Author: Maggie Harcourt Publisher: Usborne Pages: 448 Book Birthday: 2.4.2020 About: Flora “doesn’t do people”, not since the Incident that led to her leaving school midway through her GCSEs. The Incident that led to her being diagnosed with bipolar II. The Incident that left her in pieces. Until Hal arrives. He’s researching a story about a missing World War I soldier, and he wants Flora’s help. Flora used to love history before the Incident, but spending so much time with Hal is her worst nightmare. Yet as they begin to piece together the life of the missing soldier, a life of lost love, secrets and lies, Flora finds a piece of herself falling for Hal.
Flora is a beautiful and flawed character who took my heart when I first read the sampler last summer. There’s a familiar quality and personality that I identify with as I progressed through the story. She is supported by an incredible team of characters that build up such a charming countryside community and family. Hal is everything you want in a leading man. He took my breath away in much the same way Mr Darcy does for others. It’s fair to say he is the character that brings us part of the plot, but it is his chemistry with Flora that makes their journey so compelling.
The story reminds me of one of my favourite mystery tv shows by Hallmark: Signed, Sealed, Delivered. A show that never fails to leave me uplifted and that’s without the added charm of Britishness. In Pieces of Me, Flora is tasked with helping Hal locate and identify the people involved in a story he was told by his Grandfather. As the two unpack boxes and take time for further research, a clandestine romance unfolds in the letters they find. The progression within the letters means very different things to the people invested and Flora and Hal find themselves drawn to each other in the process.
Harcourt’s writing has and ease and a charm that soothes in a way that a good cup of tea does. It gives you that pause from your life, warms your soul and gives you that does of sweetness you often need.
This was everything I needed in a book and at time that I needed it. While we spend so much time inside, there’s nothing better than a book set in the countryside.
He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’.
April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry.
If only April could be more like Gretel.
Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems.
The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.
As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.
Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?
This was the book I needed to read. Holly Bourne is my Yoda. She always has been, always will be. Bourne’s writing doesn’t sugar coat the realities of life, love and mental health. She doesn’t bog it down and ask you to wallow either. Instead, she makes it the new normal. She makes me the new normal: stronger and more accepting of myself and prepared to fight the things I can. While the character of April could, in another writer’s hands, feel cringeworthy and ‘unlikable’ Bourne gives the reader the extra character balance and insight to remove the stereotype checklist and make her relatable and someone the reader understands. Bourne is the Queen of first person narratives. It allows the reader to feasibly relate or, at the very least, empathise. Pretending is no exception and Bourne is able to give a unique voice to the protagonist. This book charms, educates and opens the reader up to question how relationships impact our identity. It’s not just thrown together either, this is a well researched, sensitively provoking rather than a fashionable theme shoehorned in. Thank you, Holly Bourne, for constantly breaking ground and being the trailblazer we all need.
About Two teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, go on an journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.
Could you imagine a better ‘brother’ pairing than the actors who play Starlord and Peter Parker, playing them almost as those characters?! They beautifully compliment each other and almost make me wish it wasn’t an animation.
The story is… well it’s very me. Which is not overly helpful in a review, but it’s a heartfelt and geeky journey while dabbling in the lore of D&D. That ticks all the boxes for me.
Dogs are dragons and cats are unicorns! Genius and I couldn’t love it any more than I do.
It has all the elements of a road trip movie; things go wrong, the characters butt heads, they bond and they sacrifice. All done in a family friendly landscape.
The absolute best part of this movie is the relationship between the two brothers. It would have been all too easy to have the magical ability of one cause friction and jealousy with the other. Instead we get this beautiful dynamic in which we see how siblings support and encourage.
It’s not a film for everyone. It’s not as universal as many of Pixar’s movies and I believe that it’s because the story is so personal, so subjective.
The storyline being linked to having one last chance to speak to a loved one they’ve lost really hit close to home and there were ugly tears. They were good tears and have really made me feel better, but man… they were uuuuuugly!
If it hadn’t made me cry so much, I’d have watched this at least four more times already.
About A troubled boy dives into a wondrous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious book
The physical effects are amazing considering the time. The dragon Rankor is a delight to watch. They’re not Jim Henson quality, but they have charm and grandeur.
Arteyu is a solid character that I really felt for. The actor, Noah Hathaway, brought a strength to the role that you don’t often find and with another actor he may have seemed whingey and petulant. I almost wish they’d done away with the meta layering and told me a straight story about Arteyu.
It has that vibe all children’s films had at that time; adventure that may or may not be real. now with added nostalgia to keep it as a firm favourite. For everyone but me, that is.
The meta is handled better in films like The Lego Movie. I found the passing back and forth between Bastian and Arteyu a little clunky and distracted me from engaging with either one. I felt almost as if we spent a little too long with Bastian at the beginning with no payoff at the end.
Artax (the horse) dies way, way, way too soon. Had I have seen it as a kid, perhaps I’d have felt more. However, this is a time in which I’ve cried over a messenger owl I’ve gotten to know well over 6 books, I need a little more engagement to feel the loss. Plus, Marvel making me cry over so many characters (yes, I’m looking at you Loki) to discover they’re not quite dead yet, means this just felt lacklustre.
– For me, the biggest problem with this film is that we never have our three main players, Bastian, Arreyu and the Childlike Empress, in the same scene. The fact that Bastian never has a conversation with Arteyu was a massive blow for me.
-Why does it have to be so depressing? Yeah, I know we get that ‘upbeat’ ending… but it all feels a little rushed and so I didn’t end the film feeling uplifted.
I wish it had remained in my ‘Ive not seen…’ pile. My only worry now is; if I ever have kids, I HAVE to show them this. It would just be my luck that it ends up their favourite.
Sarah and the Captain are given time to really show us how they’ve been changed from the events of Orphan Monster Spy. Not only do we see individual development, but there’s plenty of evolution to the dynamic of the relationship of the pair.
What I enjoyed most about this story, was Sarah’s narrative about her growing up. It makes an interesting change to have a character of her age express something other that a wish to grow up. While it may appear like fear on the service, it very quickly becomes clear that it’s a lot more complex than that. It also makes for a very interesting dynamic between Sarah and several other female characters that appear.
The plot centres around a new mission for the Captain and Sarah. One that reads well as a stand alone but, much like a good cheese and wine, is complimented and added to with its previous instalment: Orphan, Monster, Spy. Our familiar characters are sent to Africa in order to seize what is believed to be a new weapon that’s come about from experiments of germ warfare. Along the way, we meet rogues, traitors and people who aren’t all what they seem.
You won’t get a second to breath as this high-speed thriller brings you to a part of the war that you may not be familiar with. There’s nothing better than a book with a message and a lesson in history.
I love Killeen’s narrative. His way with words is incredible and is able to pull me so far in I feel like I’m wearing VR and actually taking a role in the unfolding story. Despite being written in the first person, Sarah’s emotions leap off the page. It’s crafted, its fiction that’s rooted in a challenging history that only Killeen could make work. It’s a writing style I would love to have many books to read. Equally, he could make me wait longer than J RR Martin and I’d still be grateful of anything that comes my way.
You made it very clear about the dates throughout the book and there are many years in which the war continues. Are there plans to continue Sarah’s story beyond the two novels?
Sarah certainly has more missions ahead of her, and you’re right, there are five more years of the war to go…assuming she can survive that long. I have many ideas and some clear thoughts about where she might end up. Also, finding something she can realistically influence is important…but there’s a very stark delineation between things that live in my head and what publishing may or may not share with the world. Sarah may find herself kicking her heels for a while.
Are there any difficulties to rooting a story in history? On the flip side, what are the rewards?
It is certainly swings and roundabouts. I always say that “history delivers”. Almost every piece of research provides something astounding that I can use to further the narrative. I imagined a Nazi boarding school, and lo, there they were the Napola Schools. I also like the framework that real events provide and the craft of winding your narrative between the real bits, so you can tell several stories at once. But assuming that you’re writing fiction, you are on some level simultaneously proposing an alternative history – even narrative non-fiction works demand a little guesswork and elaboration. That’s a responsibility too. What’s hard is that these events – including the death, atrocity and horror – happened to real people. You owe them, to tell their story, or the story of which they were a part, with some authenticity – either by fact or emotional truth. That’s an abstract concept if you’re talking about Ancient Rome, but WW2 is well-documented. There’s a lot of faces looking back at you. I’d argue for the necessity of forging a compelling narrative as a vehicle to discuss and highlight important issues – “history must be burned into the imagination before it can accepted by the reason” Lord Macaulay said, I think – but there’s a line, somewhere along the way, where you pass into exploitation, prurience and tastelessness. That moment isn’t always clear and obvious. This is particularly apparent when you talk about the Holocaust. Writing Devil Darling Spy, I’m dealing with colonialism and imperialism – that exploitation continues in one form or another and real responsibility for the horror has not been taken by the perpetrators. This is raw and ongoing. That makes all this harder to do right and there’s a reasonable argument that I shouldn’t even be trying. But I couldn’t walk away from the chance to put these events front and centre of people’s minds.
Both Orphan Monster Spy and Devil Darling Spy are empowering to readers today. What other books have you discovered since the release of Orphan Monster Spy that you feel demonstrate the same empowering theme?
Well I’m glad to hear people find them empowering…certainly that would be my hope, but Sarah kind of does her own thing. As my editor once put it, “Sarah does not always model good behaviour.” I was just thinking about the moment she saves the Captain on the dock in Friedrichshafen in Orphan Monster Spy. That was Sarah’s decision. She wasn’t going to be saved, or even save herself. That’s the moment I understood her, when I really knew who she was. I know some writers hate this idea, that characters could or should make decisions, but that’s how it is for me.
There have been some excellent, nuanced female characters of late – well-written women and girls rather than the “kick-ass” archetype – like Wing Jones, Tulip Taylor, Izzy O’Neill, and I’m a sucker for the profoundly flawed, like Bevan from Other Words for Smoke. Then there’s Amani from Alwyn’s Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands Trilogy which I finished since Orphan was released…they feel related, which shouldn’t surprise as many of the people who chose Amani’s story for publication, also chose Sarah’s.
I make no apologies for the graphic novel reference – because comics are reading – but of everything I’ve read lately, I’m finding the Lumberjanes comics to be the most invigorating, joyful fiction. All female and diverse ensemble cast of wonderful characters having funny, smart and rollicking adventures at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. I feel empowered, I can only imagine the power of these characters for young teenagers. One of its creators is the showrunner on the new She-Ra series, which is happily consuming me right now. In fact, I’m wearing a She-Ra t-shirt as I’m typing this…and I hated the old show for the exploitative, unreconstructed toy commercial it was.
Do you listen to any particular music while writing?
Music is very important to me, but I need a very specific kind of music to write to. It usually can’t have words or be too up-tempo, and guitar-based stuff is too intrusive. It has to allow a certain detachment, but can’t be drivel either – something that I can lost in, but doesn’t dominate my brain. Soundtracks don’t always do this and not all classical music hits the spot, but I think what works best is called New Classical or Neo-classical or something equally dismal. A Winged Victory for the Sullen is the best example. There are certain pieces or albums that are absolutely tied into my work, both as inspiration and as soundtrack to the action. Agnes Obel and Kathryn Joseph are rare examples of vocalists that I work to, as they’re all quiet pianos, pain and anguish. So I have an evolving and ever-growing playlist of this stuff, and when it goes on, I’m ready.
For more general, around the writing work, I listen to BBC 6Music but I really don’t like the schedule changes they made about a year ago. After nearly 10 years of working at home and hearing the same voices every day, losing them for something less than was a bit heartbreaking. I’m still grieving. I’ve found Spotify really good, it came with my new phone, but I have severe reservations about its morality. They don’t pay their artists much of anything.