Saturday, April 08, 2006

Well, will you look at that

Someone here has been a busy little bee. I don't know if it's the urge to "catch up" in my reading or the fact that the weather has been iffy, but I've read another 2 books. Of course, that's kind of negated by the fact that I picked up 3 more at the library yesterday and 5 more today....


The first book was "A Pirate of Exquisite Mind : Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier" by Diana & Michael Preston. It was a fascinating look at an aspect of history I wasn't aware of.

For example, Dampier sailed around the world three times. Three. He took exquisite notes on everything he saw and experienced, and then took steps to make sure his work survived his journeys. He gave us the first description of the flamingo, the tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, the term sub-species (which Charles Darwin later incorporated into his theory of evolution), and so much more. He contributed more than 1000 words to the Oxford English Dictionary, including avocado, barbecue, breadfruit, cashew, chopsticks, and kumquat to name a few. He was the first to write in English about soy and Thai fish sauce, not just describing them, but talking about how they were produced.

He was the first person to figure out that winds caused current; he published the first wind maps across the world. He gave descriptions of indigenous people he met throughout his journeys, their way of living, religion, and government were all carefully recorded. He was the first Englishman to arrive at Australia; Cook landed there 80 years later. In fact, his writings about everything influenced not only Charles Darwin, but Captain Bligh, Captain Cook, Admiral Nelson, Sam Taylor Coleridge, Johnathan Swift and Daniel Defoe (to name but a few). His observations in navigation (the sea passages he discovered, as well as the tips on how to approach reefs, tidal faces, and shoals) were used by the British Navy well into the twentieth century. Granted, he was also a buccaneer, sacking ships that flew a flag other than England's and port towns in his search for wealth. (He didn't write a lot about those experiences, and when he did, he glossed over them, saying he was there because he wished to explore, not pillage and rape.)

(Looking over this review, I know it's choppy and full of short sentences, but I can't think of a better way to highlight some of the incredible things this man discovered. I mean, avocado and soy sauce; I love soy sauce. Chopsticks. Flamingos. Hummingbirds. Australia. The plants he carefully preserved for future study.)

It's a fascinating book and one I highly recommend to anyone interested in the following: sailing, history, discovery, navigation, pirates, plants, animals, and soy sauce.

The second book I read was "War for the Oaks" by Emma Bull and it was amazing. Seriously good. It was another of those books that I'd heard about, but didn't put on hold until recently, a fact that I'm kicking myself for now.

Eddi McCandry is a singer and guitar player who's just broken up with her (lousy) boyfriend and his (lousy) band. Deciding to walk home, she ends up being chased by a phouka; it seems that the Seelie Court has chosen her to be their "mortality" in a war between the courts. As you'd imagine, she's just thrilled with the honor. Still, there's no way out, so Eddi finds herself with a new bodyguard/keeper, the phouka, new enemies, and a new band.

Did I whet your interest at all? Would it help if I mention the brownie Hairy Meg? She's awesome; all fierce and independent, stubborn as hell and can make one hell of a currant scone. Or Willie Silver, the new guitarist, who plays the violin, sings sad, sad ballads, and can hold his own in a knife fight. Or Carla, Eddi's friend from the other (lousy) band? She plays the drums, gives Eddi a reality check, helps her to try and escape the phouka (which she doesn't), and has her back in everything. Not to mention, there's the whole farie court, including the Unseelie Queen, the Queen of Air and Dark, who really really hates Eddi. (Really)

The story ends well, no ties left untied or anything like that, but I have to be honest when I say I wish she'd write a sequal, or another book with these characters because I'd love to read more. (Also, I have to point out that the twist with Willie was kinda obvious; I kept waiting for Eddi to pick up on it, which did bug me. But that's a teensy-tiny flaw to me.) Seriously (yes, I am over-using that word), it's a fantastic story. I finished it last night and immediately went on-line to see what else Emma has written (a bunch of books have just been added to my request lists, thank you very much). I'm planning on adding her name to my "hunt for list" at the SPL booksale in 2 weeks; that's how good this story is.

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