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BOOK REVIEW: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

Friday, August 17, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Bronte Mettlestone's parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She's had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons - and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte's parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte's home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents' instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates - and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye...

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

My Thoughts:

I have always thought that Jaclyn Moriarty has one of the freshest and most original voices in Australian children’s literature and so was eager to read her latest children’s fantasy, beautifully presented as a hardback with whimsical illustrations by Kelly Canby. The book did not disappoint – it was a sparkling delight from beginning to end, with lots of unexpected discoveries, wondrous encounters and madcap adventures.

The story begins:

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think - I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte’s parents had run away to have adventures when she was just a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. But their last will and testament says she must set out alone, on a solitary quest, to take a farewell gift to each of her ten other aunts. Her parents’ will has been bordered by fairy cross-stitch, which means calamity will befall her home town if she disobeys. So Bronte sets out to fulfil her parents’ dying wish (although, really, it is extremely inconvenient). Before long she is grappling with dragons, Chief Detectives, spell whisperers and pirates. Luckily, Bronte is very resourceful and determined as well as kind-hearted and clever, and so she deals with one troublesome aunt after another with aplomb.

The world-building in this book is so rich and inventive it could easily support a dozen other books, and so I hope that The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is the first in what will be a long series. This is the perfect book for a sensitive imaginative bookworm who is not yet ready for Harry Potter but wants a story filled with magic, adventure, humour and whimsy (the kind of kid I was when I was eleven!)

I was lucky enough to interview Jaclyn for the blog this weeks, you can read it here.

If you like the sound of this book, you might also be interested in my review of Nevermoor.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

INTERVIEW: Jaclyn Moriarty

Friday, August 17, 2018


Today I welcome Jaclyn Moriarty, author of The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and A Corner of White, among others. 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes. Lately my daydream has been about getting struck by lightning and being perfectly all right except that now, suddenly, I can sing beautifully. Like, an astonishing voice, the voice of an angel! In addition, I find that I can now speak the language of musical instruments, so that all I need to do is pick up an instrument, study it a moment, tilt my head towards it, smile softly, and then I can play it beautifully. Like, the Berlin Philharmonic are begging me to join! So, anyway, in the daydream, I go on Australian Idol and I’m on the stage being very open about how this was all just a lightning strike-- previously, I couldn’t sing a note! I was practically tone deaf! And rhythm? Forget about it! -- and they’re all laughing along. And then I become thoughtful and I query aloud whether it’s fair, that the other competitors have worked so hard, for so many years, to reach this point, whereas for me, it was just, you know, a lightning strike? ‘Quite literally,’ one of the judges murmurs. Shots of audience members nodding, seeing my point. But then I strum my guitar (or raise the bow to my violin, or blow a single, haunting note into my lur (a Viking wind instrument which was used to sound war calls in the Middle Ages) -- it depends which instrument I’ve chosen for tonight’s performance) and begin to sing...

So, if you see me walking around my neighbourhood, with a little frown creasing my forehead, it’s because I’m wondering whether it is fair, that I’m so good, when others have worked hard all their lives to achieve a level that doesn’t even approach my skill; or else I’m fretting about which of the many, many available instruments I should play for my audition---or how many I could reasonably incorporate into the audition? Could I run from one to the other or would that just become ridiculous?; or I’m really at a loss about what exactly Simon will have to say about it all. So many questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, for as long as I can remember. Well, actually, I remember being in a high chair and throwing a plate of food onto the floor, and I don’t think I wanted to be a writer at that point.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Perth, Western Australia. There was a serious earthquake in the area a few days later. This was to welcome me to the world, and I’m very sorry about the $ 2.2 million worth of damage, and the 20 to 28 people who were injured.

I live in Sydney, on the north side of the harbour, and I like to sleep in, read, eat chocolate, bake, hang out with my 11-year-old, Charlie, chat with friends, see movies, snow ski, ice-skate, meet up with my parents, sisters, in-laws, nephews and nieces, in sunny parks, and watch the children kick balls around or listen to them compliment my chocolate brownies (not Charlie - he kicks the ball around but is very dismissive of my baking).

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

A reader sent me an email about my books, and mentioned she was drinking a cup of cloudberry tea. I had never heard of cloudberry tea before, and I replied that I was going to put it in a book one day.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
For my first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, I had a two page outline. With each book since, my plan has grown longer and longer. So, for the Colours of Madeleine trilogy, the plan took a year to write and was over 200 pages. However, with the Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, I decided I would not plan it at all. I wrote each chapter in a different cafe in my neighbourhood and I imagined that I was following Bronte around, from cafe to cafe, waiting to see what she would do.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Sometimes, but more the mood of the dream than the plot. I am also inspired by ideas that come to me when I am in a half-awake trance in the mornings. That’s a big part of why I like to sleep in, or anyway that’s the excuse I give for it.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Well, even though I was trying to write each chapter of this book in a different cafe I did return to Coco Chocolate, the tiny chocolate cafe in Kirribilli, over and over. I kept finding myself drawn back to it. While I was writing the book, I didn’t have a title, so I kept referring to it as ‘my pirate book’ (because it opens with Bronte’s parents being killed by pirates). ‘I’m just going back to the chocolate cafe to write my pirate book,’ I kept saying to people, and to myself. I wrote the final words of the book in Coco Chocolate, and looked up and said to the owner, ‘I’ve just finished my pirate book!’ She reached across me and picked up a package of gold chocolate coins and handed them to me. And I realised that there’d been a treasure chest of gold coins sitting right in front of me the entire time I was writing my pirate book.

Where do you write, and when?
I used to always plan in a cafe each morning, and then write in my study at home each afternoon. However, with Bronte, I actually started bringing my laptop along to the cafes and writing there, and I loved it. I still write at home every afternoon but lately I’ve been writing at the dining room table, instead of my study, because my study is ice-cold and the dining room table is bathed in winter sunshine.

Everything changes.

What is your favourite part of writing?

The hot chocolate at Coco Chocolate.

What do you do when you get blocked?
Run around the block or up and down a flight of stairs; eat fruit and chocolate; draw colourful pictures. If that doesn’t work, I stop writing altogether for half a day and sit on the edge of the harbour staring at the water. In a serious case, stop writing altogether for a week or more and do household administration, wash the skirting boards and read novels and poetry instead.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Reading across all genres, especially science, history and poetry; having a lot of conversations with my bright and funny friends; eavesdropping on strangers.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

I always have a cup of peppermint tea and a blue bowl of fruit and chocolate beside me, plus a jug of water and a glass. I usually go for a walk that takes me near water before I start writing. I change into my most comfortable tracksuit pants first.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Diana Wynne Jones, Carol Shields, Joan Aiken, Jane Austen, Rachel Cohn, Garth Nix, Elizabeth McCracken, Geraldine McCaughrean, Laura Bloom, Kate Clanchy, Louis Sachar, E. Nesbit, Tom Stoppard, P.G. Wodehouse, Liane Moriarty, Nicola Moriarty, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Writing that takes you sideways out of life and that is fearless and true.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Read widely across all genres; set rules for writing times and stick to them, but don’t be hard on yourself if you break them. Be kind to yourself, be delighted by what you’re writing, but then step away for a week or more, come back, and be a bit ruthless. Continue to be kind to yourself even when you’re being ruthless.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up with copy-editing and proofs of two books -- one is a follow-up to Bronte. It’s called The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars, (it will just be called The Whispering Wars in the US and Canada) and takes place in a different part of the Kingdoms and Empires, before Bronte was born. In the town of Spindrift, Honey Bee lives in the exclusive boarding school, Finlay lives in the orphanage, and the Whispering Wars are about to begin.

The other book is an adult novel called Gravity is the Thing which is about a woman who signs up for a series of seminars that promise to teach her the secret to human flight.

You can read my review of Jaclyn's latest book, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, here.

INTERVIEW: Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband's Secret

Monday, January 26, 2015

I have long been a fan of Jaclyn Moriarty's wonderful books, but I had not ever tried reading a book by one of her sisters, Nicole or Liane. I decided to dip my toe in by reading Liane Moriarty's New York Times bestselling novel The Husband's Secret!

The Husband's Secret is a funny, sad, suspenseful and utterly surprising book that has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and is set to be translated into over 35 languages. CBS Films has acquired the film rights.

I loved it, and so begged Liane to talk to me about some of her creative inspirations and techniques.

Are you a daydreamer too?


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes, my sister, Jaci and I had always wanted to be authors. When we were children, our Dad would commission us to write novels for him. However, it was Jaci who achieved our childhood dream first. At the time her first novel Feeling Sorry for Celia was accepted for publication, I was working as a freelance advertising copywriter, writing everything from websites to TV commercials. Although I occasionally wrote short stories and first chapters of novels that didn’t go any further, I’d let my childhood dream slide. My sister’s news was the inspiration I needed to get me back to the keyboard.  In a fever of sibling rivalry I wrote a children’s book which was enthusiastically rejected by every publisher in Australia. I calmed down, and two years later, my first novel, Three Wishes was published

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Sydney and I’ve lived in Sydney all my life. I love reading, DVD box sets (my husband and I are the only people left in the world who obediently wait for the box sets rather than downloading them), snow-skiing, chocolate, champagne, coffee, hot baths, sleep, restaurants with flattering lighting, old friends, but also new friends. I’m also quite fond of my two children. I have a six year old son and a four year old daughter.     

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

 I came quite late to motherhood and as a result I tend to look at the world of parenting with the wide eyes of a tourist. Last year I became a ‘school mum’ for the first time when my little boy started kindergarten.  It was a brand new experience for me, and I wanted to write about this ordinary, extraordinary world of parenting.  I came up with the premise for the book when I was touring with another author (the lovely Ber Carroll) who was spending every spare moment searching for the perfect necklace to wear to a school trivia night. She and her friends were all planning to dress up as Audrey Hepburn. For some reason the image of those mothers with their Audrey Hepburn hairstyles and outfits stayed with me long after the tour.  I thought imagine if all the mothers were dressed as Audrey Hepburn and the fathers dressed as Elvis Presley? Then I thought, imagine if there was some sort of argument between all those Elvises and Audreys? Then I thought, why not a riot? After that I was hooked.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I just tend to come up with a premise and dive in and hope that an ending will come to me. It means there is a sense of anticipation because I think, I wonder what’s going to happen? 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

No. Never. My dreams are awful. I always have exactly the same dream: I suddenly remember that I’ve forgotten something EXTREMELY important and the consequences are catastrophic. They were particularly bad when my children were babies and I’d wake up screaming, “The baby, the baby! Where did I put the baby?”  Actually, maybe I do need to write about this and that might cure me of this awful dream.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

No, not really, but what a lovely phrase, “an astonishing serendipitous discovery!” I will hope for an astonishing serendipitous discovery with my next book.

Where do you write, and when?

I write in my home office when my children are at school or pre-school or when they’re playing outside my door with their lovely babysitter.

What is your favourite part of writing?

I love the final twenty thousand words or so of a novel when I can see the end in sight and I know my characters and I finally know what’s going to happen and where I’m going and I’m writing exciting climatic scenes that I’ve been looking forward to writing and everything is coming together, and the writing feels lovely and flowing, rather than awkward and stilted, as it always does when I start a book, and I can’t quite find my voice, and I’m missing the characters from my previous book and I often find myself thinking, Who are these people?   

What do you do when you get blocked?

A walk helps. So does a long shower. Also chocolate.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

Conversations with friends seem to give me the most material.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

My best ritual is to turn on ‘Freedom’ – a little software programme that turns off Internet access for a specified period of time. Just the act of clicking that little button really does give me Freedom to write. 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Maggie O’Farrell, Jaclyn Moriarty, Nicola Moriarty, Dianne Blacklock, Ber Carroll,  Karen Joy Fowler, Kate Atkinson, Lionel Shriver – I could go on, but I see I’ve used up my quota.    

What do you consider to be good writing? 

When I don’t notice the writing at all, I’m so lost in the story.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

 To think of nothing else but the story – not the world of publishing, or what makes a best-seller, or should you self-publish or not, or should it be double-spaced (yes), or should you make it more erotic (probably, if you can! Wish I could) or how will you make sure nobody else steals your ideas (they won’t) – just lose yourself in the pleasure of writing your story. Then edit, edit, edit.  THEN and only then should you think about all that other stuff

What are you working on now?

I’ve decided to set my next book on a tropical island, and I feel that I need to do a lot of research to get this book right. A lot of meticulous research. Editors, publicists, agents and various friends are all generously offering to help out. 

On Liane's website, she says to anyone wishing to email her: 

"If you have just read The Husbands Secret and wish to tell Liane that Easter takes place in spring, not in autumn, please note that this book is set in Australia, where the seasons are upside down.
Easter takes place in the autumn here. It’s true." 

I love that !

Liane's most recent novel, Big Little Lies, was the first by an Australian author to debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Film and television rights have already been snapped up by Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon - how cool is that!


Monday, December 31, 2012

This past year was the first year of The Australian Women’s Writers Challenge – a call to arms for Australians to support our women writers by reading and reviewing their books, and spreading the word about the extraordinary literary talent we have in this country.

The initiative – begun by Elizabeth Lhuede – aims to redress the gender imbalance in the way male and female writers are treated in this country. Male writers are reviewed more often and win prizes more often, even though they do not write more books than women.

I have to admit I've  always had a strong bias towards women writers – my husband will growl, ‘don’t you have any books by men?’ as he searches my many bookshelves for something to read – yet I have noticed that the major literary papers do not review the type of books I really want to read. 

So I decided to join in the AWW challenge by reviewing novels that I had read and loved on a blog which I began for that purpose. I have reviewed and interviewed both men and women, from Australia and elsewhere – and I have made an effort to read more books by Australian women writers. 

In all, I read 95 books in 2012, 26 less than in 2011.

Less than one-third of these were written by men.

Of the 63 women writers, 35 of them were Australian. All of them were utterly brilliant. If you haven’t read their novels, read them in 2013 and discover for yourself the amazing talent of writers we have in this country: 

Parallel Historical/Contemporary

1. Secrets of the Tides – Hannah Richell
A dramatic story of family secrets and lies, set in London & Devon. Hannah Richell is UK-born, but lives in Sydney so I have counted her as an Aussie. 

2. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton 
A riveting read that moves between contemporary times and the early days of the Second World War

3. Lighthouse Bay - Kimberley Freeman
One of my favourite books of the year, this book has romance, suspense, a dastardly villain, and a cast of strong, defiant women.

4. In Falling Snow  -  Mary Rose MacColl
A fascinating look at the role of women nurses and doctors in the Second World War in France.


5. Raven’s Heart  -  Jesse Blackadder
Set in Scotland in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, this novel is filled with unexpected twists and turns.


6. The Reasons for Marriage  -  Stephanie Laurens
7. A Lady of Expectations  -  Stephanie Laurens
8. An Unwilling Conquest  -  Stephanie Laurens
9. A Comfortable Wife  -  Stephanie Laurens
Regency romance novels that are thin on story and thick on sex – but enjoyable nonetheless. 

10. The Perfect Rake  -  Anne Gracie
11. Bride by Mistake – Anne Gracie
12. The Perfect Waltz  -  Anne Gracie
13. The Stolen Princess – Anne Gracie
14. The Perfect Kiss – Anne Gracie
15. His Captive Lady - Anne Gracie 
Sparkling Regency romances with just the right mixture of humour, pathos, intrigue and romance.


16. Sea Hearts  -  Margo Lanagan
A haunting tale of love, betrayal and selkies by one of Australia’s most extraordinary authors. 

17. Shadowfell – Juliet Marillier
The first in a romantic YA fantasy series by one of my all-time favourite authors.

18. Flame of Sevenwaters  -  Juliet Marillier
Another fabulous historical fantasy set in the otherworldly forest of Sevenwaters.

19. A Corner of White  -  Jaclyn Moriarty
A startlingly original book that moves between the parallel worlds of contemporary Oxford and the strange and magical Kingdom of Cello.


20. Poet’s Cottage – Josephine Pennicott
An intriguing murder mystery set in Tasmania, which moves between the present day and the tragic past. 

21. A Few Right Thinking Men  -  Sulari Gentill
The first in a series of murder mysteries set in 1930s.

Children’s/Young Adult

22. The Golden Door – Emily Rodda
23. The Silver Door - Emily Rodda
24. The Third Door - Emily Rodda
A new trilogy of action-packed fantasy adventure novels for 8+, by the brilliant Emily Rodda

25. The Forgotten Pearl – Belinda Murrell 
A fabulous historical novel for 10+, set during the Second World War in Darwin and Sydney.

26. The River Charm  -  Belinda Murrell
A beautiful and very moving novel that moves between contemporary times and New South Wales’ early pioneering days, drawing upon the true life story of Charlotte and Louisa Atkinson, Australia’s first female novelists and journalists (and, I proudly must admit, my sister Belinda and my ancestors)

27. Bright Angel – Isabelle Merlin
A charming romantic suspense novel for 13+ set in the South of France.

28. One Long Thread – Belinda Jeffries
A fresh and unusual coming-of-age story that moves between Australia and Tonga.

29. Moonlight & Ashes – Sophie Masson
A really brilliant retake on the well-known Cinderella story, set in a make-believe Prague.

30. The Madman of Venice – Sophie Masson
A romantic historical novel set in Venice, with lots of suspense to keep the pages turning.

31. The FitzOsbornes in Exile - Michelle Cooper


32. You’ll be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

Next year I aim to read even more books by Australian Women Writers. 
What about you?

BOOK LIST: Best Books Read in 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I didn't quite make my target of 100 books this year, reading only 95, but I did discover some brilliant new writers. Here are my top reads of the year: 

Best Historical Novel

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.

Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder

I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! A fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, passion and cross-dressing. This was one of the best reads of the year so far.

The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Set in 1666, soon after the restoration of King Charless II, this novel tells the story of how Alice – a young wife and talented painter - discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a nearby wood. She is captivated by its beauty and wants to paint it, but the owner of the wood —a Quaker called Richard Wheeler, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. So Alice steals the flower, and sets off a chain of events including murder, riot, witchcraft, betrayal and exile. Brilliant historical fiction.

The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner

The Queen’s Vow brings Isabella of Castile, a powerful and passionate woman, to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries. I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!

Best Parallel Historical/Contemporary Novel

Secrets of the Tide by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the Tides is a suspenseful page-turner of a family drama, taking place mainly in Cornwall and London, and moving back and forth between the past and the present. It begins with a girl jumping off a bridge into the Thames. We do not know who she is or why she is jumped, or even if she lives or dies. Slowly the answers to these mysteries are revealed, some of them very surprising. I absolutely loved it, and look forward to more from this debut author.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberly Freeman

Lighthouse Bay begins in 1901, with a woman – the only survivor of a shipwreck - dragging a chest full of treasure down a deserted beach. The narrative then moves to contemporary times, with a woman secretly grieving at the funeral of her married lover. These two women – Isabella Winterbourne and Libby Slater – are joined through time by a lighthouse and its secrets and mysteries. I raced through this compelling and intriguing book, utterly unable to put it down. Fabulous rollicking read. 

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 
The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty – I really loved it.

Best Historical Mystery

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A historical thriller set in Tudor England, this novel features a beautiful young nun, Sister Joanna, as its heroine. The book begins with the burning of Joanna’s cousin for treason, and sees our intrepid nun being thrown in the Tower and then coerced into a hunt for a mysterious crown thought to have supernatural powers. The book moves swiftly along, with lots of danger, suspense, and a little romance. An engaging read.

Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

The latest in a series of great Regency murder mysteries featuring the aristocratic detective Sebastian St Cyr. I really enjoy this series, and buy each new one as soon as it comes out. Begin with the first in the series, What Angels Fear, as part of the pleasure is the unfolding relationships. 

Best Contemporary Mystery 

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The latest in the delightful Bruno Courreges mysteries set in the Perigord in southern France, this one seems a little darker in tone than the previous ones, with terrorists, animal rights campaigners and archaeologists keeping Bruno busier than ever. There are the usual wonderful descriptions of French food and French countryside, and a little romance – I’m just hoping Martin Walker is writing fast. 

Best Fantasy

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that  the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.

Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier 

The sixth in the wonderful Sevenwaters series, this book is, as always, filled with wonder, peril, magic, romance, courage, wisdom and compassion. Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite writers and she never, ever disappoints. A beautiful, radiant book. 

Best Children’s Fiction

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell 

The most recent book by my beautiful sister, Belinda, The Forgotten Pearl is set in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War. The heroine, Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself. I always judge a book by whether it brings a prickle of tears to my eyes, and this book did that a number of times – a beautifully written historical novel for children set during a fascinating and largely forgotten period of Australian history. 

The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.

Flint Heart by Katherine & John Paterson

Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child – I absolutely loved ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and a lesser known book of hers, ‘Jacob Have I Loved’. So when I saw she and her husband John had retold an old English folktale and that it was sumptuously illustrated by John Rocco, the former creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word. The writing is simple and pitch-perfect, and the illustrations are strange and sumptuous – after I read it, I gave it to my 8 year old daughter and she loved it too. A lovely antidote to all those sparkly fairy books.

Best Young Adult Fiction

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A lovely retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Jessica Day George has a light touch, a sweet romance, and a clever use of knitting – I’d recommend this to anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairytale retellings. 

One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffries

This is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffries’ books that I have read but I will be seeking out more. 

Moonlight & Ashes by Sophie Masson

I really loved this new book by Sophie Masson. I think it's her best book yet, and I'm a long-time fan of her work. 'Moonlight & Ashes' is a retelling of the Aschenputtel fairy tale, the German Cinderella. It is set in alternative Prague, and is full of adventure, magic and romance. It has the most beautiful, dreamy cover too - loved it!

by Juliet Marillier

The latest book from one of my all-time favourite authors, Shadowfell is a magical quest set in an otherworldy Scotland. I loved it!

Best Historical Romance

The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Waltz by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I read a lot of romance this year, by a lot of different authors, possibly because I am studying my doctorate and so was seeking the very best kind of comfort reading as an antidote to all the academia I was ploughing through. Nonetheless, the three top romance books I read this year were all by the Australian author, Anne Gracie. Such lightness and deftness of touch, such wit and warmth, such sparkling dialogue - she never disappoints. 

Best Contemporary Romance

I didn’t read any this year – I wonder why?

Best Non-Fiction

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

An utterly engrossing and illuminating look at Napoleon and his Empress, this thick tome is as readable as any novel. I went it to it understanding nothing about Napoleon and his rise and fall, and came away feeling I understood everything.

1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

Looking at the single year of 1812 - and drawing on thousands of first-hand accounts from both sides - this brilliant book looks at each step of Napoleon’s march on Russia and his disastrous retreat. Utterly compelling, shocking and fascinating. 

I need to make a disclaimer, of course:
1) My choice is utterly and unashamedly subjective
2) I know many of these writers, and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. One of them is even my sister! Regardless of whether they’re friends or family, I still absolutely loved their works, though, and hope you will too.
3) Many thanks to the publishers and writers who sent me books this year– I’m sorry if I haven’t read those books yet and I will try to get to them. My reading choices are prompted purely by my own selfish pleasure and so sometimes I don’t read the books I should!
4) This means, of course, that there are many absolutely wonderful books out there which I haven’t yet discovered. I hope that I shall soon. 

You may enjoying reading my interviews with some of the above authors:


INTERVIEW: Jaclyn Moriarty, author of 'A Corner of White'

Friday, November 16, 2012

I absolutely loved Jaclyn Moriarty's new book, 'A Corner of White' and so, as always, I wanted to know more about it. 

Jaci kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Here are her answers:

Are you a daydreamer too?

I daydream so much that I am always either lost or bumping into something. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
From the age of six. 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Perth, WA, but my family moved back to Sydney when I was two so I grew up here.  I’ve lived in the US, England and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney.  I like to see the ocean from a window, read all night, eat pancakes in my pyjamas, bake chocolate cakes, skate on frozen lakes, talk all night, and dance in the living room with my six-year-old, Charlie.  (I only really like that last one for the first few minutes: after that, Charlie changes the music, or makes me pick him up and spin him around which hurts my back, or tries to switch things to a game of musical bumps, which I have to say is not a game I enjoy.) 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'A Corner of White' ?
A friend gave me the nickname The Princess KuKu Nightie.  I decided I wanted to write a story about that princess.  Years later, I drew pictures of a kingdom called Cello, where the princess could live.  The princess herself ended up on the cutting room floor, and luckily, so did the nickname. 

Tell me about how you came to use colours as a key part of the book?
I was working in a café one day when a friend stopped by.  I told him I was writing about the Kingdom of Cello. ‘Okay, so what are your monsters?’ he said. ‘You can’t have a Kingdom without monsters.’  (He’s a filmmaker and had just made a horror movie.) I always used coloured textas and pencils when I’m working so these were scattered over the table.  The monsters are colours, I said.  

Did colours come first, or Newton?
After I’d decided to make colours into monsters, I read about the science of colour and light.  That led me to Isaac Newton, and the story of him buying a glass prism at a marketplace and using it to split a beam of sunlight into colour.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Well, I’d already decided to set the book in Cambridge, England, and particularly in Trinity College, Cambridge.  When I got interested in Isaac Newton I discovered he’d been at Trinity, Cambridge.  I chose some other random famous people who’d also been at Trinity, and unexpected connections started emerging between them.   

How extensively do you plan your novels?
For my first novel, 'Feeling Sorry for Celia', I had a one-page plan and did no research at all, except to check some facts along the way.  For this book I had a 150-page plan and 30 folders of research material.
Sometimes I miss writing the old way, and when I finish this trilogy I want to write an entire novel without a word of planning. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not so much dreams as not-quite-sleeping.  Ideas come to me when I’m falling toward sleep, or listening to music.  The whole plot of 'Finding Cassie Crazy' came to me while I was half-asleep and listening to a Placebo album. 
Oh, wait.  I just remembered that I dreamed about the essence of sadness the other night.  I used that in a description of my character’s bad day.   

Where do you write, and when?
After I take Charlie to school I walk to a local café and write ideas or plot chapters in a notebook for about an hour.  Then I come home and work in my study until it’s time to collect Charlie from school at 2.55 pm.  Most days the writing goes nowhere until 2.50 pm when it finally starts working.   So I get in 5 minutes of writing a day. 

What is your favourite part of writing?
The planning phase, before I start writing, when it feels like it’s perfectly possible that I’m just about to write a masterpiece, and I’m spending whole days in cafes drawing pictures and I can’t believe this is my job.  Also, the final third of the book, after I’ve spent months dragging some huge disaster of a book up the side of a mountain and thinking, I can’t believe this is my job,  and then, finally, it’s sort of coming together and I get to toboggan down the other side.   

What do you do when you get blocked?
Eat too much chocolate.  Run up and down a flight of stairs.  Drink a lot of water.  Cry.   Read poetry. 
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading poetry and science.  Talking to people in unexpected places who do unexpected things. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I can’t write without having a blue bowl of fruit and chocolate on my desk beside me.  

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Elizabeth McCracken, Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Edith esbit, Diana Wynne-Jones, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Louis Sachar, John Marsden, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austen, Carol Shields, Charles Bukowsi, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Rachel Cohn.  I think I stopped counting sorry. 

Diana Wynne Jones, also one of my favourite writers

What do you consider to be good writing?
When the characters keep chatting to me even when I’m not reading the book. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t feel like you have to write a novel right away, and don’t be mad at yourself if your stories keep stalling and you find yourself starting something new.  Write as many quarter stories in as many different genres as you like, until one catches hold of you and makes you want to take it to the end. 

What are you working on now?
The sequel to 'A Corner of White'.  Its working title is 'The Cracks in the Kingdom'. 

If you enjoyed this, check out my interviews with Michael Pryor and Jesse Blackadder

Please leave a comment, I love to know what you think!

BOOK REVIEW: 'A Corner of White' by Jaclyn Moriarty

Monday, November 12, 2012

Title: A Corner of White
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty 
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Age Group & Genre:  YA fantasy/magic realism

The Blurb:
Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.

What I Think: 
I often tweet about a book while I’m reading it.

My tweets about ‘A Corner of White’ include ‘extraordinary, beautiful, startling’; ‘one of the most original and unusual books I’ve read in a long time’; and ‘I’m in awe’. 

It is certainly unlike any other book I’ve ever read.

‘A Corner of White’ is basically a story about parallel words – our own familiar world - and another far different and yet strangely familiar place, the Kingdom of Cello.

A crack opens up between these two worlds, and a letter slips through. Madeleine, a teenage girl living in Cambridge, finds the letter and writes back … thinking her correspondent is just a boy with a vivid imagination. She does not realise that Elliot’s letters describe a real place …

Both Madeleine and Elliot are suffering loss and confusion and the pangs of first love.

Both Madeleine and Elliott feel very alone.

Their letters build a bridge between them and their world, and, in strange and unexpected ways, help each other make sense of the mysteries of their lives. 

Jaclyn Moriarty has always had a quirky, wryly humorous style, but in ‘A Corner of White’ she reaches new heights of lyricism. There were some lines which sung with such truth and beauty that I wanted to learn them by heart.

Here’s just one:

'She felt the stars were folding into her chest; those sharp, shining, agitated pieces of excitement were stars'. 

Such a perfect sentence, saying so much with so little.

I do have to say that ‘A Corner of White’ is a difficult book to categorise. 

Although the secondary world makes it a fantasy novel, the book is without most of the trappings that we usually associate with fantasy. There are no quests, or magical beasts, or battles between good and evil. The secondary world is remarkably humdrum – despite waves of colours that sweep over the land and cause havoc with people’s emotions, and despite such extraordinary magical touches as the Butterfly Child, who brings luck to anyone who catches her.

Similarly, our own world is infused with strangeness and magic. There are troubling absences, inexplicable coincidences, and odd disruptions to what we would consider normal. 

Because the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists, I’d call it ‘magic realism’ rather than fantasy – yet it is so fantastical, so filled with a sense of the strange and the impossible, that it really blurs the boundaries of magic realism as well. 

I think Jaclyn may have invented a whole new genre. Fantastical magic realism, perhaps? 

Or maybe magic unrealism?

Either way, ‘A Corner of White’ is quite simply one of the most astonishingly original books I’ve ever read. I loved it!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earlier this week, trying to define the new book by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty, I called it fantastical magic realism. 

Although ‘A Corner of White’ was set in both our world and an imaginary secondary world, a common trope of fantasy fiction, it was not really fantasy, I said, partly because, ‘the book is truly concerned with the inner lives of its two protagonists.’ 

A few people have challenged me on that, asking ‘what exactly IS magic realism, then?’

Being a brave soul, I thought I’d try, at least, to express what I think it’s all about. 

Magic realism is, I think, a genre of fiction set in our own world, in which strange, uncanny, or magical things happen in the midst of everyday events. The protagonists do not change their world, as is the case in most fantasy novels; rather, they themselves are changed as a consequence of the magic. The line between real and unreal, possible and impossible, is blurred. Life is shown to be filled with mystery and the inexplicable.

Here is one quote I found that I like, by the Mexican-American writer, Luis Leal:

‘In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.’

A few books that I have read and loved, and that I would call ‘magic realism’:

'House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende 

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel 

'Garden Spells' by Sarah Addison Allen 

'Love in the Time of Cholera ' by Gabriel García Márquez 

'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern 

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger 

'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris 

'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman 

'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón 

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey 

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