Rush OH! – Shirley Barrett

Rush OH! is the battle cry when one sees a whale – a call to arms to run to the boats.rush oh

Set in the early 1900s in New South Wales, Rush OH! is a snippet of history when whalemen along the Australian coast would rush the waters to lance their fortunes. Unlike in America, the whalemen were not gone from their homes for years at a time, but instead lived along the coast to chase the whales near shore.

This is the tale of the life Mary Davidson, the 19-year-old daughter of a brave whaling captain, who lives among the oarsmen boarding in her home. Mary is learning her role in the family after the death of her mother: she must cook and feed the crew, take care of her younger siblings, and parcel out her feelings for one new whaler in particular, John Beck. Rush OH! is a coming-of-age tale based loosely on historical anecdotes from the area, including one Killer whale named Tom who assisted the whalemen in herding and trapping the whales.

There are humorous stories of the whale crew, but there are also some dark corners in the backgrounds of these men. The feast-or-famine life of whaling is full of hardships, and  often attracts men who have nothing left to lose.

I appreciated the care taken to create an atmosphere in this story: the description of the flensing of the whales, the excitement and fear of the whale hunt, and also the depictions of the Australian coastline with local flora and fauna. The descriptions and inclusions are necessary to the story without being pedantic, which makes for a compelling setting. The characters also represent the differences of interpretation of whaling and how the fear, adrenaline, and desperation can affect people in different ways.

This is a quick read sprinkled with small illustrations that add to the vintage feel of the book. I really enjoyed this one.

Today Will be Different – Maria Semple

 

 

This is the story otodaydifferentf one day in the life of Eleanor Flood: cartoon artist, mother of young son, wife of prominent hand surgeon, and victim of scatter-brained, desperate personality.

At the onset of her morning, Eleanor declares:

“Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.” 

Eleanor is just scrambling to keep it together. Today, her son Timby calls from school with yet another stomach ache, she’s afraid she’s offended her poetry mentor with flippant comments, she accidentally/ on purpose stole another mother’s keys, and she’s running late to meet a former hapless employee for lunch only to discover he’s become a huge success. Not to mention, everyone she talks with is asking about her sister, and she insists she doesn’t have one (*no spoilers here). When she drops by her husband’s office, the receptionist says he’s on vacation . . . except Joe isn’t on vacation. So what’s going on? Eleanor is going to blow like a hurricane through this day to right wrongs and discover truths, and you’re her sidekick, riding this mess with her.

One aspect I especially appreciated was her relationship with her husband, Joe. Semple nailed it, in that Joe is the perfect counter-balance to Eleanor’s anxiety. When she’s freaking out, he is the calming influence; when she loses her way, he shows her that it’s okay to feel lost. She analogizes this yin-yang as a “competent traveler” and “helpless traveler.” The difference with Eleanor, however, is that she’s beginning to realize that she’s been the helpless traveler for far too long.

I actually enjoyed the frenetic, quirky, frazzled tale of Eleanor Flood and her constant worry. The only unrelatable part, however, was that Eleanor’s life is full of Rich People Problems. Not many of us can spend our time worrying about if we’re going to make our lunch date at the upscale boutique restaurant on time after dropping off our only child at his private school in our luxury car. But, this story is also deeper than most reviewers give it credit for: there’s sibling jealousy, marital discord, and self-doubt, and all through it is humor, and that makes it all okay.

The story is insightful, comforting, and sometimes over-the-top. I enjoyed it, and the audio narration was delightful. Recommended for anyone who has forgotten Teacher Appreciation Day, or had a falling out with a friend, or who has ever questioned their career choices. In other words, everyone. All of us are part Eleanor.

 

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon and Gunpowder – Eli Brown

I loved this book because it was SO MUCH FUN.

cinandgunCrazy pirate Mad Hannah Mabbott captures and kidnaps chef Owen Wedgwood. “Wedge” is now a prisoner aboard The Flying Rose, and if he wants to remain aboard and not become fish food, he must prepare an exquisite meal for the red-haired pirate captain every Sunday.

The conflicts abound:  Captain Mabbott’s quixotic hunt for her nemesis, The Brass Fox;  Wedge’s panicked scrounging for decent provisions, which imagination leads him to use scraped barnacles, stolen pineapples, and a sourdough starter made from feeble yeast and coconut water; and countless encounters with other pirates where Wedge must dodge cutlasses while trying to keep his pans on the stove. There are escape attempts, underwater excursions, pirate raids, and haute cuisine.

Other swashbucklers aboard include: Mr. Apples, Mabbott’s first mate, a swarthy pirate with a predilection for knitting; twin Chinese bodyguards; and Joshua, a deaf cabin boy who proves to be a competent sous-chef.

What I loved about this book is not only is it adventurous fun, but it has an underlying current of heartbreak:  the mother’s loss of her child, a man overcoming the death of his wife, a boy intent to return home, and the fight for triumph of good over evil. Above all, love trumps greed, and loyalty is more precious than gold.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder appeals to all five senses. Wedge’s cuisine patched together from rancid ingredients and seasoned with spices purloined from bowls of potpourri crushed with a cannon ball are nothing short of genius. The characters are multi-faceted, and no one can be taken at face value. Adventure on the high seas, indeed, replete with danger and a tender love story. What more could a reader ask for?