In 1991, The New York Times Book Review characterized Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin naval adventure novels as "the best historical novels ever writIn 1991, The New York Times Book Review characterized Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin naval adventure novels as "the best historical novels ever written". That's not why I selected it. I picked up the first in the twenty-book series, "Master and Commander", on the recommendation of my WIP's main characters. I was hoping by reading at least one, I'd get better insights into the two people who make my book possible.
What I found was an amazing story. The book is set on a British man-of-war during the Napoleonic Wars. The closely-packed 400+ pages shows in vivid terms how Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin meet, set sail into the midst of the naval-intensive Napoleonic Wars, and--despite a rocky beginning that centered around classical music--develop the deep, abiding friendship and respectful camaraderie that will take them through decades. O'Brian develops Aubrey's character as a lifelong seaman and Maturin as a skilled doctor who loves everything about life (including botany and biology), and then spends the rest of the novel showing how these two polar-opposites become close and respectful friends.
If there is a plot, it is loosely centered on spotlighting their ship--the Sophie--in battle. The detail is amazing with dozens of scenes like this one...
"They cast loose the tackles that held the gun hard against the side and cut the spun-yarn frapping that clenched the breeching to hold it firmer still."
O'Brian does for warships what Michener does for settings, or Matthieson does for nature. I was fascinated reading about life aboard a British man-of-war. Who knew it included poetry shared and appreciated, musical interludes joined by violins and cellos, and a demand for civility and culture I'd expect left ashore when the sailors went to sea.
This book was first published in 1970. The difference in what was printed then and now is stark. For example, here are several traits rampant in this book I think would immediately get any of today's novels tossed to the trash:
* There is little white space on the pages:
* Sea jargon is used throughout, to the point it feels like a foreign language. Read this:
"She was in stays; and now she was paying off fast. ... the half-seen waisters hauled on the starboard braces like veteran forecastlemen..."
* The author often jumps POV between characters within a paragraph. * The dialogue of two people is often within the same paragraph. * There is no effort (like a ***) to separate scenes or show time passing. Readers must be attentive or risk losing track of the timeline.
One great line I'll share, for all those in the service of their nation's Navy. That world hasn't changed:
"The quarter-deck of a man-of-war may justly be considered as a national school for the instruction of a numerous portion of our youth; there it is that they develop a habit of discipline and become instructed in all the interesting minutiae of the service. Punctuality, cleanliness, diligence and dispatch are regularly inculcated..."
This book is highly recommended for those who love sea stories. I've found my next great series....more
I discovered Gary Corby's ancient Greece novels after reading Wilbur Smith's 'Desert God' about ancient Egypt. It made me hunger for more on the livesI discovered Gary Corby's ancient Greece novels after reading Wilbur Smith's 'Desert God' about ancient Egypt. It made me hunger for more on the lives of people before technology took over. Corby's five-installment series, based in the world's first democracy around 450 B.C., stars Athenian detectives Nicolaos and Diotima, The ongoing story of their adventures (and misadventures) and daily life is fun and engaging, with authentic detail about a long-gone era. An Afterword section discusses the history highlighted in each book which I read as eagerly as the novel.
"Death Ex Machina" is the latest of the series. Nicolaos and Diotima investigate a series of mishaps at the Great Dionysia, the largest arts festival on the ancient world and held to honor the god Dionysos. When an actor is murdered, it threatens to close down the festival and embarrass Athens in the eyes of both friends and enemies. 'Embarrassment' in those times was conflated with weakness, which was not good in a world populated by neighbors looking for opportunities to destroy neighbors. The two detectives follow clues, unravel mysteries, and avoid near-death experiences--much like would happen in any detective novel--but wrapped in the shroud of a long-ago Hellenic world--which means no forensics or technology, just the investigative tools available over two thousand years ago.
Corby weaves in so much about history, I come away with a much stronger understanding of that era. His supporting characters include Socrates, Aeschylus, and Sophocles--all names I've read, but now I get to know them as I would a friend. Every time I look up a piece of history Corby includes, he's spot on. He brings it to life by making it personal, approachable and relatable. The only device that rattled me--at first--is his characters used current language rather than ancient. I got used to it, accepting it as I would if it were translated from Greek to English. In this case, it was translated from 'ancient' to 'modern'.
Overall, a great find. I love every book in the series and eagerly await the next. Write on, Gary Corby, write on!...more
"Every one has a plan until they get punched in the face."
This quote from Mike Tyson is why I love Tom Schreck's Duffy Dombrowski. Duffy is not only "Every one has a plan until they get punched in the face."
This quote from Mike Tyson is why I love Tom Schreck's Duffy Dombrowski. Duffy is not only a mid-level boxer, he's a counselor for troubled youth. In the fifth installment of the series, 'The Ten Count' (CreateSpace 2014), Duffy is sent to a private high school to help students come to terms with the brutal murder of one of their teachers. As he works with students and faculty, he finds a lot of problems at this school that could have contributed to this man's death and--being Duffy--he can't stop himself from trying to unravel the mysteries. Add to this a blossoming love interest, an odd affair, and a hiccup in his career, the story is non-stop action.
Duffy Dombrowski is a believable mix of rough boxer and thoughtful therapist. Once you're in his head (it's written in first person), you realize there's a lot more going on than fighting and drinking. In fact, Duffy has a solid moral compass, a respect for real people, and no need to impress others or be impressed by superficial trappings.
I love the procedural stuff--how to be a boxer--that's included, like this:
"...a day with shadowboxing, heavy bag work, three rounds of mitts, and these new plyometric things I've started doing that were supposed to make me explosive."
I have never been a boxing fan, but through Duffy's eyes, I got a real appreciation for for the sport and the passion behind it. I almost want to watch the next match on TV.
"Like some guys' La-Z-Box recliner, it [the boxing gym] was where I went when I wanted to get away from the day and unwind."
Great internal dialogue for Duffy throughout the book helps the reader get to know the main character well and understand his motivation and thought:
"I probably should've gone for a recovery drink [after his gym workout] high in protein with low glycemic complex carbohydrates and combined that with a light snack of the same proportions that also had some fiber to fill me up. That's what I should've done."
This could be a stand-alone story, but it uses characters and ideas introduced earlier in the series, so you might want to read those first. Click to see my reviews of Getting Dunn and The Vegas Knockout. ...more
The "Flamekeepers" (Thomas & Mercer 2015) is the story of a doomsday cult that might be headed into dangerous territory. Alecia Motley, a member,The "Flamekeepers" (Thomas & Mercer 2015) is the story of a doomsday cult that might be headed into dangerous territory. Alecia Motley, a member, warns the FBI and they call on former SEAL Lukasz Gardocki to infiltrate the group and see what the real goals are. Lukasz agrees because he carries ongoing guilt that he couldn't save the life of Alecia's brother who was a former SEAL. What he finds when he gets there is a mixture of well-intentioned, hard-working people and a devious leadership group that is too secretive for Lukasz's instincts to trust. When he finds out their real purpose, he wonders if he will escape with his life saving Alecia.
"Flamekeepers" is written by J. Gregory Smith, former Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award quarter finalist (ABNA is no longer a contest) and author of the Paul Chang Mysteries series. Smith is an excellent storyteller with interesting characters. What they lack in complexity, he makes up for in their true voices and honest interactions with each other. It didn't take long before I was rooting for Lukasz and Alecia and a host of other supporting actors, hoping they would come out of this thriller in one piece.
Where Smith had trouble was in his plotting. Though well-paced with lots of action, as it approached the climax, several spots were unbelievable. The reasons Smith gave for the characters' actions didn't make sense which left me wondering what was really going on. Luckily there were just a few of these (though at critical moments), and Smith recovered with an excellent surprise ending.
Overall, a good read from an up-and-coming new author. I look forward to watching his career develop....more
I am a C.J. Box fan. I've read the entire Joe Pickett series (15 books) so when "Badlands" (Minotaur 2015) showed up on my Vine list, I grabbed it, hoI am a C.J. Box fan. I've read the entire Joe Pickett series (15 books) so when "Badlands" (Minotaur 2015) showed up on my Vine list, I grabbed it, hoping this might be the start of a new series. It is the story of criminal investigator, Cassie Dewell, who leaves a job in Montana for a new post in Grimstad North Dakota, center of the American oil boom. The town is undergoing massive cultural and social changes due to the skyrocketing oil business. Cassie immediately is caught up in what seems to be an open-and-shut auto accident that ends up mired in drugs, vicious Salvadoran hitmen, and corrupt police.
The story is fast-moving, fascinating to read, with lots of intriguing clues and well-developed characters. The setting is the wild badlands of the frigid American northern states, a perfect location for Box's signature nature descriptions. It includes two distinct point-of-views, Cassie's and the twelve-year-old boy who ends up unwillingly in the middle of his town's drug sales.
Cassie Dewell is an interesting character. We are introduced to an overweight, atypical detective who is leaving a job where she wasn't well-respected, maybe running from a past that could be viewed as good or bad. As she grows with her new job, we as reader develop respect for her ability to line up the clues and connect the dots. Like all good mystery storytellers, Box doesn't always explain what's going on, just throws the puzzle pieces out there for us to mull over.
My only problem with the book was it didn't include Joe Pickett. Maybe a cameo, some time in the future, CJ? Could you make that happen?
Overall, a satisfying read that delivered on all of its promises....more