THE LAST CRUISE

Anyone who dreams of a romantic, fun-filled cruise ship vacation at sea should not read this book. And the nabobs of the cruise industry surely won’t want anyone to read it.

“The Last Cruise” is the seventh novel by award-winning Portland author Kate Christensen, a scathing indictment of the cruise-ship industry told by the passengers and crew on the last voyage of the aging liner Queen Isabella.

Maine farmer Christine Thorne is going on her first cruise — the trip of a lifetime — a round-trip voyage from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back aboard the QI, a 50+-year-old-relic of old-time cruise-ship glamour making her last trip before the scrapyard. And everything is done in 1950s cruising lifestyle — the food and drink, entertainment, fancy cocktails, dressing up for dinner, everybody smoking cigarettes, but no internet, no cell phones and no children.

However, this is the 21st century, and the QI is not a happy ship. The multi-national crew is restive, working for low wages in draconian conditions. When the crew learns they will be laid off at voyage termination, they rebel in mid-ocean with a work stoppage that puts an end to the glamour and fun. A suspicious engine room fire knocks out all propulsion and electricity — no cooking, no water, no refrigeration, no toilets, no lights and no air conditioning. Then Christensen piles on with a rapidly spreading Norovirus epidemic, sickening dozens of people. Could things get any worse? Yes, they can. An ocean storm is approaching the drifting liner.

Amidst this sea-going disaster, Christensen paints vividly convincing pictures of men and women facing personal and professional adversity, surprisingly endearing shipboard romances, quiet heroism, shameful cowardice and stoic self-sacrifice. And Christine is the best example of all that is good. Grab a lifejacket.

LEXINGTON AND CONCORD: THE BATTLE HEARD ROUND THE WORLD

In 1774, as the American colonies were simmering in rebellion against the British Crown, pompous Lord North dismissed American resolve: “Four or five frigates will do the business without any military force.”

He never stood at Lexington or Concord a year later, and couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Lexington And Concord” is award-winning military historian George Daughan’s excellent story of April 19, 1775, when Massachusetts militiamen fought British redcoats at Lexington and Concord, and along the bloody road back to Boston. Lord North and King George III were badly shocked to learn that their professional army had been soundly whipped by farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen. The American Revolution just went hot.

Daughan splits his time between Maine and New Hampshire, has written about the War of 1812 and won the Samuel Eliot Morrison Award for Naval Literature for “If By Sea” (Basic Books, 2008).

He adds much to the familiar path to war, factors little known and less appreciated. For example, he reveals that British General Thomas Gage in Boston did not want to fight and knew he would lose if he tried. Ordered by the king to take the field and teach that “tumultuous rabble” a lesson, Gage concocted a complex and unrealistic plan that relied on speed and surprise to seize arms and ammunition at Lexington and Concord. But the Americans weren’t fooled, they were waiting.

His description of the fighting is vivid and dramatic, as the outnumbered British are routed into headlong retreat, leaving their dead and wounded behind. Only the timely arrival of British reinforcements saved the battered army. Best are Daughan’s portrayals of little-known historical figures like Royal Marine Maj. John Pitcairn, Capt. John Parker, Col. James Barrett, loyalist spy Daniel Bliss and traitor Benjamin Church. This is exciting history, well told.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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