina.The loss of women that figure prominently throughout the book both slaves and non, and the men who loved them. I was looking forward to this book but it was rather disjointed, and certainly slow moving and rather depressing. ...more
Mar 29, 2016 Ashley rated it really liked it
I am stunned that this averages a starred review of 2.99 on GoodReads. That’s crap. The thing with this book is that it is split in to three parts and each part tells a different story. The first part is the story of John and his daughter, Tabitha. The second part is the story of John’s wife Helen as a child. The third part is the story of John. It disrupted me slightly when it shifted from part one to part two but I stuck with it. I had loved part one and I wanted to love it again so I kept ...more
Aug 27, 2014 Marit rated it really liked it
A novel at once delicate and straightforward in its treatment of relationships, love, and loss. Simpson Smith tells of the intricate and often uncomfortable interactions between a distant father who discovers he wants to love his family too late, a man whose child becomes the lodestar in his life, a slave woman who holds herself ruthlessly apart from affection but cannot help but care for even her white mistress, and a religiously righteous young woman who moves from staunch independence to fall ...more
Oct 23, 2015 Kyle rated it did not like it
Shelves: worst-books
I couldn't find anything to like about this book. None of the characters were interesting to me, none of them had any redeemable or even sympathetic qualities. For an historical novel written by someone with a doctorate in history, I found it devoid of historical specifics or any of the little special details that are supposed to make historical fiction interesting. The entire story was flat and featureless, sad and depressing.

Not recommended at all.
Mar 08, 2015 Sharyn rated it liked it
I saw this author at a book festival. She talked about how she came to write this. As she read part I was entranced by the beauty of the writing, but many were not and people left as she was reading. I thought it was rude and apologized to the author, but she said she understood. Yes it is quite a bleak story, because life was hard then. The writing is beautiful and evocative, but very sad.
May 19, 2015 Melinda rated it really liked it
There are books that are suspenseful or romantic or funny....The Story of Land and Sea is beautiful.

I was immediately drawn in by Smith's writing. Her voice is surprisingly lyrical for a debut author and, if nothing else, I'm glad that this book introduced me to her work. She was able to vividly recreate the world of late 18th-century North Carolina so well that it made me homesick for the years I spent living in that part of the country.

The characters quickly became dear to my heart. We have J
Occasionally, I read a book that even after a day or two of reflection I am still not sure what I feel about the book and I am thus stumped when someone asks me how I would rate this book (and not liking to rank a book as I believe most books are much more than their ratings).
I was interested to read this book for several reasons; I enjoy historical fiction, North Carolina (the setting for the book) is now my new home state so enjoying learning the history of the area, and the author has written
Aug 27, 2014 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
The language in this book is stunning, as is the story it depicts. The characters seem almost sketched at times yet never lose their depth. Smith has managed to draw nuanced people out of striking language without falling into clunky, over-wrought prose. The stories she tells transcend generations and indeed centuries, pulling us into the world of late 18th century North Carolina while never making their struggles feel distant or irrelevant to our world today.

As soon as I finished the book, I tu
Jul 07, 2014 Nona rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
This is a beautifully written story of love between parent and child, and devastating loss. Set in a small coastal town at the end of the American Revolution. Landowner Asa, a widower, depends on his only daughter, Helen to run the plantation. Though he hopes for an heir he refuses to give his approval for Helen to marry John, a former solider. John and Helen marry anyway and take off to the sea. When Helen perishes during childbirth, Asa blames John for taking away his daughter. The child ...more
Jan 20, 2015 birdsong61 rated it liked it
“She will be the last bird to leave, and his forest will become as silent as winter.”

Sparing yet descriptive prose. An unromanticized tale of love and heart-wrenching losses during the Revolutionary War. Set in southeastern North Carolina, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean convey little warmth and pleasure. Instead they are a metaphor for the push and pull of feelings, choices, decisions, and relationships of the lives of the characters in this story. Though I hoped for different outcomes for som
Eugenia Vieira
Jul 19, 2014 Eugenia Vieira rated it it was amazing
I believe it is not often that history meets the narrative with so much intimacy and intensity. Maybe it is the solitude of the sea, which has been watching us for so many years, that may have the right to judge us in our limits and desires, and which is capable to guide us, from a stronger perspective. As so is Kate Simpson Smith, which I believe has studied and learnt about the American Revolution so much, that can write characters in that period of our society with so much veracity and ...more
Yukari Watanabe
Jul 04, 2014 Yukari Watanabe rated it really liked it
I received an ARC at BEA. Smith's writing is so lovely that it's worth reading this novel. There are many beautiful parts and I wanted to love the book, but I didn't.

I felt Smith cared the writing style much more than actual stories. It felt superficial and the tragedies and sorrow didn't move me. It was a pleasure to read such a well-written book, but I will not remember about John or Tab in a few months.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 15, 2016 Jenny (Reading Envy) marked it as to-read
This book was discussed on Episode 054 of the Reading Envy Podcast. I haven't read it yet but might on an upcoming trip to the low country!
Derrill Hagood
Mar 31, 2014 Derrill Hagood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Read an early copy, but am eagerly awaiting the finished book. Katy is an extraordinary storyteller and a true craftsman!

I really, really, wanted to give this one a higher rating. But despite all of the things that I loved about it I cannot excuse my biggest complaints: it was too jumbled and too unfocused. The two surest ways to point out any authors debut work.

I found that the rhythm of the story suffered for the sake of artistic expression. It begins with widower John raising his daughter Tabitha (referred to primarily as "Tab") in a small house off the North Carolina coast. (view spoiler)
Reeka (BoundbyWords)
As seen on my blog:

It is that elated sense of being, when all of your feelings seem to be resonating not only in your heart, but in every other limb and organ in your body. It's that moment when printed words have the ability to move you beyond a smile, or a chuckle, or a tear. It was The Story of Land and Sea that had me in awe of that literary potential. It was a story that seemed to have been written to only speak to itself, to exist quietly, with no hopes of falling into another's hands-i
JG (The Introverted Reader)
The Story of Land and Sea opens with young Tabitha contracting yellow fever on her tenth birthday. Her father and grandfather, having already lost her mother in childbirth, are desperate to save her despite the limitations of 18th century medicine. Her father takes to the sea with her in tow, thinking that the sea air will cure her. After all, he took her mother to the sea when they first married and she blossomed into the woman he loved with all his heart.

Flashing back 20 years, Tabitha's mothe
Melissa Crytzer Fry
Nov 19, 2014 Melissa Crytzer Fry rated it liked it
This debut by Katy Simpson Smith was a quick read for me on the treadmill, a story thematically rich with clean, concise writing – in many places striking and beautiful.

Set in three non-linear timelines during the late 1700s, the novel covers the lives of Asa and his daughter Helen; and John and his daughter Tabitha – and all the regrets both men have about the women loved during their lives. The characters of Moll (Helen’s maidservant) and her son Davy were, to me, the most engaging, even thou
Aug 14, 2014 Kristine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss
Original review can be found at

received an advanced readers copy of this book from Harper via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

Part one of this book tells the story of John and his daughter Tabitha and then part two goes back to tell the story of Tabitha's mother Helen. The third part tells the story of Helen's father, husband, slave and her slaves son.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed and parts that I didn't. The w
Marathon County Public Library MCPL
Set in coastal North Carolina during the American Revolution, this novel follows Tabitha, a little girl who loves her father's stories from his days as a pirate, and her mother Helen, who died giving birth to Tabitha years before. Using eloquent, meticulous, and at times biblical prose, the author explores loss, the love between parent and child, and what it means to expand our horizons. While heartbreaking, this novel captures the senses and moves the reader in a way I have not encountered in a ...more
Aug 26, 2014 Stacey rated it it was amazing
First of all, the writing is exquisite. There were moments when I had to put the book down to savor a paragraph, a sentence, or a phrase. A sigh of satisfaction, then back to the story. And then there's the story itself. It's simply and gently written. Set in the coastal region of South Carolina at the tail end of the American Revolution, it's the tale of three generations of a family and their ties to this new country. It's a story of the dichotomies of living: love and loss, life and death, ...more
Sep 27, 2014 Jan rated it it was ok
I realize that not every story is a happy one but this story depressed the hell out of me right from the get go and then just kept layering one glum event on top of another so that in the end the story becomes overwhelmingly morose. If such was the aim of the author, then mission accomplished because with the exception of one of the minor characters, none of the main characters ever reaches the redemption or salvation they are seeking. In my opinion the ending of the story was rushed and left ...more
Anne Birdsong
Oct 30, 2016 Anne Birdsong rated it it was ok
Sparing, yet descriptive prose, as one reviewer wrote. It is an excellent read, but be prepared for the following: 1) to be depressed 2) to be outraged at the descriptions of slavery 3) to be angry at one female character's relationship to another female character; to be angry at this character's rigidity and her religion 4) to be irritated that while the plot is lovely, sometimes things are too tidy 5) to either love the book entirely or hate it completely. Remember the time period is the ...more
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Katy Simpson Smith attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an Adjunct Professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. Her debut novel, The Story of Land and Sea, was published by Harper ...more
More about Katy Simpson Smith...

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“Children, even the most shy and tongue-tied, spill all their vibrancy out into the world. There are no reserves, no deep wells where emotion sinks and is buried.” 4 likes
“In the night he dozes and wakes, and wonders what leaving means.” 2 likes
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