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Sunday, September 20, 2015

300th review of ISLAND OF THE LOST

Well, Island of the Lost has received its three-hundredth review on Amazon ... and a five-star one, too.

Many thanks to all of those who take the time to review my books online.  It's more intimate than a professional newspaper review, somehow, and because of that can be heart-warming -- or heart-breaking!  But this is one of the former.

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books that I have read, September 16, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World (Kindle Edition)
Fascinating! Demonstrates how character, ingenuity and leadership affect survival. One of the best books that I have read

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Latest Quarterdeck magazine

Historical Fiction | Healthy Living | NY State | Sports

Highlights from the September/October 2015 issue of Quarterdeck--

A review of Julian Stockwin's new Kydd Sea Adventure: Tyger. Also an essay from Julian and and interview with him about his favorite books.

George remembers maritime artist Tom Freeman.

An essay by Alexander Kent.

New and notable naval and historical fiction and nonfiction and-surprisingly-even a couple of books on nautical style!

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Our Catalog--
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Pasha, Book 15 of the Kydd Sea Adventures is now available as a trade paperback! 

Will Kydd be forced to lay siege to the great city of Constantinople? 

Thomas Kydd and the crew of L'Aurore bid farewell to the balmy waters of the Caribbean. Once home, Kydd finds his exploits are the talk of London and he and his best friend and confidential secretary, Nicholas Renzi, must part ways for good. 

When British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Charles Arbuthnot, reports that the French (in an attempt to secure a vital passage to India) have been whipping up anti-English sentiment and actively wooing the Turks; Kydd is sent to the Dardanelles. 

Braving treacherous currents, unreliable winds, and giant bombards, Kydd rescues the ambassador. But as the fleet waits for a response to their ultimatum, the French help strengthen Turkish defenses and an attempted coup lands Renzi in prison!

Book 15--The Kydd Sea Adventures

Tyger, Book 16 of the Kydd Sea Adventures is coming soon!

Available on, or before, October 1st as an ebook and in hardcover by November 1st-- 

The court martial of Sir Home Popham is underway at Portsmouth. When Captain Sir Thomas Kydd's sympathy for his former commanding officer's unauthorized actions in the doomed occupation of Buenos Aires becomes known, Kydd finds himself athwart some very powerful people.

At odds with the Admiralty-and with his frigate L'Aurore unfit for sea--Kydd is given a new commission that many hope will destroy his career. Tyger has recently mutinied and instead of dispersing her crew the ship is immediately pressed into service in the North Sea. 

With an untested and untrustworthy crew Kydd becomes entangled in Napoleon's invasion of Prussia and the only way for him to avoid disgrace is to gamble on a crazy mission to snatch a Prussian division out of the jaws of Napoleon's advancing army. 

Will Kydd return home once more a hero, or will he face his own court martial?

link to McBooks Press website

Monday, September 7, 2015

Great review of A Watery Grave

A WATERY GRAVE by Joan Druett (Minotaur, 2004)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Maritime expert Joan Druett provides readers with an engaging mix of classic mystery and colourful seafaring adventure in a unique mystery to launch her popular Wiki Coffin series.

In the ocean of mystery fiction, it can be hard for an author, no matter how talented, to stand out. Druett manages to create something enjoyably unique in A WATERY GRAVE, both in her evocation of the nineteenth century maritime setting, and her creation of a fabulous protagonist, Wiki Coffin.

It is 1838, and part-New Zealand Maori, part-American Wiki Coffin is scheduled to embark with the US Exploring Expedition from Virginia when he finds a woman's body in a boat and is mistakenly arrested for murder. The Expedition is a big deal - seven ships packed with astronomers, map-makers, naturalists, and sailors, all tasked with charting the uncharted waters (and lands) of the South Seas - but has been much delayed by politics. Wiki is on board as a translator, but his skin colour sees him blamed for the killing, so the ships sail without him.

When Wiki is exonerated and freed, the local sheriff in Virginia sends him to catch up to the Expedition, having been deputised to find the real killer on board one of the seven ships.

Druett, an experienced non-fiction maritime writer, marvellously combines mystery and history in a unique crime novel setting. She vividly evokes nineteenth-century seafaring life as Wiki goes about observing and investigating his fellow expedition-ers - finding a good balance between weaving in interesting details that provide colour and texture, and not going information-overboard to such an extent it drowns the story.

Overall, I felt I was learning plenty about the setting (time and place) along the way, but in a fun and organic way; Druett creates a great atmosphere for her mystery. After rejoining the expedition, Wiki is confronted by an apparent suicide, then a deadly accident, in addition to the original murder. Compared to some other crime writers, the mystery plot in A WATERY GRAVE isn't as complex, puzzling, or fast-paced, but I still enjoyed how it unfolded, with plenty of suspects, clues, and red herrings on the way to a satisfying conclusion.

Along with her superb touch for setting, Druett has a knack for crafting intriguing characters, from our hero Wiki to many others on board. Based on the real-life expedition, with a fictional ship added, Druett mixes historical and fictional figures throughout her tale. There's a beguiling mix of personalities, motivations, and perspectives amongst the Expedition's officers, scientists, and sailors, and I particularly enjoyed how we not only get to know Wiki a little more as the story progresses, but that our perception of various characters changes subtly as Wiki learns more. No cardboard cut-outs or movable pieces here.

Overall, Druett has created an intriguing and entertaining mystery, drenched in maritime colour, with a terrific and engaging lead who I will have no hesitation in following throughout more adventures.


I originally read this book and wrote a short review for the Herald on Sunday newspaper back in 2010/2011. This review is a more in-depth look at my thoughts on what is a very enjoyable read, less constrained by print word counts.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Brilliant comment on NZ flag proposals

The massed yawn continues.  Our millionaire ex-futures trader prime minister is determined to go out with (a) a knighthood, and (b) the massed approval of his business roundtable mates and (c) the reputation of the bloke who changed the New Zealand flag.

First he budgeted $26 million to the project. Then was appointed a committee to have a look at lots of designs.  Please note this committee does not have a single vexillologist.  Lovely word.  It means an expert in flags and their designs.  Which the committee thinks it can do without.  It makes you think of the old saying that a camel was a beast designed by a committee.

And now they have come down to the shortlist of four.  Pictured above.  Please note that it is really a shortlist of two -- the fern vs the koru, the last of which is going to look really strange when frayed.  As flags do.  Our PM, described above, wants the fern, so he has been given a choice of three.  Is this democracy?

Opinions, all negative, abound, but Dominion Post columnist Rosemary McLeod published a particularly brilliant commentary today.

"OPINION: They are not alone. I, too, could have had truly lousy ideas for a flag," she begins.

"I could have doodled kowhai blossom in a blue sky, a lactating cow peeing into a murky river, or that wretched buzzy bee we trot out as a Kiwi invention."

So what does she think of the Final Four?

"The designs aren't even amusing; $26 million wasted is not a parlour game. They demonstrate exactly why we've never done a new flag since adopting the current one in 1902, and shouldn't do it now. And think of what $26 million could have done for kids in need."

And now for the nitty-gritty.

"I assume this elaborate prank was the brainwave of rich businessmen, among whom the prime minister moves, whom he thinks are in touch with the mysterious thing called real people, and who are enchanted with branding.

"Branding used to apply to businesses and products, but now applies to human beings, like the All Blacks, who have become not sportsmen so much as marketing tools in underpants. We are sold market forces, and their friend branding, as rational things and therefore good. And with them comes that awesome thing, the printed business mission statement. You see it everywhere, stuck to the office wall while staff beneath it yawn and pick their noses.

"Well, market forces made little kids chimney sweeps in the 19th century, because they'd work 15-hour days for next to nothing, and if they dropped dead it didn't matter. Market forces had women crawling through mines half-naked to drag out the coal, and yet more tots employed to open and shut trap doors for the loaded coal carts.

"Women were cheap labour. Even hookers earned peanuts, because there were so many desperate competitors. Starvation is a great motivator, as well as a great market force I dare say."

Brilliant.  Read it all

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Arthur Chidley, maritime illustrator

A friend showed me this picture of an artwork, being curious to know some thing about (a) the ship and (b) the artist.  A google hunt revealed that the ship is the Aristides, and that the artist was Arthur Chidley.  And, that another copy, apparently black and white, is held in a museum in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The tiny silhouette on the horizon balances the weight of the subject, making it a satisfying study. Very nice indeed.

But who was the artist?   He seems to belong to the first couple of decades of the twentieth century.  Quite a large number of his works have been up for sale in a number of galleries, and can be printed off on demand.  Chidley illustrated a couple of books, and contributed to a set of military cards that were produced soon after the First World War.  It seems that he illustrated calendars, too.  But there the information stops. 

The ship itself is much easier.  Lars Bruzelius, on his invaluable site, provides the bones of her history.

An iron full-rigged ship built in 1876 by Walter Hood & Co., Aberdeen. Dimensions 260'0"×39'5"×34'5" and 1721 GRT, 1661 NRT and 1498 tons under deck.
1876 March
Launched at the shipyard of Walter Hood & Co., Aberdeen, for Aberdeen White Star Line (G. Thompson & Co.), Aberdeen. Assigned the official British Reg. No. 70454 and signal PVQC. Captain R. Kemball late of the Thermopylae (1868) was given command of the new ship.
1876 July 6 - September 18
Sailed from London to Port Phillip in 74 days,
1876 November 28 - February 17
Sailed from Melbourne to London in 81 days.
Sailed from London to Sydney in 85 days.
Captain Spalding replaced Capt. Kemball.
1903 May 28
Sailed from Caleta Buena with a cargo of nitrate for San Francisco and disappeared on route.
So she was fast, and she was comfortable.  And she carried hundreds of passengers to a new life in the "lucky country."