Book Review: Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

If you love to read, you probably also love discovering new authors. It doesn’t matter if they are well-established authors. If they are new to you, you feel the joy of discovery. And what a special treat to find an author who’s written a series. Knowing that, after you finish that first book, you have more  adventures with the same characters to look forward to is sheer delight.

Delighted to meet AJ Hartley at SinC meeting in May.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting ,  A.J. Hartley, aka Andrew Hart, who spoke at our local Sisters in Crime meeting, recounting his journey  to becoming an international bestselling author of novels spanning a variety of genres.   He has written several archaeological thrillers, the Darwen Arkwright children’s series, the Will Hawthorne fantasy adventures and novels based on Macbeth and Hamlet. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he is also the Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare at UNC Charlotte.

For me, AJ’s talk was one part informative, one part inspirational and two parts humorous.  Afterwards I selected Steeplejack, the first in his three-book YA Fantasy series. The book’s protagonist and heroine, seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, earns her living cleaning and repairing chimneys and towers in the city of Bar-Selehm,  “an industrial city resembling an alternate Victorian South Africa.”

Anglet is a Lani. In the culture of the Lani people, the first daughter is a blessing, the second a trial, the third — a curse.  Anglet is a third daughter.  Nevertheless, she is a talented climber and excels at her job. She is also independent and fierce, characteristics that draw us to her immediately.

Near the end of the story, when Anglet is on the run and in great peril, she encounters a black weancat with a collar, a creature with whom she feels a kinship. She muses that the collar is a “collar of the mind” that you could simply refuse to believe in, and without the collar “all the cat had was itself: muscle and sinew, claw tooth and bone, senses, experience, skill, instinct and roaring, blood-pumping animal need.”  She, of course, could be describing herself — or any of us, for that matter.

I loved this character and I loved this book. The story is gripping, the action, non-stop, the setting, hauntingly beautiful — the language, soaring.  No wonder more and more adults are turning to Young Adult literature.  Can’t wait to finish reading the series.

Trip the Light Fantastic

Mary Poppins 1964

In the summer of 1964, I was 13 years old and the last thing I wanted to do was go see Mary Poppins. My younger sister, Mary Ellen, at age 10, wanted nothing more. I remember feeling so resentful at being forced to go with her. After all, I was a teenager all of three months at that point.

When we got to the theater in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the line to get in was formidably long, and I refused to stand in line. And so I was spared the ignominy of being a teenager at a children’s movie and I returned home and listened to my Beatle’s albums instead.

I confess that I felt conflicted because Mary Ellen was so disappointed. But, being the determined little thing she was, and still is, she managed to get to see the movie with someone else…not me a week or so later. I have always regretted that episode because I knew how much it meant to her, but, in my adolescent insecurity, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to a kid’s movie. I let her down.

Fast forward to last week. Mary Ellen and I went to see the latest Mary Poppins movie. This time she didn’t need to coax me. We  laughed when we bought the tickets. “Two seniors for Mary Poppins.” Quite a different attitude from 1964.

Mary Poppins 2019

We, of course, loved the film. Like Mary Poppins herself, it is “practically perfect in every way”. I read an interview with Emily Blunt and she said she remembered the original movie, calling it a “joy bomb”. Well, this movie is beyond that. Multiply joyful by a hundred. Call it a bliss bomb.

Trip a Little Light Fantastic was my favorite part of the movie. I loved it so much that I decided it will be my motto for 2019. My favorite lines:

“So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary
Who can shine their light for all the world to see
As you trip a little light fantastic with me”

As we embark on this new year, I wish you twelve months of blissful brightness.

Happy New Year!