Joe Spork is a clockwork-repairer, taking after his boring grandfather rather than his crime-boss dad and he's very happy with that, thank you.
Edie Ba...moreJoe Spork is a clockwork-repairer, taking after his boring grandfather rather than his crime-boss dad and he's very happy with that, thank you.
Edie Banister is an ex-spy with a romantic past, a sworn enemy, and a ticking bomb that could destroy the world - if her arch-enemy doesn't get to it first. When she embroils Joe in her plot, all hell breaks loose.
This is a hugely entertaining, riveting, playful masterpiece. I loved The Gone-Away World, but if I had a complaint about it, it was that I felt it lacked a bit of heart. Angelmaker is all heart, and I completely adored it. Like many heroes, Joe Spork suffers somewhat from blank canvas syndrome, but he well and truly fills out his character by the end of the novel. Edie is a wonderful character, furious at the limitations imposed on her by old age, but still brilliantly resourceful. There's a master villain, a female sidekick who absolutely refuses to be a sidekick, and a character who feels very much like a tribute to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy's Connie Sachs.
The book has over five hundred pages, and I'd happily have kept going for another five hundred. Harkaway has a poet's relish for language, and for me, he has well and truly fulfilled the promise of The Gone-Away World. I can't wait to see what he writes next.(less)
I'm such a sucker for the Regency romance + magic trope, and this was a strong example of the genre, in that the writing was of a higher calibre than...moreI'm such a sucker for the Regency romance + magic trope, and this was a strong example of the genre, in that the writing was of a higher calibre than in other books I've encountered. A fun, quick read, and if the plot execution felt a little lightweight in the end, I didn't mind too much (although that's why it gets three stars rather than four).(less)
I wanted to like this much more than I did. A Victorian feminist turning the establishment upside down, with a healthy serving of light romance on the...moreI wanted to like this much more than I did. A Victorian feminist turning the establishment upside down, with a healthy serving of light romance on the side, is such a great premise. Unfortunately I felt the execution was lacking - the plot was simply boring and the writing, while not terrible, was pretty pedestrian.
The fact that I was eventually caught up in the action enough to read the finale in one big gulp brings it up from two to three stars for me, and I will probably read the next book next time I need some brain candy - but I'm certainly not dashing off to find it now.(less)
Moran has a knack for taking the issues that many women deal with and serving them up with humour, exasperation and compassion in a way that hopefully...moreMoran has a knack for taking the issues that many women deal with and serving them up with humour, exasperation and compassion in a way that hopefully makes them understandable to a much broader swathe of the population than would listen to, say, Germaine Greer making the same points. A lot of the things she talks about were already clear to me, but it was refreshing to see them dealt with in such vernacular terms.
I should say that it is a very heterocentric, white and cisgender-centric (is that the right term?) book. But Moran isn't pretending to be everywoman; she speaks from her own experience, and I found that a lot of her experience applied to my own experience.(less)
This was a reread, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Atkinson tackles the familiar theme of violence against women - in this case against particularly und...moreThis was a reread, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Atkinson tackles the familiar theme of violence against women - in this case against particularly underpriveleged women such as prostitutes. By setting the story in Leeds, with one timeline running just before the Yorkshire Ripper began his reign of terror, Atkinson highlights the differences between the way such victims were viewed thirty years ago and now - and the prejudices that still remain.
At the heart of the story are two innocents: a little girl called Courtney, taken under the wing of lonely ex-WPC Tracey, and a dog rescued from certain death by Jackson Brodie. Both Tracey and Jackson are haunted by the memory of another innocent whom they were unable to save.
Atkinson draws us into a world of police indifference, brutality and corruption, gradually unravelling a murky plot in which almost all of the adult players are implicated. Even knowing what was coming, I was caught up in the storytelling, and I loved the fact that I was able to better appreciate Atkinson's skill this time around. There are some loose threads, which I'm hoping Atkinson will tie up in another book. But this one is my favourite to date.(less)
I wrote this non-spoilery review a while ago for Meet at the Gate, website of the excellent Canongate Books. I'm reposting it (finally) in case anyone...moreI wrote this non-spoilery review a while ago for Meet at the Gate, website of the excellent Canongate Books. I'm reposting it (finally) in case anyone still needs persuading to read this book, which is one of my all-time favourites.
The Book Thief is set in Molching, a small town in Nazi Germany that is far enough from Munich to avoid political significance, but close enough to Dachau that Jewish prisoners are occasionally marched through there. It's a town full of ordinary people who are struggling to survive a war - like the mayor's wife, who might almost seem to have given up on life...except for one small act of rebellion. Like Rosa Hubermann, who insults everyone impartially but loves warmly. Like Rudy Steiner, a boy trapped in a world he can make little sense of. Like Hans Hubermann, impoverished house-painter and accordionist, caught out by an old promise and his own sense of honour. And at their heart is Liesel: fierce, passionate, a lover of words and stealer of books.
When we first meet Liesel, she is nine and reeling from the loss of her family. Delivered to the fostering authorities, Liesel is thrown into a new life which, while poverty-stricken and plagued by Hitler's apparently arbitrary edicts, is a step up from her old one. At a funeral she steals a book, which turns out to be a handbook for gravediggers. It is the beginning of a journey in which Liesel, and eventually many other characters, find power through the written word while the world collapses around them.
Given the setting, it is perhaps appropriate that the narrator of The Book Thief is Death. Zusak isn't the first writer to make use of Death as a character, but he puts this narrative twist to excellent use here. To Death, humans are objects of curiosity, to be viewed (but not always kept) at a distance. Because Death is in turn relating Liesel's tale, it's hard to know from whom the descriptions originate, but they are always memorable: Rudy has hair the colour of lemons; Hans has eyes made of silver and kindness; Rosa is wardrobe-shaped. Words have power: they literally tap people on the shoulder, or even slap them across the face.
This is a story about death and about Death. But it is also a love letter to the human spirit: to the individual heroism that makes us human in the face of mindless mob brutality.(less)
I really don't think I can do justice to this book. It's the best thing I've read in quite a while, and only one other book has moved me as much as th...moreI really don't think I can do justice to this book. It's the best thing I've read in quite a while, and only one other book has moved me as much as this one - The Book Thief. I like this coincidence, since both are set during World War II and both feature strong female heroines, although in the case of Code Name Verity there are actually two strong female heroines, with the narrative being split between them.
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." So says the first narrator, describing an early encounter with Maddie. And indeed, the first half of the book reads very much like a loveletter. Under the guise of providing information to the Gestapo, the narrator recounts the story of her and Maddie's friendship, from their very different beginnings up to the night when their plane was shot down over Occupied France.
The narrator has been tortured, and her story is interspersed with harrowing details of the way she and other prisoners of the Gestapo are treated. But it is also filled with beauty and humour; it's almost as if she can escape whatever fate awaits her when she talks of Maddie's exploits, or remembers the fears they shared with each other. For me, it's these lighter moments that allow the reader to keep reading through the horrific reality of the present.
This is a story of friendship and bravery. Of undercover intrigue and derring do. Of two girls from very different backgrounds who make the perfect team. It's heartbreaking and beautiful and I want to make everyone I know read it.
So if you've made it this far and you've yet to pick up the book, why not give it a try?(less)
This is such a dark book - I love it, but it's a hard story to enjoy, full of heartbreaks punctuated by misunderstandings. Parts of it feel like wish...moreThis is such a dark book - I love it, but it's a hard story to enjoy, full of heartbreaks punctuated by misunderstandings. Parts of it feel like wish fulfilment; parts of it feel as if LM Montgomery was wondering what to do with the reader between the "big" scenes. And yet Emily is such a great character that she still carries the story, for me, ably backed up by Ilse and to a lesser extent the New Moon folk.(less)
It is such a pleasure to revisit an old favourite and find that it stands up to adult reading. Yes, there are patches of purple prose, but there is al...moreIt is such a pleasure to revisit an old favourite and find that it stands up to adult reading. Yes, there are patches of purple prose, but there is also a lot of very strong writing. Emily is a darker heroine than Anne, and the characters here are more nuanced, as seen most clearly in Elizabeth and Laura Murray as compared with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. I'll take Ilse Burnley over Diana Blythe any day.
Aside from that, though, fans of the Anne books will find much to enjoy in Emily of New Moon, which contains many of the ingredients that make Anne so beloved: bittersweet stories, a broad cast of characters, a beautiful PEI setting and at the heart of it a strong, vulnerable heroine who learns and grows throughout the story.(less)
A beautiful book. Not my favourite of Smith's work - Hotel World gets that tag - but a compassionate, funny and unflinching look at alienation and con...moreA beautiful book. Not my favourite of Smith's work - Hotel World gets that tag - but a compassionate, funny and unflinching look at alienation and connection, with both other people and ourselves. Probably her most accessible book, and one that leaves me wanting more, and more, of her writing.(less)
Boarding schools. They have captured my imagination ever since, aged seven, I was heartbroken to be told by my mu...more(This review originally posted here.)
Boarding schools. They have captured my imagination ever since, aged seven, I was heartbroken to be told by my mum that I couldn't go to St Clare's because it didn't exist.
Part of me likes to think that somewhere in the Bernese Oberland the Chalet School is going strong, still churning out trilingual girls who become teachers and then marry doctors. And that on the Cornish coast, Rebecca Mason is still practising her tennis while the other girls learn to surf.
One of the reasons I initially fell in love with the Harry Potter books was because of the way JK Rowling plays with the boarding school trope. Hogwarts is basically an old-fashioned boarding school that happens to teach magic, and Rowling sticks to the academic year structure throughout the books (although oh, how I missed the school setting in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
In I'll Tell You Mine, Pip Harry brings the boarding school trope bang up to date and into the southern hemisphere. Fifteen-year-old Kate Elliot has done something terrible: so terrible that her family is shunting her off to the local boarding school so they don't have to deal with her. As you would expect, she is not happy about this, and things don't get any better when she finds herself sharing a dormitory with the in-crowd and another girl who's as much of an outcast as herself.
Kate is a goth -- which, at school, makes her a freak. Worse than this, boarding school also presents a major obstacle to socialising with her friends, fellow goth Annie and musician Nate. Obviously, Kate isn't going to take all this lying down...
I loved Kate as a character, even if sometimes I wanted to shake her. She's sad and snarky and vulnerable -- and completely believable at every turn. And as we gradually learn more about the events leading up to her banishment, we realise that no one person is to blame.
I think that might be my favourite aspect of the novel. Pip Harry writes all the characters sensitively; even the people who initially seem to lead charmed lives are flawed and they all do bad or stupid things, but as a reader I could always understand why they did them. The progression of the relationship between Kate and her mother is truly touching, and I speak as someone who had a torrid relationship with her own mother in her teens. Nothing is straightforward, and this novel reflects that perfectly.
Kate's voice comes through very strongly right from the first page -- but despite the teenage diction that peppers the pages, the writing feels very precise, as if every word has earned its place. Similarly, Kate's family history feels fully realised, but there's no superfluous information. Everything she tells us is for a reason. One of the more beautiful moments of the book -- Kate's memory of a family holiday, in which, "Liv was too young to have a go on her own but Dad chucked her on the front of his wide Mal and pulled her up to her feet. She was screaming with excitement when she crested down the front of the wave with Dad's hand clutching at the back of her bathers." -- is principally there for contrast. "That was a highlight." The rest of the holiday is memorable, not for its good moments, but for its failures and for what Kate learned about her parents' marriage.
To return to the boarding school setting, I loved that the school remained a character until the end. Sometimes with YA literature it feels as if the author can't wait to get the characters away from the constraints of school, but here, Pip Harry uses every aspect of boarding school life to broaden the story. And despite Kate's mixed feelings about it, I've added Norris Grammar to my mental list of "schools I would like to have known". Which is about the best compliment I can pay the book, really.
This blew me away when I first read it, too many years ago, and rereading it was a delight. Pratchett is one of the best feminist writers I've come ac...moreThis blew me away when I first read it, too many years ago, and rereading it was a delight. Pratchett is one of the best feminist writers I've come across, and Lords and Ladies (all his Witches books, really, but this one especially) feels like a lesson in how to write strong female characters. Not one but three female protagonists, each with different preoccupations, each shining in their own way.
Pratchett is always funny, but he can also be deeply moving, and this, for me, is one of his most moving books. Brilliance.(less)