Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Story of Land and Sea" by Katy Simpson Smith

The Story of Land and Sea Katy Simpson Smith
Published: August 26, 2014
ISBN: 9780062335944
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended for readers who like character-driven historical novels

Set in a small coastal town in North Carolina during the waning years of the American Revolution, this incandescent debut novel follows three generations of family—fathers and daughters, mother and son, master and slave, characters who yearn for redemption amidst a heady brew of war, kidnapping, slavery, and love. 

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.

My Thoughts:
There are books that are suspenseful or romantic or funny....The Story of Land and Sea is beautiful.

I was immediately drawn in by Smith's writing.  Her voice is surprisingly lyrical for a debut author and, if nothing else, I'm glad that this book introduced me to her work.  She was able to vividly recreate the world of late 18th-century North Carolina so well that it made me homesick for the years I spent living in that part of the country.

The characters quickly became dear to my heart.  We have John, the ex-Pirate (yes!) turned soldier, his vivacious wife Helen, his spunky daughter Tab, and his widowed father-in-law, Asa.  Along with this family, we have Moll, the slave given to Helen when they were both children, and her oldest son, Davy.  Each and every character came to life as I read and I fell a bit in love with each and every one of them.

This book is more a study than it is a story.  Smith takes her time to really delve into each and every relationship in this book--and not a single one of them is simple.  However, in exchange, this is not a strongly-plotted novel.  Personally, I'm fine with that--I would choose a character-driven book over a plot-driven book any day of the week.

However, because of that, I feel I can't give this book the 5 stars that it was for me.  I suspect that some readers may be frustrated with the less-developed plot, especially if they are more interested in the story than the characters.  On the other hand, those who put more stock in well developed characters and setting would likely fall in love with this book as I did.

Katy Simpson Smith discusses her novel, The Story of Land and Sea (this video does contain a spoiler).

About the Author:
Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She attended Mount Holyoke College and received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has been working as an Adjunct Professor at Tulane University and is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835. She lives in New Orleans.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to read more? Check out some of the other stops on this blog tour!  (Links go to the blog, not the specific review):
Monday, August 25th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, August 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, August 28th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, August 28th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 2nd: Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, September 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, September 4th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, September 8th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Thursday, September 11th Kritters Ramblings
Friday, September 12th: Consuming Culture
Saturday, September 13th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, September 15th: 5 Minutes for Books
Tuesday, September 16th: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, September 17th: Spiced Latte Reads
Monday, September 22nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Friday, September 26th: Silver’s Reviews

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