Thursday, February 2, 2012

February Book Pick -- Secrets at Sea, by Richard Peck

Richard Peck is one of my favorite authors, and animal fantasy perhaps my favorite kind of fantasy. So I was eager to pick up Peck's newest MG novel, Secrets at Sea, and I was not disappointed. It's been remarked that some readers might have been looking for more of a Pirates of the Caribbean experience than a Jane Austen experience, but I thoroughly enjoyed both the Victorian setting and husband-hunting plot.  

Secrets at Sea tells the story of the Upstairs Cranstons -- the parents, their awkward older daughter, and their pretty younger daughter -- and their counterparts belowstairs, the Mouse Cranstons, whom, the narrator Helena will remind you, are the older family by generations. The mouse story centers on three sisters: Helena, the oldest who must hold things together;  Louise, the nosey one who gathers all the Upstairs Cranston gossip; and Beatrice, the boy-crazy night-wanderer. They also have a ne'er-do-well brother named Lamont, who loses his tail and must have it sewn back on by Helena, and gets into far too many scrapes involving not only cats, but copperheads. One evening Louise races back to the mouse abode inside the walls with a fantastic tale: The Cranstons are going to sail for England to, as they say, give Olive Her Chance. Meaning they have despaired of marrying their older daughter off unless they take extreme measures. Louise considers the younger daughter "her human," and can't bear the idea of being separated, and after one thing and another the mice decide there's no help for it but to stow away in Camilla's luggage and go to England too. Despite the fact that "Water is not a happy subject with us mice," two older sisters and their mother having drowned in the rain barrel some time before.

Many shipboard adventures ensue, especially after the Cranston mice discover that the ship has just as many rodent passengers as human. There's a one-eyed cat, a five-year-old lord who won't lay off the sweets, and mouse royalty capped off by Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cheddar Gorge. A delightful, dead-on 1880s voice and plenty of humor add to the fun. And yes, there's enough of both human and rodent romance to go around, all with the utmost of Victorian propriety.

What's interesting is that, though this is a historical novel (I heard Richard Peck speak several years ago and he stated he'd be writing historical for the rest of his career), it appeals to the princess phenomenon that is very today. I love the implication that there is an entire hidden mouse world analogous to the human one; the life we see is not the only life there is. Children who have felt the burden of being the oldest will also relate to these appealing, well-developed characters.

A few minor glitches (the occasional line of telling that diluted the showing, the occasional question of POV) are just that -- minor. Definitely recommended!

18 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

I recently read this one and really enjoyed it. I've always love the stories with a different (tiny) perspective on our world.

Laura Pauling said...

Sounds terrific! I'll be looking for it at our library!

Barbara Watson said...

I've heard great things about this and need to add it to my list so I remember to read it. The way you state that "the life we see is not the only life there is" makes me want to read this all by itself.

Vijaya said...

I've not heard of this book, but Peck is one of my favorites and this story sounds delightful. Will definitely pick it up. Thank you for reviewing it -- I rely so much on these types of reviews to read books that aren't the buzzy ones.

Marcia said...

Andrea -- Yes, there's so much more to life than any one of us can see. I love to catch glimpses of that in books. Glad you enjoyed it.

Laura -- Hope you love it. Since you've liked several of my recs, I'd hate to disappoint you. ;)

Barbara -- I need to make lists, too, no matter how good the book sounds when I first hear about it!

Vijaya -- I just love the idea that there are readers out there trying to dig beyond the buzz. I hope our numbers grow. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I like the sound of these rodent characters. I haven't read Peck yet, but this book sounds delightful.

Bish Denham said...

Another wonderful sounding book! I too love animal fantasy so it's right up my aisle.

Mirka Breen said...

THANK YOU, Marcia, for pointing this out. R. Peck may be my favorite MG author, and I managed to miss this book altogether. You've done a service to a great one.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- So much of Peck is delightful. Have you read Long Way from Chicago? The Teacher's Funeral? Here Lies the Librarian? It goes on and on. :)

Bish -- I knew this one would intrigue you. :)

Mirka -- I hope he doesn't retire for a long, long time.

Faith E. Hough said...

I love Peck AND mouse/little world stories, so I've had my eye on this for a while...can't wait to read it!
(Seriously, Marcia, our taste in books is so similar it's almost scary! ;)

inluvwithwords said...

This sounds delightful!

Christina Farley said...

I have not heard this story but I love Richard Peck. He is a mastermind of storytelling. Great review!

Marcia said...

Faith -- Ah, to me a similar taste in books is a relief. :) Sometimes I worry why my taste seems so off the beaten path. Doesn't seem that would bode well for appealing to a wide audience.

Ruth -- Delightful is the ideal word. :)

Christina -- Yes, no matter what Peck writes, it's always first and foremost a good STORY.

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for the review - sounds like a great one!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I adore Richard Peck and his novels, so I was thrilled to read about Secrets at Sea. Thank you for this.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

I've read a couple of Peck's novels and loved them. I had no idea he wrote about mice! Cool! (I kept mice as pets when I was a child and still have a soft spot for them.)

Marcia said...

Susan -- I love finding real gems. :)

Cynthia -- Peck has a ton of fans! I hope he's got a lot of books left in him.

Amy -- He writes about people a lot more often, but animals have been showing up lately. He's versatile, that's for sure.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

sounds great! thanks.