Mini Review (ARC): The Story of Land and Sea

Land and sea are explored in this novel about parents and their children, faith, grief, and death. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

Note: I received this ARC from my mom, who got it at a charity auction. Not sure if that requires notification, but just in case!

Drawn to the ocean, ten-year-old Tabitha wanders the marshes of her small coastal village and listens to her father’s stories about his pirate voyages and the mother she never knew. Since the loss of his wife Helen, John has remained land-bound for their daughter, but when Tab contracts yellow fever, he turns to the sea once more. Desperate to save his daughter, he takes her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, hoping the salt air will heal her.

Years before, Helen herself was raised by a widowed father. Asa, the devout owner of a small plantation, gives his daughter a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. Left largely on their own, Helen and Moll develop a close but uneasy companionship. Helen gradually takes over the running of the plantation as the girls grow up, but when she meets John, the pirate turned Continental soldier, she flouts convention and her father’s wishes by falling in love. Moll, meanwhile, is forced into marriage with a stranger. Her only solace is her son, Davy, whom she will protect with a passion that defies the bounds of slavery. (Summary via


This book is beautifully written, and the comparisons just get deeper and richer as you go.  The women–Helen, Tab, and Asa’s wife–are mostly seen in memories from the past.  The only actively living female character is a slave named Moll, who formed an uneasy friendship with Helen as a child and who desperately clings to her oldest child, Davy.

The men–Asa and John–are compared and contrasted throughout the book.  Asa represents land, and how saddened he was that the home he worked so hard to create was never able to be passed down through the generations.  Meanwhile, John represents the sea, and how he has difficulty settling down (both literally and figuratively).  The men grieve and face death in very different ways, and the author describes both without making the reader choose a side.  The book also compares love and loss, wives and husbands, fathers and daughters, faith and doubt.

If I were an English major, I’m sure I’d have a ball dissecting this book.  As it is, though, I still really enjoyed it.  The writing is beautiful and really portrays land and sea in its exploration of the two men and the women who left them too early.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: The Times that Try Men’s Souls

If you're into Revolutionary War era fiction, you might enjoy this look at the Culper spy ring. #spon | The Times that Try Men's Souls, Newbery and Beyond review

Note: I received a digital copy of The Times that Try Men’s Souls from the author for review consideration.

This historical fiction novel covers events surrounding the American Revolutionary War, specifically focusing on the Culper spy ring–a historical group that I sadly learned about through an episode of White Collar, rather than through any history book or class…  I wonder how I missed that?  Spy rings and history–that’s right up my alley!

Anyway, this book follows Abraham, the appointed leader of the Culper spies, and the struggles he faces as he and his friends face danger and death by the hands of British soldiers.  Abraham convinces his friend, Robert, to join him, but as the two friends begin to lose everything they care about, they start to wonder if their efforts are really worth it.

The problem I had with this book was not so much a problem with the book itself, as it was a problem with my own personal tastes.  When I picked it up (figuratively), I thought it would focus more closely on spy escapades and the danger and intrigue they faced.  Instead, I found descriptions of battles and several fist fights.  I really enjoyed Sophia’s story, as she carried on a relationship with a British officer in order to obtain information from him.  I found her story very touching, and it stood out, especially in this story, as women were mostly considered objects to be either protected or disregarded (I enjoyed Martha’s character as well, as another active female character in this time period).  My only other complaint is a few odd turns of phrase that made it difficult to stay immersed in the story–I spent a few minutes trying to decipher phrases like, “she instructed passively” or “his fingers folded at the joints.”

If you’re into stories about war which actually focus on the events of the war, you’ll probably enjoy The Times that Try Men’s Souls.  If you like Revolutionary War stuff (and who doesn’t?), this will definitely show you a different aspect of that well-known American war (at least, it was new to me).   Just be aware that, in terms of spy stuff, this book focuses more on the big picture, rather than on the spy exploits.  That’s not a bad thing; it’s just not my thing.

Rating: Not My Cup of Tea

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