Welcome to this month’s book reviews from the Kemps team
Welcome to this month’s book reviews from the team at Kemps Bookstore in Malton.
James Runcie is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright and literary curator. He is the author of twelve novels translated into twelve languages, including the seven books of the Grantchester Mysteries series. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
The Great Passion is a beautiful Bildungsroman set in the early 18th century, written from the perspective of Stefan Silbermann who is sent to school in Leipzig for a year after his mother’s death. Despite his initial displeasure, due to the cruelty and intimidation of his classmates and the indifference of his teachers, Stefan’s singing ability attracted the interest of the cantor Johann Sebastian Bach and he quickly immersed himself in both in his music and in his family.
Runcie’s writing skillfully brings to life 18th century Germany, a place where faith was deeply embedded in every aspect of daily life. His portrayal of Bach is that of a loving father and loving husband, but this is tempered by the somewhat overbearing expectations he places on his family; music comes first. His characterizations of the rest of the family are also excellent, especially that of Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, who is herself an exceptional musician but is not allowed to perform in church because of her gender. . The dialogues can tend towards wordiness and are peppered with musical and biblical references, but this does not detract from the charm of the novel. Moreover, Bach’s sermons are consistent with the novel’s description of faith as an ubiquitous part of everyday life, and it is in his homilies that one finds many of the most powerful lines on grief and recovery. healing. It is a deeply moving reimagining of the events that led to the composition of one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever written.
Published by Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408885512 Hardcover $19.99
The Lost Whale – Hannah Gold
Hannah Gold’s debut children’s novel The Last Bear was recently crowned winner of the 2022 Blue Peter Book Award and was the best-selling children’s debut hardback book of 2021. Hot on the heels of its success, Gold presents his latest offering The Lost Whale.
The Lost Whale centers on Rio, a lonely and troubled boy sent to live in California with a grandmother he barely knows, and the relationship he forms with White Beak, a very special gray whale. Rio’s mother is struggling with her mental health, and it’s best for everyone that she goes to the hospital to get the help she needs while Rio stays with her grandmother. He is desperately alone and, missing his mother terribly, does not warm up to his grandmother who is a virtual stranger, reports the discovery of his mother’s sketchbooks and their connection to White Beak, a whale with whom he and his mother share a bond. Rio must relearn how to be a child again after years of caring for his mother. So we join him on a learning journey, during which he not only learns about whales, but most importantly about himself.
The Lost Whale is sensitively written and tackles important issues of mental well-being and ecology, alongside characters you really care about. It’s a clear call for humanity to start being more planet-friendly, a subject very dear to Gold. She currently lives in Lincolnshire with her husband, cat and tortoise, where she can usually be found thinking about her next animal story and practicing her roar. She is passionate about writing stories that share her love of the planet and animals, and this passion shines through in her beautifully written novels.
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 9780008412944 Hardcover $14.99
Once Upon a Queen by Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman
Sir Michael Morpurgo is one of Britain’s most celebrated children’s authors whose simple style speaks clearly and sensitively to young people, often setting his stories in the context of war and taking as themes resilience, survival and humanity’s relationship with the natural world.
Its silent yet magical style is perfectly suited to the story of Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year. Sir Michael explains that this story is ‘not a fairy tale’, but the true story of our queen: a young girl who might have been a fairy tale princess but has become ‘much more herself’. Acknowledging, but rarely dwelling on, the pitfalls of royalty – “That crown of hers looks heavy” – this tale follows our “grandmother-queen” from childhood to the queen we know today. today. It’s a story that emphasizes the value of simplicity and highlights the constant loves in his life: his family, his animals (especially the ponies and corgies) and the people around the world that she served. The enduring serenity of the natural world is reflected in its unchanging presence in our lives.
It’s not only a beautifully written book, but it’s also accompanied by charming illustrations by Michael Foreman whose watercolors respond to the subtle shifts in mood and tone as the story unfolds. A particular favorite has to be the beautiful image of the Queen as we now know her petting one of her ponies with the clouds in the background depicting the shape of a horse with her rider. This is the wonderful story of a remarkably (extra)ordinary woman; it is told with simplicity but also with great depth and, for this reason, it is our choice among the memories of the Jubilee.
Published by Harper Collins ISBN: 9780008541613 Hardcover $14.99
Walking the Unseen: Following in the Brontës by Michael Stewart
In Walking the Invisible, Michael Stewart seeks to better understand the wild and functional landscapes that shaped the life and literature of the Brontë family. Along with his canine companion, Woolfie, Stewart travels on foot across the moors, along the coasts, up the hills and through towns, walking along paths and paths that the Brontë would have taken. Along the way, he describes the sights, sounds and smells of the post-industrial landscapes he encounters and imagines these landscapes as they would have appeared to the Brontës and their contemporaries.
Reflecting on her early encounters with Wuthering Heights, Stewart comments on the power of Emily Brontë’s novel to reach beyond classrooms and lecture halls to socially diverse audiences and sees in it “something of the folktale…[which] grabbed my young mind”. For him, their writing not only sits within the English literary tradition, but can also be read within an equally strong tradition of stories from the landscape and people of Yorkshire. Walking the Invisible quietly reclaims the stories of Brontë by celebrating the shared heritage and mindset of the people who have lived in this landscape for centuries. It also highlights the immense popularity of the Brontë sisters around the world as Stewart writes about others who, like him, discovered the novels despite never reading them in school.
Stewart is a friendly guide. It is clear that he has a thorough knowledge of the Brontes, their works and the social and historical contexts of their literature. This expertise is nurtured through the lens of a walking guide giving the chapters a smart yet easy-going style; it also imbues the writing with enjoyable descriptions of the natural (and sometimes not-so-natural) world encountered along the way. It is part walking guide, part literary and social history, part cultural commentary, all unified by a single, knowledgeable voice and seems to embody the spirit of fierce independence of its subjects. In short, Walking the Invisible is a refreshing and charming insight into the lives and literature of some of our most beloved authors and it is a book that is sure to please many readers.
Published by Harper Collins ISBN: 9780008430221 Paperback $11.99