Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Marshmallows

"Well, at least they're reading." I find this statement to be incredibly short-sighted. At least they're reading WHAT??!! Pornography? Horror? Graphic diary of a serial killer? Let's apply this statement to eating. Would you let your child live off of marshmallows? Sure, the occasional marshmallow isn't going to do any harm, but what if that was all he or she ate? There are many marshmallow books on the market, and more are published every day.

Marshmallow books are frequently, but not always, poorly written. They have weak plots, and even weaker protagonists. The main message of a marshmallow book is usually so diluted, water looks thicker. A typical marshmallow theme is "being nice," "having fun," or "finding romance." Adult marshmallow books are easy to identify. They are sold in the grocery store, and often have air-brushed babes and oily chested hunks on the cover. Another type has the author's name in two inch high foil letters. Marshmallow books are not restricted by genre. Romance, mystery, western, and fantasy all have their marshmallows. I have even read Catholic marshmallows. Many times, marshmallow books are New York Times bestsellers.

When I read a book for review, first, I look for anything that might be objectionable or confusing for children. Then, I try to evaluate the merit of the book, whether or not is the worth the reader's investment. Reading a book requires an investment of time. Even if you never spend a dime on books, you are using hours of your lifespan when you read. Hopefully, this is time well spent in learning, or at the very least, in being entertained by something witty. Marshmallow books aim for entertainment of the lowest forms. Marshmallows can be addicting. I went through a big marshmallow phase in my teen years. It lasted for a month of poolside reading before I realized that every book in this particular series followed the exact same plot lines.

I was recently asked to review the Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott, and I realized that my review of content (acceptable) is not adequate. These books are cheap imitations of the much better Magic Treehouse series, by Mary Pope Osbourne.

How many marshmallows is too many? That's for parents to decide.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Lightning Thief

Greek mythology comes alive in the 21st century, when 12 year old, Perseus (Percy) Jackson discovers that he is half human, half god. Too make matters worse, there is a big, bad world of scary monsters that seek his destruction. This novel unites epic adventure with classical ancient history as Percy finds out why history is relevant to our age.

With ADHD and dyslexia, Percy's special needs and behavior issues have gotten him kicked out of one learning institution after another. After his expulsion from his most recent boarding school, Percy looks forward to summer with his loving mother. Percy and his mother take a trip to Montauk Beach, and end up in a battle with a Minotaur, running for their lives to the only safe haven for demi-gods or heroes, Camp Half Blood. Percy makes it to camp, where he learns about Olympus (still exists), the gods (still fighting), and the rest of this crazy immortal family that is his.

Eventually, Percy is given a quest, a prophecy, a sword, and the opportunity to save western civilization from complete annihilation. He is allowed two companions on his quest, Annabeth, daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Grover, a satyr, half boy-half goat. The trio have fabulous adventures along the way including an encounter with Charon on the observation deck of the St. Louis Arch, and an extended stay at the Lotus Casino in Las Vegas.

The author, Rick Riordan, deftly acknowledges a difference between "God" and "god" early in the book. He writes, "God--capital G, God. That's a different matter all together. We shan't deal with the metaphysical...Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter." For example, Hermes controls the winds, Poseidon, the sea, Zeus, the sky, etc. The behavior of the Olympian gods has not changed since Homer's times, and if your child is too young for those adventures, then he or she is probably not ready for these. Riordan handles the issue of illegitimacy well, by not dealing with the physical implications of gods mating with mortals. But the ideas of fathering (or mothering) multiple children, by multiple mortals, with no concept of loving marriage are present. Percy's mom is trapped in a loveless and implied violent marriage to a total slob. We find out that she has done this to protect Percy. She married the stinking (literally) jerk to hide Percy's scent from the monsters. The other children at Camp Half Blood are all in similar situations, some having parents who married mortals, suffer subsequent rejection from their step-parents. These issues are of concern, especially when traditional marriage and family life is under attack in our culture. Notably though, these behaviors are not glorified in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as well as the sequel, The Sea of Monsters, but I have some reservations recommending it for everyone. I think that Riordan has done something wonderful by reinventing ancient myths for today's youth. The issues of marriage and parentage are present, but not the focal point of the story. These stories are about what it means to be a hero, to be brave, to be a friend, and why history is important to us all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp

A shy, overweight 16 year old boy becomes involved in a quest to retrieve King Arthur's sword from evildoers in the 21st century. Alfred is the perfect teenage underdog. Orphaned after 15 years with his mother, he is taken in by his security guard uncle Farrell (think Barney Fife in a trailer), who is offered one million dollars to steal a sword from the building where he works, Samson Towers. The mysterious Mr. Myers, of the million dollars, claims that the sword is his and was stolen from him. Farrell can't do this alone, so he blackmails Alfred into helping him with the threat of foster care. Alfred has bad feelings about this all along, but figures that Uncle Farrell is all the family he has left, so he goes along with him.

The story develops quickly, layer after mysterious layer. There is an order of brown-robed knights sworn to protect the sword, who show up as soon as Alfred lays his hands on it. But amazingly, Alfred succeeds and Mr. Myers comes to collect. Of course, it's too good to be true. Mr. Myers kills Uncle Farrell and takes the sword. Alfred ends up in foster care anyway, after a visit from Mr. Samson, who reveals that the sword is Excalibur. Not only that, but Mr. Samson and the knights are descended from the Knights of the Round Table, sworn to keep Excalibur from the hands of evil men. Now that they have failed, Mr. Myers will try to sell the sword to the highest bidder because, "an army with the Sword at its head would be invincible."

Increasingly disturbed, Alfred begins to research the origins of the sword, and starts skipping school. He discovers he is being followed, and contacts his tail, one of the knights named, Bennacio. Bennacio tells him that Mr. Samson was killed trying to recapture the sword, and Alfred begins to realize the monumental events he put into motion. He and Bennacio continue the quest together, saving each other's lives, and taking the lives of others. The story becomes quite violent, in Alfred's words, "There had been more blood flying around than in a horror movie." Bennacio, filled with fury from Mr. Samson's death, wreaks some vengeance on the AODs, agents of darkness, who are chasing them. Interestingly, Alfred is disturbed by needless violence. Later in the novel, when offered the chance, Alfred refuses violence unless his life or another's is at stake.

Wonderful Christian imagery and ideas are laced throughout the story. The sword is purported to have been the sword of St. Michael. When outnumbered by AODs or "thralls of the dragon," Bennacio begins praying the Hail Mary in Latin aloud. Alfred asks what to do at another point, and Bennacio says, "Pray!" The most important thing in Bennacio's life is the sacred vow he took to protect the sword, even if he must die to do so. Bennacio asks Alfred to take the same vow, but Alfred thinks he is unworthy, saying, "I'm just...average...The idea of me taking up your sword and being some kind of hero--well, that's kind of ridiculous." Bennacio responds, "But we fall only that we might rise, Alfred. All of us fall; all of us, as you say, screw up. Falling is not important. It is how we get up after the fall that's important...And as for being a hero--who can say what valor dwells in every heart, Alfred, waiting for the dragon to come out."

Unfortunately, there isn't more I can say without giving away the ending. The ending is better than you'd ever expect, coming full circle. I loved reading this book, and there were only a few things that made it less than perfect. One is the single instance of Uncle Farrell threatening to put Alfred "on so much antidepressant dope, I wouldn't remember to sit when I crapped. Uncle Farrell could be gross like that." And the other is some rather gruesome depictions of violence and killings. Overall, this book has a great background in mythology, a captivating plot, and a true hero, not the "superhero" type, but one who makes the right choices.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Eragon and Eldest

Fantasy is on the rise with Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Harry Potter as the front runners, but more recently, Eragon made it's screen debut. Now I didn't see the movie, because I have to read the book first. Eragon is a New York Times bestseller written by a 15 year old homeschooled kid from Montana, Chris Paolini. Given the author's age, I think it is a remarkable novel.

Paolini creates a new world, with many familiar themes from Middle Earth, dwarves, elves, dragons, but with several fresh ideas as well. He even manufactures languages for his mythic peoples to speak and an "Ancient Language" which all beings once knew and lost, but some still speak it. The Ancient Language is Paolini's language for magic and truth. For one cannot lie while speaking in the Ancient Language, and all promises must be fulfilled.

Eragon is an adventure tale, with battles, swordplay, world powers clashing, and spell-casting. The hero is a sixteen year old boy who finds a dragon egg in the forest. When the egg hatches for him, he and his dragon, Saphira, are bound together as dragon and rider, sharing thoughts and physical feelings. Dragons are supposedly extinct though, except for the one that belongs to the evil emperor, Galbatorix, who upon discovering the existence of another rider, sends his minions to hunt down Eragon and Saphira. In this manner, Eragon's foster father, Garrow is killed and the farm where he and his cousin, Roran, grew up is razed. Revenge for Garrow's death becomes the driving force of the plot.

I found this novel, Eragon, to be acceptable for middle school readers, though I was annoyed with the vengeance theme.

In 2005, Paolini published the second book of the Inheritance trilogy, Eldest. The author is nineteen, and he begins to question all religion and the idea of worship constantly throughout the book. Like Luke, in the Empire Strikes Back, Eragon trains to be a dragon rider under the tutelage of Oromis, a former Rider of elven lineage. Much of his training involves introspection, seeking the answers to questions within himself, especially questions of right and wrong. There is no one Truth. Truth/Goodness/Right depends on the circumstances, cultures, and the points of view of the concerned parties.
Paolini makes it quite clear that he is skeptical of all religion. During Eragon's training, he asks Oromis, "But who, or what do you worship?"
Oromis: "Nothing."
Eragon: "You worship the concept of nothing?"
Oromis: "No, Eragon. We do not worship at all."
Their conversation continues with all of the classic arguments against God's existence. Oromis has never witnessed a miracle. He believes the world and all it's phenomena are the workings of nature. Oromis dismisses the concept of God because, " Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny, and countless other miseries stalk the land. If this is the handiwork of divine beings , then they are to be rebelled against and overthrown, not given obeisance, obedience, and reverence." Eragon brings up the dwarves and their polytheistic belief system. Oromis ridicules the dwarves reliance on faith over reason. When Eragon discovers that Oromis believes that the soul dies with the body, Oromis responds, "...it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment." To his credit, Eragon remains skeptical, but indecisive through the end of the novel.

A decent adventure story has become infected with mainstream subjective morality, oh, and there is some implied fornication too. I do not recommend Eldest.

It will be interesting to see where Paolini's and Eragon's faith journeys go. The third book of the trilogy is in the works now. I am praying for this young author. He shows promise as a fantasy author, not as a philosophical one.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

First Post

This is not how I imagined my first post, but something needed to go on the board, so I've cut and pasted from an email to a relative.

I'm focusing on secular fiction, but reviewing through a Catholic lens. Anyway, the impetus behind this is Chris Paolini's Eldest. His first book, Eragon, was ok, not great literature, but ok adventure reading, but his second book, Eldest is filled with anti-religion, subjective morality propaganda, and a little smut thrown in too. My 10 year old son wanted to read it, but I threw it away. Now, I have checked it out of the library to finish the last few chapters myself, just to make certain that our "hero" doesn't redeem himself in the end. Though in my opinion, this action would not redeem the book.

For, 10 year old girls, I'd recommend Gail Carson Levine, she wrote Ella Enchanted and a lot more similar themed books, and of course all the classics, Betsy and Tacy, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, etc. My daughter is nine, and she has been reading all of these, along with the Shiloh books, by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds. Shiloh books are about a boy, but both my kids like them. I also recommend Richard Peck's books, A Year Down Yonder, and A Long Way from Chicago. We listen to these on tape, and they are hilarious.

I've been reading a lot of Ellis Peters mysteries (I prefer the ones with Det. Felse and his son, Dominic), and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), and I just finished Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander. It was all right, definitely for mature readers, not sure if I'm going to read the next dozen or so.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Marshmallows

"Well, at least they're reading." I find this statement to be incredibly short-sighted. At least they're reading WHAT??!! Pornography? Horror? Graphic diary of a serial killer? Let's apply this statement to eating. Would you let your child live off of marshmallows? Sure, the occasional marshmallow isn't going to do any harm, but what if that was all he or she ate? There are many marshmallow books on the market, and more are published every day.

Marshmallow books are frequently, but not always, poorly written. They have weak plots, and even weaker protagonists. The main message of a marshmallow book is usually so diluted, water looks thicker. A typical marshmallow theme is "being nice," "having fun," or "finding romance." Adult marshmallow books are easy to identify. They are sold in the grocery store, and often have air-brushed babes and oily chested hunks on the cover. Another type has the author's name in two inch high foil letters. Marshmallow books are not restricted by genre. Romance, mystery, western, and fantasy all have their marshmallows. I have even read Catholic marshmallows. Many times, marshmallow books are New York Times bestsellers.

When I read a book for review, first, I look for anything that might be objectionable or confusing for children. Then, I try to evaluate the merit of the book, whether or not is the worth the reader's investment. Reading a book requires an investment of time. Even if you never spend a dime on books, you are using hours of your lifespan when you read. Hopefully, this is time well spent in learning, or at the very least, in being entertained by something witty. Marshmallow books aim for entertainment of the lowest forms. Marshmallows can be addicting. I went through a big marshmallow phase in my teen years. It lasted for a month of poolside reading before I realized that every book in this particular series followed the exact same plot lines.

I was recently asked to review the Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott, and I realized that my review of content (acceptable) is not adequate. These books are cheap imitations of the much better Magic Treehouse series, by Mary Pope Osbourne.

How many marshmallows is too many? That's for parents to decide.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Lightning Thief

Greek mythology comes alive in the 21st century, when 12 year old, Perseus (Percy) Jackson discovers that he is half human, half god. Too make matters worse, there is a big, bad world of scary monsters that seek his destruction. This novel unites epic adventure with classical ancient history as Percy finds out why history is relevant to our age.

With ADHD and dyslexia, Percy's special needs and behavior issues have gotten him kicked out of one learning institution after another. After his expulsion from his most recent boarding school, Percy looks forward to summer with his loving mother. Percy and his mother take a trip to Montauk Beach, and end up in a battle with a Minotaur, running for their lives to the only safe haven for demi-gods or heroes, Camp Half Blood. Percy makes it to camp, where he learns about Olympus (still exists), the gods (still fighting), and the rest of this crazy immortal family that is his.

Eventually, Percy is given a quest, a prophecy, a sword, and the opportunity to save western civilization from complete annihilation. He is allowed two companions on his quest, Annabeth, daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Grover, a satyr, half boy-half goat. The trio have fabulous adventures along the way including an encounter with Charon on the observation deck of the St. Louis Arch, and an extended stay at the Lotus Casino in Las Vegas.

The author, Rick Riordan, deftly acknowledges a difference between "God" and "god" early in the book. He writes, "God--capital G, God. That's a different matter all together. We shan't deal with the metaphysical...Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter." For example, Hermes controls the winds, Poseidon, the sea, Zeus, the sky, etc. The behavior of the Olympian gods has not changed since Homer's times, and if your child is too young for those adventures, then he or she is probably not ready for these. Riordan handles the issue of illegitimacy well, by not dealing with the physical implications of gods mating with mortals. But the ideas of fathering (or mothering) multiple children, by multiple mortals, with no concept of loving marriage are present. Percy's mom is trapped in a loveless and implied violent marriage to a total slob. We find out that she has done this to protect Percy. She married the stinking (literally) jerk to hide Percy's scent from the monsters. The other children at Camp Half Blood are all in similar situations, some having parents who married mortals, suffer subsequent rejection from their step-parents. These issues are of concern, especially when traditional marriage and family life is under attack in our culture. Notably though, these behaviors are not glorified in the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as well as the sequel, The Sea of Monsters, but I have some reservations recommending it for everyone. I think that Riordan has done something wonderful by reinventing ancient myths for today's youth. The issues of marriage and parentage are present, but not the focal point of the story. These stories are about what it means to be a hero, to be brave, to be a friend, and why history is important to us all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp

A shy, overweight 16 year old boy becomes involved in a quest to retrieve King Arthur's sword from evildoers in the 21st century. Alfred is the perfect teenage underdog. Orphaned after 15 years with his mother, he is taken in by his security guard uncle Farrell (think Barney Fife in a trailer), who is offered one million dollars to steal a sword from the building where he works, Samson Towers. The mysterious Mr. Myers, of the million dollars, claims that the sword is his and was stolen from him. Farrell can't do this alone, so he blackmails Alfred into helping him with the threat of foster care. Alfred has bad feelings about this all along, but figures that Uncle Farrell is all the family he has left, so he goes along with him.

The story develops quickly, layer after mysterious layer. There is an order of brown-robed knights sworn to protect the sword, who show up as soon as Alfred lays his hands on it. But amazingly, Alfred succeeds and Mr. Myers comes to collect. Of course, it's too good to be true. Mr. Myers kills Uncle Farrell and takes the sword. Alfred ends up in foster care anyway, after a visit from Mr. Samson, who reveals that the sword is Excalibur. Not only that, but Mr. Samson and the knights are descended from the Knights of the Round Table, sworn to keep Excalibur from the hands of evil men. Now that they have failed, Mr. Myers will try to sell the sword to the highest bidder because, "an army with the Sword at its head would be invincible."

Increasingly disturbed, Alfred begins to research the origins of the sword, and starts skipping school. He discovers he is being followed, and contacts his tail, one of the knights named, Bennacio. Bennacio tells him that Mr. Samson was killed trying to recapture the sword, and Alfred begins to realize the monumental events he put into motion. He and Bennacio continue the quest together, saving each other's lives, and taking the lives of others. The story becomes quite violent, in Alfred's words, "There had been more blood flying around than in a horror movie." Bennacio, filled with fury from Mr. Samson's death, wreaks some vengeance on the AODs, agents of darkness, who are chasing them. Interestingly, Alfred is disturbed by needless violence. Later in the novel, when offered the chance, Alfred refuses violence unless his life or another's is at stake.

Wonderful Christian imagery and ideas are laced throughout the story. The sword is purported to have been the sword of St. Michael. When outnumbered by AODs or "thralls of the dragon," Bennacio begins praying the Hail Mary in Latin aloud. Alfred asks what to do at another point, and Bennacio says, "Pray!" The most important thing in Bennacio's life is the sacred vow he took to protect the sword, even if he must die to do so. Bennacio asks Alfred to take the same vow, but Alfred thinks he is unworthy, saying, "I'm just...average...The idea of me taking up your sword and being some kind of hero--well, that's kind of ridiculous." Bennacio responds, "But we fall only that we might rise, Alfred. All of us fall; all of us, as you say, screw up. Falling is not important. It is how we get up after the fall that's important...And as for being a hero--who can say what valor dwells in every heart, Alfred, waiting for the dragon to come out."

Unfortunately, there isn't more I can say without giving away the ending. The ending is better than you'd ever expect, coming full circle. I loved reading this book, and there were only a few things that made it less than perfect. One is the single instance of Uncle Farrell threatening to put Alfred "on so much antidepressant dope, I wouldn't remember to sit when I crapped. Uncle Farrell could be gross like that." And the other is some rather gruesome depictions of violence and killings. Overall, this book has a great background in mythology, a captivating plot, and a true hero, not the "superhero" type, but one who makes the right choices.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Eragon and Eldest

Fantasy is on the rise with Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Harry Potter as the front runners, but more recently, Eragon made it's screen debut. Now I didn't see the movie, because I have to read the book first. Eragon is a New York Times bestseller written by a 15 year old homeschooled kid from Montana, Chris Paolini. Given the author's age, I think it is a remarkable novel.

Paolini creates a new world, with many familiar themes from Middle Earth, dwarves, elves, dragons, but with several fresh ideas as well. He even manufactures languages for his mythic peoples to speak and an "Ancient Language" which all beings once knew and lost, but some still speak it. The Ancient Language is Paolini's language for magic and truth. For one cannot lie while speaking in the Ancient Language, and all promises must be fulfilled.

Eragon is an adventure tale, with battles, swordplay, world powers clashing, and spell-casting. The hero is a sixteen year old boy who finds a dragon egg in the forest. When the egg hatches for him, he and his dragon, Saphira, are bound together as dragon and rider, sharing thoughts and physical feelings. Dragons are supposedly extinct though, except for the one that belongs to the evil emperor, Galbatorix, who upon discovering the existence of another rider, sends his minions to hunt down Eragon and Saphira. In this manner, Eragon's foster father, Garrow is killed and the farm where he and his cousin, Roran, grew up is razed. Revenge for Garrow's death becomes the driving force of the plot.

I found this novel, Eragon, to be acceptable for middle school readers, though I was annoyed with the vengeance theme.

In 2005, Paolini published the second book of the Inheritance trilogy, Eldest. The author is nineteen, and he begins to question all religion and the idea of worship constantly throughout the book. Like Luke, in the Empire Strikes Back, Eragon trains to be a dragon rider under the tutelage of Oromis, a former Rider of elven lineage. Much of his training involves introspection, seeking the answers to questions within himself, especially questions of right and wrong. There is no one Truth. Truth/Goodness/Right depends on the circumstances, cultures, and the points of view of the concerned parties.
Paolini makes it quite clear that he is skeptical of all religion. During Eragon's training, he asks Oromis, "But who, or what do you worship?"
Oromis: "Nothing."
Eragon: "You worship the concept of nothing?"
Oromis: "No, Eragon. We do not worship at all."
Their conversation continues with all of the classic arguments against God's existence. Oromis has never witnessed a miracle. He believes the world and all it's phenomena are the workings of nature. Oromis dismisses the concept of God because, " Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny, and countless other miseries stalk the land. If this is the handiwork of divine beings , then they are to be rebelled against and overthrown, not given obeisance, obedience, and reverence." Eragon brings up the dwarves and their polytheistic belief system. Oromis ridicules the dwarves reliance on faith over reason. When Eragon discovers that Oromis believes that the soul dies with the body, Oromis responds, "...it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment." To his credit, Eragon remains skeptical, but indecisive through the end of the novel.

A decent adventure story has become infected with mainstream subjective morality, oh, and there is some implied fornication too. I do not recommend Eldest.

It will be interesting to see where Paolini's and Eragon's faith journeys go. The third book of the trilogy is in the works now. I am praying for this young author. He shows promise as a fantasy author, not as a philosophical one.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

First Post

This is not how I imagined my first post, but something needed to go on the board, so I've cut and pasted from an email to a relative.

I'm focusing on secular fiction, but reviewing through a Catholic lens. Anyway, the impetus behind this is Chris Paolini's Eldest. His first book, Eragon, was ok, not great literature, but ok adventure reading, but his second book, Eldest is filled with anti-religion, subjective morality propaganda, and a little smut thrown in too. My 10 year old son wanted to read it, but I threw it away. Now, I have checked it out of the library to finish the last few chapters myself, just to make certain that our "hero" doesn't redeem himself in the end. Though in my opinion, this action would not redeem the book.

For, 10 year old girls, I'd recommend Gail Carson Levine, she wrote Ella Enchanted and a lot more similar themed books, and of course all the classics, Betsy and Tacy, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, etc. My daughter is nine, and she has been reading all of these, along with the Shiloh books, by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds. Shiloh books are about a boy, but both my kids like them. I also recommend Richard Peck's books, A Year Down Yonder, and A Long Way from Chicago. We listen to these on tape, and they are hilarious.

I've been reading a lot of Ellis Peters mysteries (I prefer the ones with Det. Felse and his son, Dominic), and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), and I just finished Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander. It was all right, definitely for mature readers, not sure if I'm going to read the next dozen or so.