The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

The Story of Land and Sea

The Story of Land and Sea  

Katy Simpson Smith (Adult Fiction)

Tabitha’s grandmother died in childbirth as did her own mother.  “Death only comes to mothers,” she thinks and a mother she’ll never be.  But when young Tabitha is suddenly struck with yellow fever, her now land-bound father, John, returns to the sea with Tab in an effort to save her life.  After all, it was the sea that once gave life to her mother, Helen, and John is convinced that the sea can cure Tab as well.  Land, he knows, only brings about death.

Smith breaks her story into three parts: the first part (set in 1793) introduces us to John and his daughter Tab and their life in Beaufort; the second part (1771-1782) gives us a young Helen and her servant Moll and shows us how Helen and John meet; and the final part (1793-1794) concentrates on Helen’s father, Asa, as well as an adult Moll and her son, Davy.  The story spans three generations and deals with issues of loss, loneliness, and grief.

This is probably, by far, one of the bleakest books I have ever read.  Although this book is beautifully written, it gives away the fates of several main characters much too early in the story, leaving readers with a lot of backstory and very little else to look forward to.  Smith also deals heavily in religion and so we expect some semblance of redemption or spiritual revelation.  Again, the reader is left empty-handed.  But what might be the most incomprehensible decision Smith makes is choosing to devote the last third of her novel to perhaps the most uninteresting and uninspiring character in the entire book.  I wish this book had finished as strongly as it started, but unfortunately The Story of Land and Sea is really just a story without point or purpose.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to


Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)

Fever 1793

Fever 1793

Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult Fiction)

It started with the sudden death of a young and healthy girl.  Within a week, 64 more would die from yellow fever and the capital city of Philadelphia would be filled with the endless ringing of bells—one toll for every year the victim had lived.

In the summer of 1793, 14-year old Matilda Cook helps run her family’s coffeehouse, where folks idly gossip or talk politics.  Lately, the conversations have turned to the fever:  Is it a sign from God?  A punishment for sinners?  Did the refugees bring it with them?  As death draws closer, she and her grandfather are forced to flee the city for the safety of the country.  But Matlida soon discovers that death is not easily escaped.

Anderson gives us a compelling, gripping, and suspenseful account of one of the worst epidemics in the history of the United States.  Wiping out 10% of Philadelphia’s population in under three months, the effects of the fever were devastating.  Many fled the city to escape the carnage, but it was those who stayed and tended to the sick, as well as the dead, that were the true heroes.

You don’t have to be a fan of history to thoroughly enjoy this book.  From the first page, the plot never slows and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It reminds us how even the direst of circumstances can often bring out the best in people and that both disease and heroism are not bound by either social status or race.

Rating: 5/5