Review ‘A Very Unusual Pursuit’ by Catherine Jinks

Book review

Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession.  The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait.  Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm.  A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.

Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans.  These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last.  Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.

After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle.  And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.

I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.

The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath.  This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight.  All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

My postscript

Poetry Clipart 08Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me.  Way back I did a blog post about it.  In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down.  They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described.  Gotta love marketing.  GBW.


About the author

Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963)  http://catherinejinks.com/

Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.  She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.

The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Series

City of Orphans trilogy

  1.  A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
    or  How to Catch a Bogle
  2.  A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
    or A Plague of Bogles
  3.  A Very Singular Guild (2013)
    or The Last Bogler

Pagan Chronicles

  1. Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
  2. Pagan in Exile (2004)
  3. Pagan’s Vows (2004)
  4. Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
  5. Pagan’s Daughter (2006)

Allie’s Ghost Hunters

  1. Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
  2. Eustace (2003)
  3. Eloise (2005)
  4. Elysium (2007)

Genius

  1. Evil Genius (2005)
  2. Genius Squad (2008)
  3. The Genius Wars (2010)

Review ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney

It took a while to get my head around Joan Stanley’s rationale.  Growing up, I had heard about the Official Secrets Act and censored letters from my father who was in the second world war, but never about spies selling secrets: I gleaned by inference that espionage was problematic for all sides.  Red Joan knew how to keep her lips zipped.

I really enjoyed this story and I put another book on hold to finished it.  Before and after the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, there was a rash of fact and fiction war books from the UK and this is one of them.

The bombings are what I found missing in Jennie Rooney’s tale, the destruction and the precautions every citizen had to take every day to survive.  Joan Stanley appears to live a charmed life in this regard, and not much of the physical devastation seems to touch her.

Of course, this story is character-driven, an emotional account of the Cold War, an internal struggle between what is right and wrong and justifying one’s decisions, rather than air-raids and bombed out buildings.

After a sheltered schooling, Joan attends Cambridge University where she meets flamboyant student Sonya; and Joan is easily swayed by Sonya’s handsome cousin Leo Galich.  Slowly Joan is groomed to become a spy and eventually steals top secret documents.  While her resolute decision to help the war effort unfolds beautifully and logically (to Joan at least) I couldn’t help thinking “Surely she isn’t that naive?”  But she is, and this propels the story.

That, and romance.  This is where cousin Leo comes in.  What can I say about earnest socialist Leo?  He is easy to picture—any handsome, charismatic, idealistic Uni student would fit his mould.  I can excuse Joan’s love-struck crush on Leo but not her belief in her new friend Sonya, a powerful influence.

Fur Coat New Zealand Fashion Museum 01
Fur coat 1940s in New Zealand Fashion Museum http://www.nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/f/fur-jacket-with-squared-shoulders/

I thought Joan’s shared fur coat was a nice touch, it was the tenuous connection, the innocent thread throughout the story but it spoke volumes about their personalities.

Joan Stanley (loosely based on real spy Melita Norwood) specialises in theoretical physics and when she gets a job in a metals research facility, the touch-and-go desire with Professor Max Davis is well done, I could see that happening.  The cast of males are oblivious to Joan’s duplicity, and receptionist Karen is pretty much ignored.  For a laugh I pictured Karen afterwards as a retired MI5 operative.

As I said, I like this book and would recommend it, not for an in-depth look at the war effort but as a glimpse into the human side, the male/female relationships and the story behind the atomic bomb construction.  Just enough details; the lab, scientific information, the protocols.

Destructive and fascinating at the same time.

IMG_20200316_171248
NOT relevant to Joan but just as fictitious – American actor Steve McQueen (1930-1980) on a motorcycle used in war movie ‘The Great Escape’.

Jennie Rooney’s modern day interrogators, Ms Hart and Mr Adams, were created a bit like Scully and Mulder from the X-Files, lots of meaningful glances at Joan, but they served their purpose well.

In the end, in my opinion, the unravelling of the story was pretty low-key.  Sir William Mitchell was out of the game, so that left Leo and Sonya’s questionable career moves.  Poor Joan, there seemed no end to her emotional turmoil before and after discovery.

Lately I’ve read a couple of books with weak transitions, but I thought the past and present were well written in Rooney’s story.  She did a good job with Joan’s son Nick Stanley QC, a real fly-in-the-ointment (or our own subconscious thoughts?) and he had a Hollywood style moment at the end.

I like to pick out my favourite lines in a story and I quote:

There is a pause.
“Anyway”, Joan says, “I’d have thought the Soviets would be developing their own weapons?”
“They are.  But it’s taking too long.  They’re starting from a disadvantage.”
Leo sighs and reaches once more across the table.
“Please, Jo-jo.  Don’t you see?  You’re in a unique position here to change the history of the world.”

When VE-Day dawns on 8th May 2020 it will be 75 years since the end of the war in Europe so I guess there will be more books forthcoming.

Of course, we read in hindsight and that can be a wonderfully misleading thing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilJennie Rooney was born in Liverpool in 1980.  She read History at the University of Cambridge and taught English in France before moving to London to work as a solicitor.  She lives in West London, and also writes and teaches History and English.  The fictitious story of Joan Stanley, the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, is her third novel.  It was adapted for the 2018 film ‘Red Joan’ directed by Trevor Nunn, starring Dame Judi Dench as aged Joan and Sophie Cookson as young Joan.

INTERVIEW:  Read Jennie Rooney’s discussion with RadioTimes about ‘Red Joan’ her book that inspired the movie and why she made changes https://www.radiotimes.com/news/film/2019-08-28/red-joan-author-on-why-she-changed-the-true-story-for-judi-dench-movie-im-not-a-biographer/

24 Stories: of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire

My emotions overcame me when I read this piece…read for yourself…

Book Jotter

by Kathy Burke (Editor)

24 STORIES COVERMy routine was much as usual on the morning of Wednesday 14th June 2017: I arose early for work, fed the chickens, settled myself at the kitchen table for my first cuppa of the day and switched the TV on to watch BBC News.

For several seconds I stared vacantly at the screen, unable to comprehend the shocking nature of the images I was seeing. There was a man sobbing incoherently to a reporter and then emergency services vehicles were shown illuminating huddles of grim-faced onlookers in their flickering lights. It began to make sense when the picture jumped to a high-rise block of flats of the sort you find in cities throughout the UK, except this one had taken on the appearance of an immense Chinese lantern burning uncontrollably over a sleeping city.

This was Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey Brutalist-style construct in North Kensington…

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