Ahab’s Bride

Ahab's BrideAhab’s Bride by Louise M. Gouge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, but it was okay. Originally a dissertation project, the time period seems to be thoroughly researched. But despite all the detail, I couldn’t quite put myself into this time and place. There’s a stiffness and formality to the writing that gives this a rather old-fashioned feel and kept me on the “outside” looking in. It is a Christian novel, so the author indulged in a lot of theological dialogue. At least she didn’t seem to be trying to save the reader’s soul! Mostly it seems historically appropriate. I found the background about the Quaker schism interesting. Hannah, herself, seems to be open-minded to different points of view.

Hannah starts out in her marriage to Ahab with a great deal of naivete. Some of the romantic dialog is far too sickeningly saccharine for my taste, but I wouldn’t say this is a romance novel. It is a portrait of a woman, growing and changing over time. Mostly we see her through her relationship with Ahab. The lengthy periods of his absences are glossed over far too quickly. Through her eyes, we see an Ahab that is too perfect to be real in the beginning. I do think the author did a better job with his character following the loss of his leg. One of Hannah’s friends explains toward the end of the book “he’s always had something broken inside” but we don’t really see that foreshadowed at all. It seemed quite an abrupt shift in his personality after the accident. But again, it is all through Hannah’s eyes.

It might be interesting to see how Hannah develops in the next book of the Ahab’s Legacy trilogy now that she is separated permanently from Ahab, but I haven’t decided if I really want to read it or not. I do like the historical detail, and there are hints of what Hannah might become through her interests in transcendentalism and introduction to the thinking of Lucretia Mott.

Description: Before Captain Ahab encountered Moby Dick, he met the woman who would capture his heart – Hannah Oldweiler. This voyage back to 19th Century Nantucket completes the portrait of the man who ruled the sea with an iron will, and introduces us to the woman who had a spirit and determination to match. When Ahab becomes obsessed with settling a score with the great whale, Hannah is left alone to raise their son and to oversee her husband’s estate. Waiting and praying for his safe return, Hannah is faced with loneliness – a deep longing in her soul that not even her husband can meet. Will Hannah become as independent as Ahab? Will she take her future into her own hands? Who will fill the emptiness in her heart?

Still Alice

Still AliceStill Alice by Lisa Genova

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know if this should be 3 stars or not. I was reluctant to read this since I had a grandmother with Alzheimers, but I think it does hold a message of comfort and perhaps inspiration for those who might be dealing with the disease. There is a lot of good information here about some of the treatments. The author clearly knows her topic, and takes every opportunity to impart what she knows. As a work of fiction, though, I found it lacking in what makes a good novel. I found the beginning of the story to be quite boring. Since we seem to be in Alice’s head throughout, there isn’t enough depth to any of the other characters. Conversations are stilted. While Alice’s decline is alarming, and she has moments of fear, panic, anger, etc., I feel the author shied away from the more heartbreaking aspects of the later stages of Alzheimers. We are left with a childlike Alice at the end of the book, without complex reasoning and language skills, but someone still in possession of “herself” and her emotions, and still surrounded by her loving family. Bottom line – unrealistic, but there were some very touching moments.

Description: Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.

Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind…

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The HobbitExploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit by Corey Olsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good summary and chapter-by-chapter exposition of the major themes of The Hobbit. I especially liked his analysis of the various songs and poems of the elves and dwarves, and of the riddle contest with Gollum.

Description: Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a fun, thoughtful, and insightful companion volume, designed to bring a thorough and original new reading of this great work to a general audience. Professor Corey Olsen takes readers on an in-depth journey through The Hobbit chapter by chapter, revealing the stories within the story: the dark desires of dwarves and the sublime laughter of elves, the nature of evil and its hopelessness, the mystery of divine providence and human choice, and, most of all, the transformation within the life of Bilbo Baggins. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a book that will make The Hobbit come alive for readers as never before.


The Hobbit

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this so long ago, that I do not remember reading it. Definitely written for children, Tolkien wrote this 30+ years before The Lord of the Rings. Here, the famous ring is just a magic ring of invisibility, without the dark overtones and corrupting power that it would acquire later. That is not to say that the book can’t also be enjoyed by teens and adults, although I found the silly rhyming names of the dwarves to be somewhat distracting. Tolkien did go back and revise The Hobbit so that the version we have now is more in line with what he wrote later after developing the world of Middle Earth. We can imagine that perhaps this is the version of his adventures that Bilbo wrote to tell his nieces and nephews. I can definitely identify with Bilbo’s conflicting needs for adventure and security. But it is through adventure, through stretching ourselves, and leaving our comfort zones, that we grow as human beings. This is also a cautionary tale about greed. I look forward to seeing what Peter Jackson has done with the movie, and I’ll also be taking a look at The Annotated Hobbit.

Description: A great modern classic and the prelude to The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

Moby-Dick Project

I have created a new page for the list of books I’ve compiled relating to my Moby-Dick project (link on the left under Pages). It is not intended to be exhaustive. Most of the books (with a few exceptions) tie in some way to Melville, Moby-Dick, whaling, or Nantucket. Obviously I could have included much more under The Sea category, or Nantucket, for example, but those are secondary subjects. I am also focusing on fiction, not all the many scholarly books written about Melville and Moby-Dick. I welcome comments or suggestions for additions!

Cathedral of the Sea

Cathedral of the SeaCathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is everything I love about historical novels and family sagas: big, sweeping, panoramic, enough history to understand the context, enough detail to put me in that time and place, characters that I care about, a little romance, a lot of adventure, and a satisfying ending. This caught my attention in connection with my Moby-Dick project because it had the word “sea” in the title. Other than that, there is no connection. It is not a sea story. For information and pictures of the cathdral see http://www.aviewoncities.com/barcelon… . I listened to an audio recording of the book. Otherwise I would have been stumbling over the pronunciation of Spanish names and places. It had me sitting in my garage on multiple occasions after driving home from work because I didn’t want to stop the narrative. Arnau begins life as the son of a runaway serf, joins the guild of the bastaix (porters who unload the cargo from the ships in the harbor) who carry stones from the quarry to the building site on their own time because of their dedication to the Virgin of the Sea. Through Arnau’s eyes, we see life in Barcelona during times of famine and plague, relations with the Jews, the Inquisition, war, the growing maritime prosperity of Catalonia and the merchant classes, and the role of religion and faith from differing perspectives. Arnau is a good man at his core, but he is not above exacting revenge on those who have harmed him and those he loves. Well researched, I did not mind the historical asides, and learned a lot about a less familiar region of medieval Europe.

In the tradition of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, here is a thrilling historical novel of friendship and revenge, plague and hope, love and war, set in the golden age of 14th-century Barcelona. Arnau Estanyol arrives in Barcelona and joins the powerful guild of stone-workers building the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar, while his adoptive brother Joan studies to become a priest. As Arnau prospers, he secretly falls in love with a forbidden woman. When he is betrayed and hauled before the Inquisitor, he finds himself face-to-face with his own brother. Will he lose his life just as his beloved cathedral is finally completed, or will his brother spare him?