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The Captain's Wife

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  359 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Based on the true story of Mary Patten, The Captain's Wife begins in July 1856 during the heyday of the great clipper ships. Mary's husband, Captain Joshua Patten, is hired to navigate Neptune's Car on a treacherous voyage from New York to San Francisco through one of the most dangerous straits in the Western Hemisphere Cape Horn. Early on, trouble erupts on the ship. When ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 27th 2002 by Plume (first published September 1st 2001)
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May 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book was way too slow. The author took forever to get into some action and conflict and even then it felt like a sneeze that wouldn’t come. The first 160 pages followed the same formula, Captain shows his wife Mary Patten how to take nautical measurements and chart course. First Mate Keeler fails to drive the ship as fast as it can go. Captain reprimands First Mate Keeler. Keeler seethes. Hit the reset button and start again. The entire time the reader is itching for some conflict, explosio ...more
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the story in this one. The author chose a story rich in detail and potential and just expanded on that beautifully. What results is an engaging novel that keeps the reader engaged from port to port. I really have to commend the author on the pacing he employs while writing this. I found that there was never a time where the reader was bogged down too much in downtime. The times when the ship was becalmed or peaceful days of sea travel were offset by the tragedies of sickening ca ...more
Oct 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 10, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-in-order
I hate not finishing books that I own, but this was just too poorly written.

The Poisonwood Bible to The Captain's Wife by way of a female protagonist who is placed into 'fish out of water' circumstances
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was in the mood for historical fiction and found this sea tale just right for summer reading. Clipper ship sets sail from New York, bound for San Francisco around Cape Horn, and the captain wants to make the trip fast. Mary Patten, the captain's wife, has been married to Joshua Patten for about a year and is only 17 years old. They are still very much in love, practically newlyweds. Accompanying him on just one other voyage, Mary stayed by his side and insisted he teach her to navigate. She ge ...more
Nicole Kruck
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
A low 3, bordering on 2.5. admittedly based on my ignorance on the subject of sailing. so much of the book was detail on how the ship was being sailed that it all ran together in a haze of words. perhaps if I knew anything about sailing, catching the wind, or even had a clear visual in my head of what the ship looked like and where all the sails were I would have enjoyed it more.
Katy Sheehy
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
OK, this one I just couldn't get into. It just wasn't that compelling. I appreciate that she was a real person, and her accomplishments were amazing for the time period of her life, but this is one of the few books that I put down before finishing. Oh well - you can't love them all!!
Jun 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I think it would be helpful to have included a diagram of clipper ships with the book. Some of the parts describing the ship and sails go a little confusing. I looked one up but it would have been much easier if it had been included.
Mary Lamken
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
TheAuthor provided too much detailed information about clipper ships. Sometimes I skipped over those parts if it wasn't central to the story.
Faith Justice
Sep 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: given-away
From Booklist: We know very little of Mary Patten, a nineteenth-century Bostonian woman who became captain of her husband's ship,Neptune's Car, after he fell dangerously ill at sea. Kelley has fictionalized Patten's unique story, using nautical records, newspaper articles, and interviews from the time. The result is an entertaining and suspenseful romantic adventure story for those who prefer the made-for-TV-type version of Patten's life at sea to the scant but factual information available. Kel ...more
Douglas Kelley took known facts about the Neptune’s Car voyage and created a beautifully impressive story around it. For a 1st novel it is very clear the man can write. The research was thorough and authentic, giving me the chance to experience the story, not just read about it. I could picture the sails firm up with wind; describe Mary and the helmsman struggles against the wheel and feel the spray from the ocean. Kudos to Kelley for giving me a chance to live this story.

I love this story and y
Apr 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Captain's Wife is based on a true story. During the days of the merchant fleets, post California Gold Rush, a young captain takes his wife on a trip from New York to San Francisco. They're newly married, and this is the second trip she will take with her husband. She is certain it will be her last, as purchasing a permanent home and having children is in the near future.

We join the Captain as he is making final arrangements for his trip. He has a strong, fast ship and a great crew. His one p
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good historical fiction read based on the life of Mary Patten
Jan 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I decided to read this book based on a Reading Group Choices recommendation. I actually did end up enjoying it but someone who knows about sailing would enjoy it a lot more. The story is based on a rather obscure event that began in 1856. This time frame was when clipper ships were in vogue and moved supplies between New York and San Francisco. Mary Patten was the 19 year old wife of Joshua Patten, the captain of Neptune's Car. Mary and Joshua have not been married long and she is making plans t ...more
Mar 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that I bought while on vacation, probably visiting a seaport, I read 20 pages or so and dropped the book thinking it was boring. A couple of years later, trying to get my Mt TBR down, I picked it up again, thinking I'd give it one more cursory glance and put it on my AVL list. Ten minutes after starting it, I was hooked on the story, more than that, on the characters, as my great grandmother married a seafaring man from Boston in 1853. While he was away at sea he wrote ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 14, 2010 rated it liked it
Mary Patten discovers what she is made of on an ill-fated voyage around Cape Horn.

Okay, this wasn't exactly my cup of tea but it wasn't totally awful. Despite giving away everything in the jacket blurb, the book still managed to keep me interested even after I realized there would be no surprises. It's a bit of a slow burn - takes a little while to get into. But Mary is an enjoyable woman. The book is a bit deceptive, though - it doesn't focus quite as much on Mary as one would expect given the
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Discovering this book was one of those happy accidents I have when I stumble onto to someone rare while browsing the bookshelves at my local library. The protagonist in this inspiring book is the newly wed wife of the captain of sailing ship. One of the things I learned that there was a relatively short span of time when sailing ships were the dominant mode of travel on the high seas.

The young wife is very interested in her husband's skills of navigation which turns out to be a blessing in disg
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderful story of a courageous female in the mid 1800's.
I was lent this book to read, and I finished it quickly and could barely put it down. The main characters are a husband and wife - Joshua & Mary Patten, the first mate - Keeler, and the second mate - Timothy Hare. As they begin sailing down the coast of New England to head toward San Francisco, the Captain and the first mate get into a disagreement. Keeler is disregarding his duties as a first mate and he is also thought to be conjurin
Laura Rodd
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Not only is it based on the experiences of a young Victorian women, newly wed to a merchant captain, but this work also portrays the sea as a character in itself. This young woman must rise above her fear, societal restrictions and self-doubt as she takes command of her husband ship when he falls gravely ill after an attempted mutiny by an unstable 1st mate. Squalls imperil the ship itself as they race to survive hostile storm conditions, low moral, cold and hunger to ...more
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
I was so moved by this book, and truly wanted to know what became of Mary Patton and her newborn son after the death of her husband, that I actually did something that I have never done before (and probably will never do again) and I contacted the author, Douglas Kelley. He faxed me some of his research notes, which I took to the geneological library in Salt Lake City and I actually found the church record of their wedding and some censuses of Mary and her son living with her parents, as well as ...more
Jennifer Levine
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When you're in love with the sea, like I am, this book is divine. I did not want to put it down and was mildly annoyed when my husband and children required things like dinner. As a life long sailor, my passion lies not just racing around the marks listening for the gun but in the tales told by the people who have bested the Southern Ocean. This book was infinitely satisfying.

I stumbled upon it while doing research for a short story competition and knew it was going to be good. I didn't expect i
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Age of the clipper ships and the competition to deliver goods to California via Cape Horn serves as the backdrop of this story based on a true story. Mary Patten is the young wife of a clipper ship captain. At 20 years of age, Mary accompanies her husband on her second long voyage. Having learned the basics of navigation, she finds her new skills put to the test when the ship is threatened by a plot of mutiny and her husband is incapacitated by a strange and debilitating medical condition while ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
In 1856 Captain Joshua Patten takes his young wife Mary with him on his clipper ship as he sails from New York to San Fransisco. This is her second voyage with him. They are sailing with a good crew, but an unreliable first mate and an inexperienced second mate.
Trouble looms before they reach Cape Horn. The first mate has a fight with the captain and is arrested. Patten apparently suffers from his head wound or an undetirmined illness, but spends much of the rest of the time unconscious.
Mary i
Aug 10, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author took what could have been a fascinating, though tragic tale of a real life woman and instead of just focusing on what really happened and creating a dramatic historical fiction novel, he went on and on about her "sexual" feelings for her husband and another sailor. As far as I can tell from biographies and other histories I've read her interest in the other sailor was completely fictional and her husband was unconscious the majority of the journey before dying at the end. In my person ...more
Oct 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I had trouble putting this book down at night; I so desperately wanted the ship to succeed and to see if the Captain recovered. That it's based on a true story and the author did some fabulous research makes it all the better. The narrative portion is certainly written like a fiction novel, and there are scenes that you *know* did not come from anyone's diary, but it was, overall, excellent reading. Some of the writing still was a little unpolished, but that's not surprising for the author's fir ...more
Scarlett Wilde
Feb 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was expecting more from this book. Douglass Kelley's characters had no life and the plot is incredibly slow. The Mary Patten I was promised was supposed to be a courageous woman who took a strong hold of her husbands ship when it was in trouble against bad weather and mutiny. What I got was a "vanilla" meager woman who tiptoed her way in the world of man, a mutiny solved in a paragraph and a first mate that could competently steer the ship in bad weather without the help of Mary. In truth this ...more
Jan 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting subject matter (based on a true story of the wife of a clipper ship captain in the 1850s who has to be in charge of the ship when the captain gets ill)

But I think I would have much rather read a non-fiction accounting of it. To know it is a true story with fictional intimate details bothers me. Perhaps I'm a purist. Or crazy.

Anyhoo, it was an enjoyable read, for sure. Bogged down a bit in the descriptions of how clipper ships are sailed but one of those books that would be quite suit
Debbie Floyd
Dec 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-given-away
I found this to be an enjoyable read. The history part is definitely interesting. I liked the way that the author combined the story of Mary with the aspects of the sailing voyage. With what little is known about Mary and her husband it was good to be able to get a flavor for the shipping industry in those times and how every time a vessel took to the seas there was the chance they would not return. I defintely recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject of sailing, history of the times ...more
Aug 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Well this could have been so good...but wasn't. Way too technical for my taste. I don't really care about how to trim sails and what every last thing on a ship is called or what it does. Not enough story. Even though this is a true story, the author could have taken more liberties on making it juicier or at least more engaging with the character. Gave it too my husband to read since technical books are his favorite.
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A native of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Douglas Kelley now makes his home just across the Oklahoma state line. From this landlocked base, a profession as a corporate pilot facilitated his travels to research this book of the sea. The Captain's Wife is his first novel.
More about Douglas Kelley