Tuesday 28 January 2014

The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill **Guest Review**

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price dreams of a world infinitely larger than the small Quaker community where she has lived all 25 years of her life - for, as an amateur astronomer, she secretly hopes to discover a comet and win the King of Denmark's prize for doing so. 
But she can only indulge her passion for astronomy as long as the men in her life - her father, brother and family friends - are prepared to support it, and so she treads a fine line between pursuing her dreams and submitting to the wishes and expectations of those around her. That line is crossed when Hannah meets Isaac Martin, a young black whaler from the Azores.
Isaac, like Hannah herself, has ambitions beyond his station. Drawn to him despite their differences, Hannah agrees to tutor him in the art of navigation. As their shared passion for the stars develops into something deeper, however, Hannah's standing in the community is called into question, and she has to choose: her dreams or her heart. 
Loosely inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first American woman to become a professional astronomer, The Movement of Stars is, at its heart, a glorious - and unusual - love story. With shades of Chocolat and Remarkable Creatures, it will appeal to fans of Tracy Chevalier and Joanne Harris.

Angi & I
I'm as pleased as punch to introduce you to my friend Angi who is the guest reviewer here today on Random Things.   I've known Angi for around 6 years now, we met online through our love of books and have met in person many times over the past few years.  Angi is an Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan
University and also writes herself.  Angi is on Twitter @josephsyard

The Movement of Stars was published by Penguin in May 2013 and is Amy Brill's first novel.  Here is Angi's review:

It is 1845, and twenty-five year old Hannah Gardner Price lives with her widowed father in the Quaker community of Nantucket, a small island off the Massachusetts coast. She is clever, a free-thinking academic who seems out of place amongst the other girls at the meeting house, who dream of nothing more than marriage and babies and are committed to the faith. Her adored twin brother, the only person she really relates to, has left the island on a whaling vessel in defiance of their father’s ambitions for him. But despite her loneliness, Hannah is reasonably content. She has a post at the library and in the evenings she keeps accounts for the family farm and recalibrates chronometers for the boats which dock in the harbour. 
          Star-watching is her undoubted passion. Night after night, she charts their movements across the sky, always searching for that elusive ‘wanderer’, the comet that – should she be first to record it – will bear her name and perhaps win her the prestigious King of Denmark’s Prize. 
          When a young black whaler approaches her for navigation lessons, she is forced to reassess her way of life. Like Hannah, Isaac Martin has ideas ‘above his station’. The Quakers were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery, but still the opportunities for black workers are woefully limited. Despite these expectations, Isaac dreams of one day skippering a whaling ship. As they work together, exploring the night sky, Hannah and Isaac challenge one another’s values. Gradually they fall in love. 
          This is a fascinating story. Hannah is an engaging character – awkward and somewhat lacking in social graces, yet self-aware, reflective and always interesting. Amy Brill’s descriptions of the Nantucket community are brilliantly evocative, from the distinctiveness of their language and customs to the minutiae of their dress and homes. The Great Fire is rich with detail: the stench of fear and burning buildings. 
          I loved this novel. Even in the first week of January, I know it will be one of my top reads of 2014. It might even be the best debut novel I read this year. Which brings me to my one concern. The Movement of Stars is loosely based on the story of Maria Mitchell, a Nantucket Quaker who became renowned as the ‘lady astronomer’. Clearly the author has done her research, both into the stargazing and cultural aspects of her novel. Over a decade’s worth of research, in fact. I don’t want to wait another decade for her second novel, but I want it to be as good. Is that possible?
I'd like to say a huge thanks to Angi for that wonderful review. She has certainly made The Movement of Stars sound like a very tempting read. Angi mentioned that there are quite a few spoilers in the reviews left on Amazon for The Movement of Stars - maybe best avoided before people read the book!

Amy Brill is a writer and producer who has worked for PBS and MTV and has been awarded fellowships by the Edward F Albee Foundation, the Millav Colony, and the American Antiquarian Society, among others.  This is her first novel.  She lives in Brooklyn.

For more information about the author and her work, visit her website www.amybrill.com.   Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @amy_brill


  1. Ooh, I like the sound of this one. Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier, you say??!! Scuttling off to add to wishlist. Brilliant review, Angi.

  2. There was nothing wrong with the book that a judicious paring of about one quarter of the volume would not improve. I found it a bit slow and repetitive at points. I was very disappointed that Hannah made what would now be considered the politically correct choice of leaving her lover to 'make a difference' for young women, when she could have stayed on the island with her man, protected by her fame, with a custom-made job to enable her to fulfill her education/work goals while making a significant impact on race relations attitudes. Her situation and location could not have been more favorable in allowing a racially mixed marriage to prosper and be accepted. Even if she stayed and just worked with him, at least they would not have to be separated. If she loved him as much as she professed in the book, she would have stayed to make her life with him. We were drawn along for so many pages about the importance of their relationship: turns out it was just not that important to her after all, therefore, for me, the book rang hollow.