Nightbirds on Nantucket



by Joan Aiken

Published 1966

At the end of Black Hearts and Battersea, Simon and his friend, Dido Twite, are shipwrecked.  While we know that Simon is rescued, everyone fears the worst for Dido Twite, and the book ends with her friends assuming that she died at sea.  I read someplace that Aiken’s original intention was to leave that as canon, but so many of her readers wrote to her asking about Dido’s fate, that she decided that Dido would live.  And, in fact, Dido becomes the main character for the next several books in the Wolves series.  (I am not yet through them all, so I cannot say whether she is the heroine of all of the rest or not!)

In Nightbirds, we find that Dido was rescued by a whaler, and has been in a coma for several months.  The story picks up when Dido regains consciousness, and follows her adventures on the ship, as she befriends the captain’s daughter.  Left on Nantucket to be a companion to the fearful Dutiful Penitence as she goes to live with her aunt.  Except the aunt seems oddly familiar to readers of Aiken’s earlier books…

Adventures with a pink whale, a giant gun, and ridiculous Hanoverians, this story set in Aiken’s alternate-universe world where bonny James III rules England and magic is not completely fictional, this tale was a great deal of fun.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


by Jules Verne

Published 1870

So I have been meaning to read some of Verne’s work ever since I read a biography about him almost a year ago.  I decided to start with what is possibly his most famous work, and the first of his that I read as a child.  My dad, for some reason, LOVES Jules Verne.  I think that as an engineer, Dad appreciates the technical and scientific method of writing.  Combined with the fact that Verne was quite ahead of his time–many times he writes about things that no one had even imagined at the time of his writing–this makes Verne a fun classic author.

The “20,000” part is a bit of a trick, though, considering that the ocean isn’t even 20,000 leagues deep–the narrator of the story actually travels 20,000 leagues around the world while underneath the ocean (sneaky, I know).

Verne’s strength is in his descriptions of places and natural phenomenon; his weakness is in character development.  Most of the  people in his stories (including the narrator) feel very flat.  Even Captain Nemo, with his mysterious hatred for land remains quite mysterious.  As for the narrator and his companions–well, you understand how they are going to react with the first couple of chapters, and they never surprise you for the rest of the book.

Despite this, I still recommend 20,000 Leagues.  When you read it, imagine being a young boy in the mid-1800’s, reading this story as a serial, anxiously anticipating the publication of each new chapter, full of descriptions of an aquatic wonderland far below the surface of the ocean.

The Potter’s Field, Summer of the Danes, and The Holy Thief



by Ellis Peters

Published 1989, 1991, 1992

Sorry for the long posting delay…  we are in the  midst of moving house (again) so things are more than a bit chaotic around here!  But reading is always a constant, and I have TONS of books to post!!!

All the way back on vacation, I finally finished the Brother Cadfael series.  I’ll talk about the final book later, but first, books 17-19…

As always, excellent stories.  The Potter’s Field is an interesting one to me because it brings up an interesting question–a man left his wife to become a monk.  And I’m not sure that I agree that God would ever have someone take sacred vows (marriage) and then call that man to walk away from those vows.  Still, the cast of characters involved in this story are interesting.

The Summer of the Danes reintroduces one of my very favorite characters from the series, Brother Mark.  He and Cadfael are sent on an errand into Wales, and, while there, are caught up in a local civil war.  This book is a bit unusual for the series, in that Cadfael is not the center of the story.  He’s there, and we see much of it through his eyes, but it’s almost like she had this other story that she wanted to tell and just stuck Cadfael in it so she could include it in the series.  That doesn’t make the story any less worthwhile, because some of the other characters are very well drawn.

In The Holy Thief, we actually meet several characters who were first introduced in The Potter’s Field.  Saint Winifred again plays a large role in the story as well.  Somehow, this series gives you a great love and respect for that saint.

I truly love these books, as I say every time I review any of them, and highly recommend this well-written, historically accurate series.