Source: “The Dream” by Gabby (aged 13)
Karen Brooks. The Locksmith’s Daughter. Sydney: Harlequin Mira, 2016.
This is the second of Karen Brooks’ mega-sized historical romances but her tenth published work of fiction. As with The Brewer’s Tale, research is her forte.
Brooks is a writer who brings her streetscapes to bustling, stinking, frantic and slippery life. In Elizabethan England, we walk in narrow alleys and in wide streets and, all the while, animals and crowds and washing and people pouring out of small spaces move with us. Just here is food left to rot. Brushing and shoving past us are the reeking, unwashed and underfed poor people of this huge city.
Along with her skills at creating her settings, Brooks has perfected the dark art of manipulating emotions and making us care about her characters.
However, I have a slight conflict of interest. Possibly two. I’m only going to confess to one.
The main protagonist of this novel, Mallory Bright is a young woman who has been trained to perfection as a lock smith by her father, but when it becomes necessary for her to leave his house, it is to the home of Sir Francis Walsingham that she is sent.
Here is my conflict.
Mallory, for many chapters, deeply admires and is fiercely loyal to this dark, spy master and fanatical protector of Queen Elizabeth. But who was he?
I don’t want to overstate my case but he was the piece of Protestant trash who tortured my favourite ancestor to death. That’s who he was.
My ancestor, Thomas Belson was a wonderful brave young man. He was a Catholic Martyr. You can google him. He was beatified in 1984 and became a saint. Rightly so!
A son of a wealthy Catholic family in Buckinghamshire, born in the mid-1560s, he went to Oxford, part of Oriel College and then off to the Catholic seminary in Reims. In his early-twenties, despite the extraordinary risk, he returned to England where he was caught and arrested and imprisoned. He was released. Maybe his family’s wealth produced the connections to save his life but he didn’t leave the country. He headed back to Buckinghamshire to help his friends, one of whom was a priest and there he was found, hiding in a priest hole (obviously not a very effective one) and this time Mallory Bright’s kindly employer stepped in and personally tortured him for weeks, until he was executed.
So, don’t you tell me that grim, streak of misery was a good thing, Mallory Bright!
Okay, I’ve got that out of my system. Possibly.
Mallory’s eyes are opened to the honourable gent and the story turns and she goes from being a master spy to an imprisoned traitor and, all the while, her gigantic-framed, enchanting (and Scarlet Pimpernel-like) suitor – did I mention he’s Catholic? – Lord Nathaniel walks close by, often in her shadow.
Historical romance is not my favourite genre but stories written by authors who can yank my emotions like Karen Brooks can, are my favourite books to read. I think it’s a bit patchy. I think it’s a bit long. But if you look on Good Reads, you’ll see that I’m in a minority who have any criticisms at all. It is holding hundreds and hundreds of reviewers in thrall, so go ahead, let your emotions be tugged, engage with the spy and locksmith, Mallory in her dangerous world.
Undersized, snowy-haired German orphan Werner, is a genius with radios. He and his feisty little sister Jutta are wards in Frau Elena’s children’s home. At night they listen to a radio receiver that Werner found and restored and, sometimes, the enchanting feathery voice of a French man talking about light makes them dream that anything is possible.
Blind French girl Marie-Laure is growing up in Paris, where her father, who guards the keys in the Museum of Natural History, has made a model of Paris to help her feel her way around the streets.
The war is pressing down on all of them. It will provide Werner with the unexpected opportunity to attend an elite, but brutal, school from where he will be dragged, too young and too small, into the conflict. Marie-Laure will find herself under the roof of her reclusive, damaged uncle in the ancient walled city of Saint-Malo.
The story opens with the walled city under heavy bombardment. Werner is trapped in a hotel basement in Saint-Malo and Marie-Laure is alone in her uncle’s house as the German army makes the old city the final German stronghold on the Breton coast during the dying weeks of the war.
Like the light we cannot see, there is a luminosity to Doerr’s prose, a glow of innate goodness in people forced to do evil, a pulse of energy in the folding timeline that doubles back on itself.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015, a New York Times best seller, a finalist of other book awards, The Light We Cannot See took Doerr ten years to write. It was worth the wait and will always be in my top ten of all-time favourite books.
Robyn Mundy’s seamless prose doesn’t hit a single discordant note throughout this story of coming of age and regret.
When teenage Stephanie West is pulled into her mother’s dream of returning to her childhood home on Maatsuyker Island, it’s a wrench from Steph’s life in Sydney during her final year at high school.
The island and its basic, lighthouse-keeper house holds little charm for Steph until she meets a young fisherman Tom and until the mutton birds swarm in like giants oil slicks. Just as her mother promised, Steph sees ‘the real Maatsuyker’.
Mundy crafts the tale with a gracious hand, with drift dive pacing. The characters have no more control of their growing enchantment, with the island, with each other, with the great heaving ocean and the stormy sky than puppets on a string. Increasingly Steph doesn’t mind. But then everything changes.
There’s a sixteen year jump and the third act is another beautiful tale as Steph and Tom try to get back to the people they were in 1999. It’s beautiful. The prose is engaging. The setting is so skilfully painted and the gentle way this author crafts troubled but good people is so satisfying. A wonderful, wonderful novel.
When the pigs were in their sty playing in the mud they found a cassowary feather and one pig ate it and suddenly forty-nine more feathers fell on them and forty-nine pigs ate one each and all turn…
On the day the circus came to Bundaberg Fred Fredrickson was training to be an electrician when he saw the poster of someone training a lion. As he was a very brave man, he decided he wanted to have that job so he went to the circus and asked if he could be a lion tamer too. They said “Yes, but you have to train for a long time because you have to be ready for anything the lion would do, like try to bite you.” Next month, Fred amazed everyone by riding the biggest, the baddest, and the bravest lion ever. On the day the circus left Bundaberg, Fred went with them.
Dardo (aged 9)