Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.

Who: Michelle Cooper, author of fiction and historical fiction novels for young adults. Thea discovered Michelle Cooper back in 2009 when A Brief History of Montmaray was first released in the USA, but lost track of the series until this year, when she rediscovered these

Michelle Cooper The FitzOsbornes at War (US)

Recent Work: The amazing finale to the Montmaray Journals trilogy, The FitzOsbornes at War – Thea adored this book, so much so that she put it at #2 on her Top 10 Books of 2012 list!

Without further ado, please give it up for Michelle, folks!

My Favourite Books of 2012

I like books about girls being awesome and luckily, I read quite a few of them this year. One of my favourite YA novels was The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson.

The Getting of Wisdom

It was first published in 1910 and is set in the 1890s, but the themes are completely contemporary. Laura, a clever, imaginative country girl, is sent to a snobby boarding school in Melbourne, where the other girls make fun of her home-made dresses, outspoken manners and lack of interest in boys. Poor Laura gets into one scrape after another as she desperately tries to fit in. Imagine a cross between Jo and Amy from Little Women and you’ll get some idea of Laura’s character. She gives her heart too easily to others, she can be vain and proud and impulsive, I winced at some of the idiotic things she did to impress others, but she’s never boring and I cared deeply about what was going to happen to her. By the end, it seems as if she’s been beaten down into dull conformity like all the other girls . . . but no, as Laura walks out of the school gates for the last time, she is overcome with an unladylike need for speed and the last we see of her is a gleeful figure racing through the park with her hat flying off. I should point out that reviewers in 1910 were not very impressed with Laura, with one saying sternly about The Getting of Wisdom, “The Australian girl is a much cleaner, wholesomer and straighter person than any of the characters portrayed. It is a book we should thoroughly recommend adults to keep out of the hands of girls.” So, you’ve been warned.

I also loved Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay, the first in a series about the quirky and entertaining Casson family.

Saffy's Angel

The parents are all either vague, absent or dead, but the children are resourceful and clever. Caddy, the eldest, is beautiful and kind. When she’s not looking after the younger children, she’s tending to her guinea pigs or having driving lessons. She has had ninety-six lessons and still can’t reverse or turn right (coincidentally, she’s in love with her gorgeous driving instructor). Indigo, the only boy, is sensitive and caring, and keeps himself busy “curing himself of vertigo for when he becomes a polar explorer”. Rose, the youngest, is artistic, headstrong and very good at managing (or manipulating) their parents. Then there’s Saffy, who discovers that she’s adopted and refuses to believe the others when they insist she really is a Casson. With the help of her best friend, Wheelchair Girl, Saffy sets out to find the stone angel that her beloved grandfather bequeathed to her and she discovers just how much she means to her family. This was touching, beautifully written and very, very funny.

My favourite book about a real-life awesome woman was Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox, an excellent biography of a brilliant, determined scientist.

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Rosalind Franklin did groundbreaking work in several areas of physics and biochemistry, but is now best known for her work on DNA. Her X-ray photos were appropriated by James Watson and Francis Crick and used to construct their double helix model of DNA. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for this, but her name wasn’t even mentioned in their speeches. Meanwhile, she spent her entire career struggling to obtain research grants and access to facilities, at a time when women physicists were banned from working as instructors at Harvard and were not even permitted to set foot inside the physics building at Princeton. Don’t be put off, thinking this book is all about Difficult Science. (The science bits are fascinating and clearly explained, but you can skim those bits if you really must.) This book also provides a wonderful description of Rosalind’s early years as the “alarmingly clever” eldest daughter of a close-knit English family. Rosalind was devoted to her family and friends, loved beautiful clothes and good food and travel, and died tragically young. I recommend this book if you’re interested in science, or feminism, or simply want to read the story of a fascinating, forthright young woman.

What I’m aiming to read in 2013: The Mapp and Lucia books by E. F. Benson, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and about five hundred other books on my To Read list.

My Favourite TV of 2012

As I’ve never owned a television set and only recently acquired a computer that plays DVDs, I tend to ‘discover’ TV shows long after everyone else has forgotten about them. This means I go around saying things like, “Hey, have you guys seen this amazing TV series? It’s so funny, and the songs are great, and there are lots of jokes about New Zealand!” and my friends say, “Yeah, we told you about Flight of the Conchords five years ago.”

Anyway, this year my TV ‘discovery’ was Horrible Histories, a BBC series that is (supposedly) an educational show for children. Here’s why I love it:

1. It’s all about my favourite subject – History! And they’ve really done their research (I can vouch for the accuracy of the World War Two bits).
2. It’s hilarious. Each episode is a gleeful, anarchic mix of sketch comedy and animation, with parodies of ads, computer games and TV shows, including Historical Masterchef, Historical Wife Swap, Historical Fashion Fix and (my favourite) Historical Paramedics.
3. It’s hosted by an adorable talking rat with a penchant for puns. The human members of the cast are amazingly talented, too.
4. There’s at least one brilliant musical number each episode – funky monks, Cleopatra as Lady Gaga, the Spartan High School Musical, King Charles II rapping about being ‘The King of Bling’, or a bunch of head-banging, axe-playing Vikings (“We’re gonna set this sleepy town alight – LITERALLY!”). In this clip, Horrible Histories explains why highwayman Dick Turpin was NOT AT ALL romantic or glamorous. Except they’ve put Mat Baynton in eyeliner, a velvet cape and knee-high leather boots. Yeah, not sure they really thought that one through . . .

What I’m aiming to watch in 2013: Hey, have you heard about this new show called Downton Abbey?

Finally, to celebrate Smugglivus 2012, here’s a giveaway. You can win a signed copy of the new Vintage Classics edition of my first Montmaray Journals book, A Brief History of Montmaray, which looks like this:

A Brief History of Montmaray

Pretty, isn’t it? For your chance to win, leave a comment below letting us know about your favourite historical book or TV show. Happy Smugglivus, everyone!

Thanks, Michelle! Now for the giveaway – you heard her! Leave a comment here naming your fave historical book or TV show to enter. The contest is open to ALL and will run until Sunday January 13 at 12:01am PST. Good luck!

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58 Responses to Smugglivus 2012 Guest Author (& Giveaway): Michelle Cooper

  1. [...] won’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog, but you can read my post here (the link to the Dick Turpin clip seems to have gone missing, which is probably my fault, but if [...]

  2. Summer Sears says:

    My favourite is probably the Amelia Peabody series — unreliable narrator, great mystery, perfect dashes of romance.

  3. Nadine says:

    I don’t read a lot of historical fiction but I must admit that Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” was my favorite so far. Not being a great reader of romance either, it was doubly surprising. But yes, that 800-page brick of a book is my favorite historical novel.

    Although, and that is entierly your fault, dear Book Smugglers, I will be reading “Code Name Verity” next.

  4. Ana says:

    Awww, HORRIBLE HISTORIES!!!!!!!!!!! <3

  5. Alpa says:

    Code Name Verity has been the best historical fiction I have read. But then I read historical fiction rarely.

  6. brenda c says:

    I really enjoyed Code Name Verity last year. That’s probably my favourite historical novel as of now :)

  7. Lexi says:

    I like Year of Wonder and books about the plague.

  8. Karen says:

    I’ve been enjoying Call the Midwife on PBS. And I love alternative historical fiction like Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart and Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series.

    I loved a Brief History of Montmaray and have my hardcover of The Fitzosbornes in Exile to read. This new edition is lovely. Is it only available in the UK?

  9. Tiffany says:

    Oh, I love so many! The Scarlet Pimpernel, Code Name Verity….I also love the Her Royal Spyness series, just cause it’s so fun. :)

  10. Maureen E says:

    Going super old-school here: my first favorite historical fiction book was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s also one I really need to re-read!

  11. Suz Glo says:

    I love Horrible Histories, too! Downton Abbey is a favorite and I am recording Call the Midwife right now so I can watch the whole season at once. I also like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series.

  12. Stephanie T. says:

    I still very much like the classical Pride and Prejudice show but I also love reading historical novels during the WWII era like what somebody mentioned before, Code Name Verity.

  13. The best historicals I read in 2012 were The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander.

  14. Lozza says:

    Leon Uris’s “Trinity” started my lifelong fascination with Ireland.

  15. Rebecca I. says:

    I see CNV has already been mentioned several times so I’ll go with my fave historical TV shows – The Hour and The Borgias!

    And of course the Montmaray books :D

  16. mary anne says:

    I loved the Horatio Hornblower series with Ioan Gryffyd (that’s a guess on spelling his name.) Inspired me to read the books, which were also really good. All of Sally Watson’s books, written back in the 50s and 60s. Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. I could go on and on…

  17. Kate K.F. says:

    I love historical books and shows so much and have been looking for the first in your series. I think my favorite at the moment is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, it just keeps pulling me back into it for more and more rereads.

    My favorite historical TV show, that’s harder but I think Rome and Cadfael are tied for how they made me go oh yes, you work.

  18. Sheila says:

    I’ve adored watching Call the Midwife this year. For books, there’s a lot: The Crimson Petal and the White stands out, as well as Rebecca and Possession.

  19. Lisa says:

    Loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile! And the Horatio Hornblower series and the Jack Aubrey series.

  20. Superbwg says:

    Gonna have to go with Downton Abbey as my recent favorite historical show. Crispin was a great historical book, also Catherine Called Birdy was a really great historical fiction

  21. Becky says:

    Favorite historical book(s) would be Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. For movies/TV, I like the original Upstairs, Downstairs a little bit better than Downton Abbey.

  22. Brittany says:

    One of my favorite ‘historical’ books has to be Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card! I loved the way he blended history with science fiction and created a whole new course of what could have happened! It really opened my eyes at a young age to the way historical events have an impact on us now in a mucher bigger way than we think.

  23. Malin says:

    My favourite historical novels are Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and The Wild Rose and The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly.

  24. A_nna says:

    ‘Wild Swans’ – by Jung Chang. It’s non-fiction, but almost didn’t feel like it – there were so many larger than life characters, and each generation covered seemed to live in a different world – the political structure kept changing so dramatically.

  25. Chenise Jones says:

    Code Name Verity was absolutely stunning!

  26. Amanda Lee says:

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a childhood favorite, and I absolutely adored Code Name Verity this year.

  27. rachel says:

    “Remember WENN” was an old historical tv show that I loved.

  28. ninjapenguin says:

    How about some Heyer love? Definite comfort reads for me.

  29. LibrarianLady says:

    My favorite historical book is Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley is so kick-ass, smart and inspiring! I wanted to be her when I was a kid. And Gilbert – swoon!

  30. jenmitch says:

    i am so looking forward to reading the montmaray journals!

    i love connie willis’ books, which involve time travel to the past, and hopefully therefore count as historical fiction :)

  31. Katharine says:

    One of my favorite historical books, the one I might take when only one is allowed, is TH White’s The Once and Future King. I think I might need to re-read it now!

  32. Andrea says:

    The Girl Is Murder and The Girl is Trouble by Kathryn Miller Haines. They feature a young girl trying to be a detective like her pop in the early 1940’s. I like the first one but loved the second one. The books have mystery, friendship and family.
    Also, two books, What I Saw And How I Lied and Srings Attached by Judy Blundell.
    And as everyone mentioned Code Name Verity.

  33. JenP says:

    I love Downton Abbey.

  34. I really liking The Book Thief right now even though it’s hard to read.

  35. Jennifer says:

    My favourite historical book is and the Count of Monte Cristo (I can’t believe I took so long before reading it).

  36. scribe k. says:

    i love eva ibbotson’s a countess below stairs.

  37. Kay-Kay-Bay says:

    Many of my favourites have already been mentioned here, such as Horatio Hornblower and “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”. Georgette Heyer’s books have also already been mentioned, but I’m going to be specific and say “Cotillion”, “The Masqueraders”, and “A Civil Contract”.
    Elizabeth Wein’s “The Winter Prince” is a retelling of sorts of King Arthur, and is absolutely fantastic.

  38. erinf1 says:

    Thanks for the great post! Probably Anne of Green Gables :)

  39. Stephanie says:

    I also love Downton Abbey.

  40. Lillian says:

    My favorite historical book has to be either Boston Jane or Annie Between the States.

  41. I love the Lord Peter Whimsy series, by Dorothy L Sayers. Well, that and the Shoes series by Noel Stretfield.

  42. Melissa P. says:

    Gone With the Wind

  43. CC says:

    As a kid, I discovered A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, EL Konigsberg’s novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Still think it’s hugely underrated – I love re-reading it.

  44. Joel says:

    Favorite historial TV show — must be Upstairs, Downstairs. I watched a lot of PBS when I was young… one of these days I think I should dip into Downtown Abbey.

  45. Rebecca says:

    Downton Abbey!

  46. Mary Preston says:

    I’m enjoying DOWNTON ABBEY & I love most Historical reads. THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is a favorite.

  47. Genevieve says:

    well my favourite historic books apart from The Montmaray Journals would be The Golden Day by http://thebooksmugglers.com/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_smile.gifUrsula Dubosarsky and my favourite historic television shows would be either Horrible Histories or Upstairs,downstairs.

  48. Fiona says:

    How wonderful to hear from Michelle Cooper! I love the Montmaray books.

    My very favorite historical fiction is The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. It’s a remarkably compassionate, bittersweet look at an older world disappearing into balladry under the rise of Tudor England; it’s also the love story by which I measure all other love stories. There’s a brilliantly poignant antagonist Faerie Queen figure, a beautiful disaster of a blond boy, and a wonderfully stubborn heroine who is above all true to herself.

    Code Name Verity, of course, has no need of my support, but it’s the best book in any genre I read in 2012.

  49. Megan S. says:

    Horrible Histories is awesome!

    My favorite historical fiction novel of all time is probably The Killer Angels, but it’s been years since I last read it. More recently, I’ve loved Code Name Verity, Doc, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Oh, and Judy Blundell’s books!

  50. Francene L. says:

    Elizabeth Wein does a great job with her historical novels, including Code name Verity and her Mark of Solomon books. Patrick O’Brian’s series with Aubrey and Maturin are wonderful reads as well.

  51. Emma says:

    So many to chose from to pick an absolute favourite! But if any, Kate Grenville’s ‘Secret River’ deserves the title :)

  52. Ashfa says:

    My very favorite historical fiction was The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.Love it!

  53. Anna says:

    My favorite historical book…hmmm, I think I’ll go with one I read this year, recommended on this site and many others: Code Name Verity. I absolutely loved it. Thanks for doing the giveaway!

  54. Kristen T-D. says:

    My favorite historical tv show is Rome. It was so great.

  55. Maureen says:

    Downton Abbey is my favorite.

  56. Chelsie Thomas says:

    Oh I love these books! And Downton Abbey is my current tv favorite.

  57. Tricia says:

    My favorite historical book is I Capture The Castle. I’m adding these to my reading list!

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