The sounds of snow plows and shovels hitting the pavement fill the air as I sit in my office contemplating this week’s read-a-thon harvest. Being snowbound and reading are a perfect pairing, especially since the power stayed on! I finished the two books I planned on reading–an unusual occurrence since I often end up sampling several books at a time to get future reading underway. But the entertaining update posts on our Seasons of Reading Facebook group, also thoughtfully hosted by Michelle of True Book Addict, helped keep me on track as I read about the many books being read and finished.
First, I read In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is our January non-fiction read for TuesBookTalk, and I plunged in because of this and because of its connection to Moby-Dick, whose Captain Ahab is a character (ranked 62nd) on The Fictional 100. It is a compelling, well-researched true story, but an emotionally grueling read as one follows the long ordeal of the few survivors of the whaling ship Essex, shipwrecked far out in the Pacific, as they attempt to reach the South American coast. It was tremendously ironic to learn that had they chanced a landing on the mostly unknown “Society Islands,” which were a week’s sail away, they could have recuperated on the now-famous island paradise of Tahiti. Fears of cannibals made the crew overrule their captain’s plan to go there, and instead they became the cannibals themselves. Truly horrible. Captain Ahab is not a simple portrait of any of the men on the Essex, but news of the disaster inspired young Herman Melville to begin work on the greatest novel of his career–to many the greatest in American literature. Philbrick’s account of the whaling industry is unsparing and brutal, and it made me admire all the more the way Melville could convey the same facts but transform them into high literary art. If Ahab resembles any of the crew, it may be Owen Chase, the First Mate (played by Chris Hemsworth in the recent film adaptation). As one of the survivors who returned to Nantucket, he continued to pursue the giant whales in the Pacific; some said he hoped to find and kill the one who wrecked the Essex.
Second, I read The Keys of the Watchmen by Kathleen C. Perrin. What an enchanting book! You can see its beautiful cover, which shows the island fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy. Perrin’s heroine, 17-year-old American teen Katelyn Michaels, is visiting the Mount as a tourist with her younger brother Jackson, when she becomes enmeshed in a centuries-long fight to destroy Mont-Saint-Michel and its place in history: both as guardian of France at a crucial time and as bulwark again Satan and his fallen angels. She is attacked by one of those demonic figures, called Abdon, inhabiting someone in her time. She is also given a key by a “Watchman” from the past, and to escape Lucifer’s henchman–her personal adversary–she must use the key to go . . . she knows not where. She wakes up in 1424 to discover that she herself is a Watchman. How will she react to this news? How would we? Kathleen Perrin’s instincts for portraying a 21st-century teenager’s speech and emotions are unerring, and she has created one of the most engaging, instantly involving characters I have read in quite a while. She is confronted with a venerable mentor, Jean le Vieux, who teaches her to live and function in medieval France, and the 19-year-old Nicolas le Breton, who finds her exasperating and then, as you might guess, irresistible. Together they must try to defend Mont-Saint-Michel, weakened after a long siege by the English, from an impending attack. Her wits, courage, and modern-day know-how will be tested to the utmost. I am eager to begin on Book II of The Watchmen Saga, The Sword of the Maiden, which I will be reviewing for France Book Tours in March.
Thanks again to Michelle Miller whose Seasons of Reading blog is a welcome gathering place all year!