Tag Archives: adventure

{Books} The Westmark Trilogy

Westmark (Westmark, #1)

Theo, by occupation, was a devil. That is, he worked as apprentice and general servant to Anton, the printer. … Accidentally, he had learned to read, which in some opinion spoiled him for anything sensible.

So begins Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen).

Alexander is more popularly known for the the Chronicles of Prydain series, of which The Black Cauldron is part. Prydain is based on Welsh mythology and has a good helping of oracular pigs, rhyming beast-men, dark lords, and young chosen heroes.

Westmark, while not precisely somewhere in Europe, is set in a non-fantastical world, circa 1800. The crux of the plot involves the gradual abolition of a monarchy and the civil and international struggles of a budding republic. What more can you want in a YA series?

Theo, our main character, is not of secret noble birth or any thing spectacular like that and struggles with the actions he’s taken to become a “hero.” Mickle, our female character, is actually a really great character. She’s smart, competent, and self-sufficient. She and Theo become a couple and just… stay that way. There’s no love triangle, or “how can I be worthy of you,” or any other nonsense. They’re just two young people that would like to live their lives, but there’s this pesky revolution mucking things up.

I harp a little on the romance aspect because I find its lack of complication to be refreshing. By no means are these books romances: they are adventures! There are harrowing rescues, treacherous bad guys, plots and counter-plots. Enemies become allies and the good guys aren’t always right. The characters relationships are complex without being over-dramatic. And, while the first book Westmark won the 1982 National Book Award for Children’s Books, I can see how its lower key has possibly hurt its longevity.

Still, the writing sparkles and Alexander has a good eye for when to add some ridiculousness. They’ve been the perfect books to read a chapter of every morning for the last three months.

Side note: I collected all three of these books over the years in the above hardback editions. All three are discarded library books. From three different libraries. Westmark was purchased first, probably in Lincoln, NE; it had previously been part of the Springfield (NE) Public Library system. I’m pretty sure I came across The Beggar Queen next, at the Tempe (AZ) Public Library book sale. Later, I ordered The Kestrel through Paperback Swap. The sender removed any locational information, but it still has the shelving label on its spine.

Review ~ The Count of Monte Cristo

Cover via Goodreads

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (Translator)

A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantès, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal. As Robert Louis Stevenson declared, “I do not believe there is another volume extant where you can breathe the same unmingled atmosphere of romance.” (via Goodreads)

The Count of Monte Cristo was one of those books that, despite everyone else having read it and loved it in high school, I had never been required to read. Honestly, I’ve never been required to read any Dumas and picked up The Three Musketeers for fun in college. But everyone kept telling me that The Count of Monte Cristo was Dumas’ better book. And it is!

I also hadn’t ever watched an adaptation of the novel, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was revenge, but I expected more of the “My name is Inigo Montoya; prepare to die!” swashbuckling-style of revenge. Instead, Edmond Dantès revenge is an intricate puzzle that envelopes generations. It’s melodramatic and delicious. I have no idea how you’d manage to do it well in a movie. While there is some musing on the righteousness and awfulness of revenge, much of this book is just so sensational, so “popular literature.” And occasionally, The Count of Monte Cristo feels a little padded out as Dumas (and his probably collaborator Auguste Maquet) wrote for serialization.

I read this as part of Nick’s Chapter-a-day Readalongs and that was a great way to experience the story. I had made reading The Count of Monte Cristo part of my morning ritual for over 100 days and I miss it! I sought out Robin Buss’ translation. I’d read the first chapter in the commonly available public domain translation and it was just a little too stilted. There are also many abridged editions out there—I own one of them and have it around here somewhere. I wonder what parts you’d leave out of this tale…

Original Publishing info: 1846
My Copy: Trade paperback, 2003 edition, purchased at Barnes & Noble
Genre: adventure

Review ~ Moby-Dick

Cover via Goodreads

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

‘Call me Ishmael.’

So begins Herman Melville’s masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. As Ishmael is drawn into Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest to slay the white whale Moby-Dick, he finds himself engaged in a metaphysical struggle between good and evil. More than just a novel of adventure, more than an paean to whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting social commentary, populated by some of the most enduring characters in literature; the crew of the Pequod, from stern, Quaker First Mate Starbuck, to the tattooed Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, are a vision of the world in microcosm, the pinnacle of Melville’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is a profound, poetic inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?

I have a degree in literature, yet I had never read Moby-Dick. My reading in college was pointed toward pre-1800 and my reading for fun has been mostly post-1970 with a few exceptions. I have a wonderful huge gap to fill!

What Worked/What Didn’t Work

I decided this year to make an effort to point out what works/what doesn’t work in what I’m reading and, at the second review of the year, I’m stymied.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from Moby-Dick. Obviously, I knew this was a story about ill-fated obsession. I knew many of the names. I knew there were going to be long passages about whales and whaling, circa 1850. What I didn’t expect was just how odd of a tapestry this book is. There are adventure bits. There are poetical, metaphysical digressions. There is bawdy humor and Shakespearean soliloquies. And yes, a lot about whales and whaling.

The summary above kind of makes me roll my eyes because it plays up the “literature” aspects of the book. As a mostly genre reader (despite my degree), I think it’s those other things—all the boring reality, all the dirty adventure—that make Moby-Dick work. This novel is sort of a weird ride. Much like Shakespeare’s plays, especially if you’re reading/watching them for the first time, if you let the text carry you along, you get a sense of the thing. Will I read Mody-Dick again? Maybe. If I do, I’m pretty sure the next time would be a totally different experience.

Observation: The only writer I know of that “tastes” a bit like Moby-Dick (I won’t say Melville since I don’t know him well as an author) is Ray Bradbury.

Observation: Having read War of the Worlds and Moby-Dick nearly back to back, I get this sense that science was folded into literature more often in the past. Maybe this is a reflection of the times, maybe of the authors, maybe of the genres; I don’t know, but it’s something I enjoy.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Pigeonhole, public domain, originally published 1851
Acquired: May 20, 2014
Genre:  According to Wikipedia: Novel, adventure fiction, epic, sea story, encyclopedic novel. I guess I agree.

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Deal Me In, Week 36 ~ “The Martian Agent”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance” by Michael Chabon

Card picked: King of Spades

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, ed. by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: Franklin and Jefferson’s father is a traitor to the Crown. The entire family is apprehended as they raced to the border after General Custer’s surrender (this is seemingly the second Revolutionary War). Their father is executed, their mother dies of a stroke, and the boys are claimed by their Tory uncle, aeronaut Sir Thomas Mordden. And…

And, that’s all of this story that readers get. There’s a note that the story will continue in McSweeney’s Second Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales…which does not exist.

On one hand, I’m annoyed. This is probably my favorite pieces of steampunk fiction. There are armored “land sloops” and airships and, obviously, a dash of alternative history in which the British Empire never lost the colonies. And it’s my favorite because it all takes a back seat to the relationship that the two boys, Frank and Jeff, have with each other and the world. (One could almost call that a Chabonian trope, but I like it.)

On the other hand, an i09 story details the rest of what Chabon had in mind—that this would be a Mars adventure a la John Carter of Mars. That interests me a lot less. I’d probably still read it though…