BooksOfTheMoon

A Narrow Door

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 3 stars

Rebecca Buckfast (and living in Scotland, I’m sorry, but I can’t take her seriously with a name like “Buckfast”) has finally made it to the top – she’s now head teacher at St Oswald’s, formerly a boys-only grammar school, she introduces girls to the school, hoping that they will come to stride through the wide arches, not have to quietly enter through a “narrow door”, the way she did. Becky has secrets in her past, and when confronted, she settles down to tell elderly Latin master Roy Straitly her story, as she rediscovered it herself.

I found this book very readable, which is interesting, given how much I disliked most of the characters. Most of the book is in the form of Becky telling the story of what happened 17 years previously, when she was a young teacher at a different, nearby private school, King Henry’s. Becky’s brother, a student at King Henry’s, disappeared when she was a young child, something which affected her parents dreadfully, and which Becky herself found so traumatic that she buried the memory so deeply, that it’s only twenty-odd years later that they start to re-emerge.

Between her own trauma, her overbearing boyfriend, Dominic, and the missing brother, there are layers upon layers of secrets and lies, which get peeled back, one at a time, all being told the ailing Straitly, who was, I felt, the most relatable character in the whole book. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll end up like him – a ghost haunting the halls of my University, mumbling about people and departments long gone, yet tolerated, even treated fondly by the new guard.

Apparently there are other books about St Oswald’s, featuring Straitly, but this is perfectly standalone and I hadn’t read any of them before reading this one, and I was able to follow what was going on, although some events were mentioned in passing that I assume were expanded upon in the other books.

It’s a very well done thriller, which kept me turning the page to find out what happens next. All the twists and turns were unexpected (to me) and all believable. As I say, I didn’t like many of the characters, but it was a well told tale. Recommending for breaking the glass ceiling, by whatever means necessary.

Book details

Runemarks (Runemarks, #1)

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

I read and enjoyed Joanne Harris‘s Loki books, and this more or less picks up from those. It’s five hundred years after Ragnarok and Maddy Smith is a teenage girl with a ‘ruinmark’ on her hand. All knowledge and stories of the old world are forbidden by the Order, but such things are far away from Maddy’s valley. She leads a normal life until something happens that changes it forever, and she finds herself entangled with the old gods, order, chaos and everything changes.

Maddy is an engaging character, and it’s fun to watch her learn about the gods and demons and how to use the power within her. I also enjoyed the wider world-building, especially the idea that Ragnarok isn’t the end of days, but is something that is cyclical and just repeats in different forms.

The Order is sort of interesting, although they initially seem to be just your typical totalitarian government, controlling the population by controlling knowledge and through fear. But they also have the Word; something even the gods fear.

The chapters here are short and punchy. The dialogue is engaging and each character feels different, with even the secondary ones getting something to do, and feeling important in their own way. There’s a lot to enjoy here, and the story feels complete in itself as well. You could certainly read this on its own without having read the Loki books, and although I know there’s a sequel, you could leave this book quite happy without actually reading it (although I probably will).

Book details

ISBN: 9781473217065
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2017

A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve not read much of Joanne Harris’s work but I’ve enjoyed what I have read. This collection of short stories has some great ones in it. There are ghost stories, horror stories, stories about little old ladies with attitude, something for all tastes. Some of them take a turn for the deeply disturbing, like Cookie, about a very strange pregnancy, while others leave you indignant at the indignities that Man heaps upon Man (the two Faith and Hope stories in this collection are great examples of that, about two old ladies in a care home). The hit to miss ratio is good and it’s good for both dipping into and for binge-reading. Recommended both for established Harris fans, and newcomers wanting a taste of her style.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552778794
Publisher: Black Swan
Year of publication: 2012

Blackberry Wine

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

Like Chocolat, this book hovers on the edge of fantasy for most of the way through, although I think this book actually hops over the border for cheap fuel and cigarettes. I really enjoyed this story of a writer (Jay Mackintosh) who wrote one really good book and spent the next 15 years of his life with writer’s block. Wine permeates the book, although not to the degree that chocolate did Chocolat. I also liked the conceit of the story being told by an old bottle of wine that Mackintosh had in his wine cellar. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of Harris’ work and this continues that trend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780380815920
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Year of publication: 1999

Jigs & Reels

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short stories, some SF and some non-genre. The ratio of hits to misses is really high and I enjoyed the collection as a whole. The stories went from whimsical and gentle to dark to sad. A great collection to dip into.

Book details

ISBN: 9780060590147
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year of publication: 2004

Chocolat (Chocolat, #1)

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

Within a few chapters of the start of this book a word came into my head to describe it: beguiling. It’s a wonderful word (although one that I would never usually use) to describe a wonderful book. Harris’ language is deft and incredibly evocative, and the descriptions of the chocolate are wonderfully rich.

The book feels timeless, only the odd mention of radio or laser surgery giving any indication of when it’s set. The other thing that surprised me about Chocolat was its fantasy leanings. I believe that the film tones this down, but the book hints quite heavily that the protagonist, Vianne, has supernatural powers.

The antagonism between her and the parish priest, Father Reynaud, form the core of the novel, her fleeing from the Black Man in her past and he hiding a dark secret under his puritanism.

Sensual and beguiling, a wonderful book for anybody with a love of language and chocolate.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552998482
Publisher: Black Swan
Year of publication: 1999

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