Monday 27 May 2019


Wundersmith is the second book in a series, spoilers to the first book will inevitably follow.

Quite recently I finished the audiobook of Nevermoor (see my review). I loved it so much that very soon after when I was tucking earphones into my ears to go out with the dog I found I was listening to the sequel Wundersmith. Very soon after that, I was turning to it when doing the dishes, or the ironing, or when out tending the garden... you get the idea. My listening pace accelerated rapidly throughout the book. Today, I listened to some in the car, and then realised I was very close to the end, only had a few chapters more to go really ... so I listened some more whilst doing more menial household tasks, and then was only two chapters from the end, so I plonked myself on the bed to finish it off. 

Wundersmith tells the story of Morrigan Crow's first year at the Wundrous Society. Morrigan and her eight fellow classmates form Unit 919 of Wunsoc. They are the most junior scholars, split into students of either the Mundane or Arcane Arts. Starting at a new school is full of much excitement, and many details,  how to get there, the buildings, the classes you'll take, and this is all brilliantly set up in Wundersmith. 
Morrigan didn’t like the sound of the Goal-Setting and Achieving Club for Highly Ambitious Youth, which met on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and all day Sunday. But she thought she could probably get on board with Introverts Utterly Anonymous, which promised no meetings or gatherings of any sort, ever.
I get that a magical school story will draw comparisons with Harry Potter, but school novels were written well before Harry Potter, and well before Enid Blyton even. Some sections of this book reminded me much more of Roald Dahl's Matilda, but naturally I won't point out why. You'll know if you've read them both. 

Amongst all this action are great themes of friendship, loyalty, treachery, suspicion, doubt and evil. How do you know who to trust really? There are mysterious disappearances and secrets abound. There are once again bigger themes that are so important in the real world - slavery, death, dying and compassion. There are great twists and turns and glimpses of the stories still to come.

And just so many wondrous fantastical elements. Jessica Townsend has an extraordinary imagination.  There are so many delicious, delightful details. It's all so imaginative. I particularly loved the building made of water. The Museum of Stolen Moments. Genius. And the Skeletal Legion- skeletons cobbled together from body parts! Wow. 
The “Skeletal Legion”, they’re also called.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Proper bogeyman stuff. Supposedly they used to emerge from dark, lonelyplaces where carcasses were plentiful – graveyards, battlefields, you know – spontaneously assembling themselves from the jumbled leftovers of the dead.’
I think Wundersmith has even more plot and action than Nevermoor. I've never been much of a series reader, but maybe Nevermoor will change that? 

Now that I've listened to Wundersmith I'm in a rather unusual position. I'm up to date with a series, and so now I'm waiting with bated breath for the publication of the third book in the Nevermoor series! I think it's coming in October 2019, but there's very few clues about it online at this stage. Bookdepository says it's due October 29. I'll hope that's true for  now.

Once again I listened to the brilliant audiobook narrated by Gemma Whelan. I do hope that she's doing the narration for the whole series, I can't imagine it without her considerable vocal talents. 

Teacher's Resources

Monday 20 May 2019

Pulse Points

I'm not much of a short story reader. I don't know how best to read them. I don't know how best to think about them, and I don't know how best to blog about them. But I want all of that to change. I'd like to become an experienced, accomplished short story reader. My interest in the short story emerged in 2017 when I accidentally came across Ryan O'Neill's amazing The Weight of a Human Heart (see my review). Since then I've bought quite a number of short story collections- some anthologies, some single author collections. It's time I start actually reading them. Naturally enough then I borrowed Pulse Points from my library, it's not from my shelves. 

I quite enjoy reading an actual short story, but I really don't really know how to read a collection of them. I find that I can't read one after the other, they all just become a blur, and my brain becomes confused. I find reading one or two, depending on length, between other reads seems to be a better way to go about it, although I'm hoping I will refine this process as I rack up a few more short story collections.  

The fourteen stories contained within Pulse Points really have a global reach, with a range of settings - Australia naturally enough, but also America, England, Paris. I was annoyed initially when I realised that quite a number of them were set in America, noting American vocabulary and terms (one of the largest and noisiest bees in my bonnet) before I noticed the setting.  Although of course I loved that Convalescence is set in Paris... and while I delighted at the mention of the string section that plays in the labyrinthine tunnels of  Châtelet as I've seen them several times, I wondered why was that story set in Paris, and not in Melbourne?

Oddly enough it was probably the stories set in America that ended up being my favourites! Vox Clamantis - a West Coast road trip to see a dying mother. Coarsegold - the last and longest story which is hard to sum up really - a lesbian couple move to central California and events ensue. 

It was the saddest sound I ever heard in my life. There were no words, just him with the pain in his lungs, bellowing out smoke from the grief in there. It seemed to me as if all the world, the redwoods and the cliffs and the ocean and whatever birds were out there, was recoiling from him. (Vox Clamantis)
The first, titular story Pulse Points is set in Australia and has such a dichotomous plot, I wasn't sure what to make of it- or what would be coming after it. Many of the stories deal with illness and death- dementia, cancer, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, addiction, domestic violence - but I often found humour in the details. 

A sturdy nurse pushed through the door. An acrid puff of shit and vegetables followed her. (Pulse Points)
I've seen Jennifer Down speak twice. First at Melbourne Writers Festival when she did an electrifying reading of a short story. I thought I'd recognise it when I got to it. I think it was Dogs, but can't be sure now. Last year I saw her at Sydney Writers Festival and she gave a fabulous talk On How to Disappear, a subject I'd never given any particular thought too. Some of it was similar to this article from The Lifted Brow

You can listen to a conversation with Jennifer Down talking about Pulse Points on the Readings Podcast.

I'm going to try and have a book of short stories always on the go from now on. We'll see how that goes.

Saturday 4 May 2019


Oh, isn't it just so great when a really hyped book lives up to that hype? And Nevermoor certainly does. Nevermoor made a huge splash when it was released in late 2017. I was a bit interested at the time. I liked the cover initially, but shrank away a bit from the Harry Potter-esque buzz. I've only ever read the first Harry Potter, way back when- gasp! about 20 years ago I guess, but never continued on with the series (and I'm a really, really bad series reader). But then recently I came across the audiobook of Nevermoor narrated beautifully by Gemma Whelan, and on a bit of a whim I picked it up for #MiddleGradeMarch. I didn't finish in March, but I did manage to finish it in April, and so can call it an #AussieApril read. Although now of course I'm blogging about it in May....

Nevermoor is the story of Morrigan Crow. Morrigan is a cursed child, born on Eventide, and due to die on her 11th birthday. I was in from the very first words of the prologue. 

The journalists arrived before the coffin did. They gathered at the gate overnight and by dawn they were a crowd. By nine o'clock they were a swarm.
Morrigan's father Corvus Crow is the Chancellor of Great Wolfacre, and as such her death is big news. The main story then starts three days earlier in the final days of Morrigan's doomed life. As a cursed child Morrigan has been blamed for every unfortunate incident, near and far, over her lifetime. 
Morrigan hurried into the house, hovering for a moment near the door from the kitchen to the hallway. She watched Cook take a piece of chalk and write KICHIN CAT - DEAD on the blackboard, at the end of a long list that most recently included SPOYLED FISH, OLD TOM'S HEART ATTACK, FLOODS IN NORTH PROSPER and GRAVY STAYNES ON BEST TABLECLOTH. 
Morrigan has been seen as a burden by her family, brought out for photo opportunities to aid her father's career, an only child unloved within her own family. The cursed child is not quite the classic orphan of children's literature but Morrigan feels alone, and her fate is sealed. Her mother is dead, and her pregnant stepmother Ivy is already growing her replacement sibling.
Morrigan sat up straight. This should be good. Maybe Ivy was going to apologise for making her wear that frilly, itchy chiffon dress to the wedding. Or maybe she was going to confess that although she'd scarcely spoken a dozen words to Morrigan since moving in, truly she loved her like a daughter, and she only wished they could have more time together, and she would miss Morrigan terribly and would probably cry buckets at the funeral and ruin her makeup, which would streak ugly black rivers all down her pretty face - but she wouldn't even care how ugly she looked because she would just be thinking about lovely, lovely Morrigan. 
Morrigan manages to cheat The Hunt of Smoke and Shadow on the date of her scheduled death (this bit is actually quite scary!) and escapes from Jackalfax to Nevermoor, the city. Nevermoor is somewhat based on London, as Jessica Townsend was living in London when she wrote a lot of this story in her early 20s. Morrigan makes a new home at the Hotel Deucalion, a fantastical residence complete with a talking cat who just happens to be the Housekeeper, and a Smoking Parlour- not a Victorian style saloon with old men smoking on overstuffed lounges, but a room that generates different coloured, scented smokes to evoke different moods and atmospheres. 

While Nevermoor is aimed at middle grade readers there is much here for adult and teenage readers. Nevermoor is such a generous, warm and beautiful story, told with delightful humour. You have to love an author who describes Santa as "a morbidly obese home invader and enslaver of elves"! As an adult reader you can see Jessica Townsend taking shots at the world of politics and commerce. There are some great Mean Girls vibes but also obvious references to more serious current world problems. 

' ..... The Free State has strict border laws, and if you're harbouring an illegal refugee you're breaking about twenty-eight of them. You're in a lot of trouble here, sonny. Illegals are a plague, and it's my solemn duty to guard the borders of Nevermoor and protect its true citizens from Republic scum trying to weasel their way into the Free State.'
Jupiter turned serious. 'A noble and valiant cause, I'm sure,' he said quietly. 'Protecting the Free State from those most in need of its help.'
I don't like Adult Fantasy as a rule, but I'm quite content in the magical, fantastic worlds of middle grade fantasy. I'm not exactly sure why that should be, but it is. I know enough of Irish folklore to know that (the) Morrigan is a famous figure of Irish mythology. This can be no coincidence. I don't want to know more at this stage, and have resisted googling Morrigan, for fear of spoiling the story to come. Also, Corvus is the genus name for crows, ravens, rooks etc, so I'm attuned to the many references to black clothing and circling birds. 

I listened to the audiobook so masterfully narrated by Gemma Whelan, who I've never heard of before given my prodigious aversion to Game of Thrones. Gemma did such an incredible job with the voices and accents of Nevermoor that I found myself taking the dog on very long walks to keep listening to her reading. A beautiful experience. 

Nevermoor is Jessica Townsend's debut novel. The first of a series sold as a trilogy, Nevermoor had such a long incubation period that Jessica has the plot of nine Nevermoor stories up her sleeve. I'll definitely be continuing on with the audiobook series, and already have Wundersmith ready to go on my phone. Thankfully Gemma Whelan is again our narrator. I can't imagine anyone else doing it. 

Teacher's Notes