I’m absolutely delighted today to be joining the blog tour for Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior, and sharing my review. Published (rather appropriately…) by Penguin Books on 11th November, this lovely book is now available as an e-book, in paperback, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
If you read Away with the Penguins and enjoyed it as much as I did, you’ll have been looking forward to this sequel too – the opportunity to spend more time in the company of the quite magnificent Veronica McCreedy and the rest of the wonderful cast of characters (and, of course, the promise of more penguins). I was really thrilled to attend a talk with the author when I was at the Exeter Literary Festival a couple of weeks ago, with the opportunity to buy a signed copy for my bookshelves – and to hear that, for a while, there was some doubt that there would be a sequel at all (phew – thank goodness there was a change of heart!). You might know that Hazel’s first book was Ellie and the Harpmaker, and that she also works as a freelance harpist – it was so lovely (and particularly impressive) to hear her reading from all three books to her own harp accompaniment, a thoroughly enjoyable event.
I’m a little ashamed that I’ve never got round to posting a review of Away with the Penguins (I read it – and loved it – back in January while on a bit of a blogging hiatus), so I’m especially pleased to have the opportunity to share my review of this one. Let’s take a closer look…
Fiercely resilient, singular, always well turned out, Veronica McCreedy has lived an incredible 87 years. Most of them alone, in her huge house by the sea. Veronica has recently discovered a late-life love for family and friendship, adventure and wildlife. More specifically, she has found a love for penguins!
When she’s invited to co-present a wildlife documentary, far away in the southern hemisphere, she jumps at the chance. Even though this new adventure it will put her in the spotlight, just when she thought she would soon fade into the wings. Veronica might just be about to find out that perhaps it’s never too late to shine?
If you’re thinking about reading this one, I suspect you might be one of the over 170,000 people who bought a copy of Away with the Penguins, now looking forward to reading more. It’s by no means essential that you must have read it – this book will enchant you every bit as much as a standalone – but I do think I found it useful to understand a little about the relationships between the characters (I was already invested in them all) and everything that had gone before.
There are three main threads to the story. Veronica is invited by TV naturalist Sir Robert Saddlebow to travel to Australia and the Falklands to co-present a programme about the different penguin colonies – much like every reader, he’s been struck by her archaic way of speaking and her good clear voice (as well as her passion for penguins), and despite her advanced age she finds it impossible to refuse. The scientists at Locket Island in Antarctica, still working with the colony of Adélie penguins, are now dependent on her funding – and her newly-found grandson Patrick is now part of the team, a life apart from his former aimless existence in Bolton, having found romance with the lovely Terry. And the third thread sees Patrick leaving the island, heading to Canada in search of information about his long absent father – who is, of course, also Veronica’s son, adopted soon after his birth.
The story is told from the perspectives of Veronica, Patrick and Terry – one of the strengths of this book is the wonderful characterisation (if I loved Veronica first time round, I took her to my heart even more with this one), and their individual voices are clear and distinct and quite perfectly sustained. There is a new character who plays a major part in this story too – young Daisy, showing considerable bravery of her own, her interactions with the less than child-friendly Veronica an absolute joy at every encounter.
I won’t go into every twist and turn of the story – I think it’s important to discover it for yourself, stumble across its uplifting moments, enjoy the ever-present touches of humour, experience those moments that can’t help but bring a tear to your eye or move you to anger or despair. But the whole story is quite wonderfully told – I picked it up after lunch, and found it impossible to set aside until I’d read the final page, entirely transported to the locations and enjoying every moment of my involvement with the lives of its characters. The storylines are all brought together at the appropriately named Bolder Island in the Falklands – and I have to say that I loved every single moment.
There is a particularly strong environmental message to the book – well-timed in the aftermath of the recent COP26 conference – but it’s never laboured, and the simple demonstration of the consequences of human thoughtlessness makes it all the more powerful and personal. And if you’re one of those people who really likes to learn something while you’re reading, you’ll certainly find out a lot about penguins – again never “heavy”, but beautifully woven into the story. And, if you read the earlier book, I expect you’d like to know whether we get the chance to see how life’s been treating Pip – and I’m happy to say that the answer is “yes”.
I really loved this book – all its characters (including quite a few of the minor ones) are memorable and quite wonderfully drawn, the story was everything I wanted it to be. Other reviewers have said that this book is the sequel that Away with the Penguins deserved, and I can only wholeheartedly agree – in fact, I’d really be more than happy if the author decided to write a third. Highly recommended to all.
About the author
Hazel Prior lives on Exmoor. As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist. Hazel is the author of Ellie and the Harpmaker and Away with the Penguins, which was a #1 bestseller in ebook and audiobook, picked for the Richard & Judy Book Club and for the Radio 2 Book Club. It has now sold over 170,000 copies across all formats and has over 12,000 ratings on Amazon. Hazel’s debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker, has also been a top 100 Kindle bestseller and has sold over 20,000 copies in ebook in 2021 alone. Call of the Penguins is her third novel.