Friday, April 10, 2009

Escapes to the Sea

This week, I read two ARCs I picked up at ALA mid-winter: Escape by Sea, by L.S. Lawrence and Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic, by Suzanne Weyn.

Escape by Sea tells the story of Sara, her father, and the crew of his ship as they must escape the Roman invasion of Carthage. With a ship full of goods, the group makes their way around the Mediterranean trading, battling pirates, and avoiding danger at all sides. An important Roman soldier they take hostage makes their situation even more precarious.

Sara is in her teens and chafes against the rules and expectations for women. The Sara in her head has all kinds of opinions and comebacks she wishes she could share, but good Sara knows to keep her mouth shut. As calamity after calamity befalls the group, Sara becomes more powerful and is able to express herself and be heard.

The novel ends with a perfect resolution, though readers looking for a romantic conclusion will be disappointed. This is a great historical novel of Roman times and lays out the way the different people groups around the Mediterranean felt about each other and their powerful neighbor. Escape by Sea was published last year in Australia and is due out from Holiday House later this month in the U.S.

Distant Waves is a well-paced but ultimately silly historical novel set mainly in the Victorian spiritualist colony of Spirit Vale, New York. Jane and her four sisters have been raised by their single mother who is a medium. Jane is interested in science and becoming a journalist and is skeptical about her mother's communication with the other side, but when her younger sisters seem to have a genuine gift as psychics, Jane is torn about her feelings.

Regardless of her own feelings, spiritualism is very popular and soon Jane's whole family is invited to attend a spiritualism conference in London. Jane meets many famous people there, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini. Jane's mother befriends a couple of men who have premonitions about the fate of a luxury ship, Titanic, that is making its debut voyage. When it is discovered that two of Jane's sisters are sailing aboard the Titanic, Jane's mother sends her to persuade them off the ship. Soon, Jane is trapped aboard with all of her sisters, two of whom know that their lives are doomed. The events that follow on the ship, to the conclusion of the novel, are ludicrous but entertaining.
If the reader takes Distant Waves as a historical fantasy, then it's a pretty enjoyable novel. The author has written thorough notes about the real people and events that are portrayed in the story, which is good for giving an idea about how people viewed spiritualism during the early 1900's. All in all, though, it's way too far fetched for me, but I'll give it a thumbs-up for the cool cover art. This novel is available now.