Histories and Life Writing in Autumn

Autumn, history, life writing and Anzac Day: they are all about reflection and remembrance. Autumn is a reflective season. It is time to settle down for the coming winter and to look back and what has been. The process of reading and writing histories, biographies and memoirs requires us to not only note past actions but to consider them in the light of what was known then and what we understand now.

Today is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand – a day of reflection and remembrance about war. War history is often seen to be a male interest, but our list of war histories on the Challenge’s Good Reads bookshelves demonstrates that women are not only interested in this but are moved to write books about war.

beaumont-broken-nationI reviewed a significant new book about Australians in World War I. Joan Beaumont’s history, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War has been received well. I noted that this book is “a comprehensive history of World War I… Written for the general reader, Broken Nation is a reference that family historians, students and anyone who is interested in war history would find a useful addition to their bookshelves.

Broken Nation is a traditional interpretation of the beginnings of the Anzac legend. Janine Rizzetti reviewed a book that questions the way the Anzac legend operates in contemporary Australian society. Janine notes that the lecture by Marilyn Lake in 2009 which led to the book, What’s Wrong with Anzac?, caused a furore. Janine comments,

Reading this book four years on, and on the cusp of Gallipoli-fever, the observations of the book seem even more pertinent, most particularly regarding the funding of commemoration that strongly relies on emotion and personal identification. This is most striking in the commemoration activities planned involving schoolchildren.

WhatsWrongWithAnzacLakeReynoldsIn her review Janine raises another issue which directly relates to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. This book is co-edited with a male historian and has three chapters written by men. Janine argued that it should be included in the Challenge as so much of the writing was by women and Marilyn Lake was the lead editor. “Moreover, in this book in particular I suspect that some of the viciousness that Marilyn Lake attracted through her lecture and newspaper article were because she is a female and an academic,” Rizzetti argued.

Non-fiction books often have more than one author. The work of women as part of a team with men is just as important as the work of women alone. The Challenge is happy to receive reviews of books written by women with men where the women have made a substantial contribution to the work. We certainly want to receive reviews of books such as What’s Wrong with Anzac?. Read the full post »

Short fiction and poetry round up: March and April 2014

Come, come, come, dear reader. Here’s a hand outstretched to you because you won’t believe the words (and worlds) we have fallen into over the last two months. We have a rabbit hole (or seven) to find. Forget the gloves, you may need hankies.

If you remember, we gave you music and made you dance to jazz and a two-step beat as we rounded up the poetry reviewed for the first two months of 2014.

But the last two months we have been moved, not physically to some wonderful rhythm but by the tug at our heartstrings. We have fallen in love and flailed madly at loss and floundered at remembering long lost memories.

We start with Jonathan Shaw’s oh so very apt comment as he reviews Maree Dawes‘ brb:

Do poetry and sex have to belong to different realms?

Do they? Why should they? As even I foundMaree Dawes takes us back to moments where we felt the need to escape and “a/s/l?” was the start of a fantasy woven and, in the case of brb, an online romance started.

It’s prose poetry about how we need to be loved and to love. How if it is taken away from us, we find it elsewhere, with the pings from computer speakers and the tapping of keys, our soundtrack to our own onscreen online romance novel unfolding in front of us. And all in a torrent of words, underlining the key point of this round up: words have the power to make us feel.

It’s with words that Dawes‘ protagonist builds a relationship that feels more real, more fulfilling than the one she has “in real life” and the lines between what is real and not, what is fantasy or otherwise are blurred. Words make worlds collide.

Katie Keys transected the worlds Jennifer Maiden provides us in Liquid Nitrogen and in between the rising vapours of the gas in sublimation she tells us:

It’s a collection of long ‘weave’ poems; multi-levelled streams of conversation and consciousness that string together the observed, the insular and the political in layer after layer of dense and tumbling interruptions.

In a series of dream worlds, one person after another wakes up in impossible and surreal situations. Almost half of the collection begins with the ‘[so-and-so] woke up in [somewhere]’ motif, with politicians and historical figures going on to posit on politics and ethnographies through a very specific Western lens.

Gas for the gaseous perhaps as our words show how we view and value what’s around us – how we use words to construct the world as we want to live in and interact with it and perhaps, not always, as it actually is. We use words again to escape, to create our fantastical bubbles of reality to live in.

They also bring reality back to life for us whenever we are about to forget as Louise from A Strong Belief in Wicker tells us in her review of Jackie French‘s Fire, illustrated to help the words along by Bruce Whatley:

Jackie French has written a moving, true representation of the fires that attack parts of Australia every year. Many of our children are much too familiar with fire as a threat- they have lived through it, they have lost houses, or lost loved ones.

And so with words we are treated to flames and flickers. With a conflagration of words we are reminded of the edges and limits to the worlds we inhabit, how fragile we and they are, how fire both destroys our world and also recreates it anew.

And so with words again we are again set alight and aflame internally. With the first flushes and rushes of what feels like fire in our veins as we remember first loves and lusts as we see in The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobsen as reviewed by Mindy from A Hoyden About Town:

And Cello did what Cello did best:
giggled behind her charcoal curls
while boys gawked at the breasts
that pressed against her uniform,
ripe as fruit and ready to eat.
Jack was pensive, not Cello’s type
in his faded jeans and well-cut hair.

- Excerpt from Lisa Jacobsen’s The Sunlit Zone

And then there are words to make us remember the harder moments in our worlds, when our worlds are ripped away, when we lose them, when they close in on us, building up the memories for us to recall. Helen Petrovic at High Fantasy Addict finds this as she reads through Maureen Flynn‘s My Heart’s Choir Sings which follows a man who reflects on his relationship after the loss of his wife in tragic circumstances. The words mirror back both his loss and our losses back to us:

Each poem is a piece of a jigsaw, coming together like mirror fragments as the reader builds up the whole. This is a parallel journey for reader and protagonist, as both undergo revelation.

The words tell us about other forms of loss in our worlds – when worlds come into being for others and they move away from our ones. Sean from Adventures of a Bookonaut tells us about this birthing and moving of new worlds put in words pulling us into loss and confusion as he reviews Carmel Williams‘ collection: The Butcher’s Window:

A comfort that you are experiencing poetry and a poet that is close to you. You can appreciate poetry for language and its technical proficiency but I find those poems that tap into your experience constitute another layer of immersion and enjoyment. 

An advantage of knowing the poet, is of course that I know, rather than have to surmise or guess, that these poems are at times brutally raw and honest. 

And this you can see then in how Carmel Williams weaves words to explain that this was how you were born, this world created anew for you as you first started experiencing it and how, later, again to explain, that this is you leaving her world, no longer just a daughter, now something more, moving to expand your world, while hers, as a mother, has to contract with its loss instead.

And we dial the emotion down slowly now to faint tinges of loss and leaving, in remembrances and memories as we ponder Jean Kent‘s words in The Satin Bowerbird, reviewed by Debbie Robson:

My favourites are not the Paris poems, nor the poems where Kent looks back to the past but those where she is in the here and now of living in New South Wales. Those of us who live in Australia are lucky to do so and Jean reminds us of this with a delicate grace.

The words that build our worlds leave behind a historic timeline, biographic details of where we have been and what we have seen, how these worlds we inhabit have contracted and expanded over and over again. And it is these experiences, these worlds, this timeline that we are reminded of with words that evoke emotion in us by directing us back, by overwhelming us, by immersing us, by mirroring and reflecting the emotions back at us.

And so with March and its maddening March Hare madness over and Alice’s April drawing to a close, we bring you out of this wonderland of worlds built with words and ask you: what words write the worlds you live in?

And more to the point, why aren’t we traversing the worlds of short fiction as yet?

Presumably rabbit holes don’t cut it, but if you want to see what emotions words in the worlds of short fiction can evoke in you, we have portals to choose from here.


About me
Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She pens book reviews for The West and the ABR, science news and then writes and edits novels in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and lends her geek goddess expertise to the Guys Read Gals project. Feel free to badger her at her blog at  marisa.com.au, on Facebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake

AWW2014 Crime Roundup #2

With respect to reviews posted, the weeks since the last Crime Roundup for AWW2014 have been a two-horse race between a couple of new release novels: Wendy James’ THE LOST GIRLS and P.M. Newton’s BEAMS FALLING. In the end, both books garnered 8 reviews a-piece but I feel I ought to apologise to P.M. Newton at this point because if I hadn’t knocked my copy of her book in the full kitchen sink while I was only half-way through reading it she’d have ‘won’, numerically speaking :)

BeamsFallingPMNewtonIn BEAMS FALLING policewoman Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly is suffering the physical and psychological effects of the events depicted in the first novel in which she appears (THE OLD SCHOOL) and while on ‘light duties’ is assigned to an Asian crime unit in Sydney’s Cabramatta. All reviewers were positive about this book, commonly discussing the credible way various themes were depicted as well as the multi-layered feel to the storyline. Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling wrote

Firstly I was very impressed with the authentic voice of this police procedural and the harrowing accuracy of PTSD as it is presented in this narrative; life constantly on alert, hyper vigilant, hyper alert, anxious, breathless, paranoia…panic. I could feel this disorder blossoming in my mind and chest as I read on, the descriptions so real.

Among the highlights for Yvonne Perkins was the book’s depiction of Sydney

Newton excels in writing about place. Her books are not about the bells and sparkles facade that Sydney likes to parade to the rest of the world. They are about grungy Sydney, the real Sydney that most residents have to live in. There is no glamour here, but the truth of the parked car that expels over-heated, stale air when someone opens the door; the crowded train stations; the broken people; the ugly, unloved buildings of neglected suburbs.

For Lou Murphy at Newton Review of Books the book’s layers are singled out for a mention

Beams Falling is much more than an exciting crime thriller: it works on many levels. The personal story is about coping with trauma, about the questions Nhu needs to ask herself in order to function again. The process of repair is dealt with poignantly as she attempts to heal her physical and psychological wounds

WendyJamesTheLostGirlsDemonstrating the breadth of what constitutes a crime novel these days THE LOST GIRLS is a different kind of story, though it too focuses at least as much narrative energy on the impact of a crime as it does on whodunit. It is a standalone novel of ‘domestic suspense’ in which the decades-old murder of a teenager still haunts her extended family in the present day. A common theme among the universally positive reviews of this novel is its disturbing ordinariness, as highlighted by Angela Savage

James has a special talent for depicting everyday suburban lives and adding unexpected but entirely plausible drama. The suspense is driven not only by the characters’ predicaments, but by the fear that something like this could happen to us or someone we love

Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf was taken by the way the story explores the notion of truth

It’s the kind of story that shows us just how many shades of grey are in our seemingly black and white world. How the past is sometimes different to our memories and that circumstances are sometime unfortunate.

and at Book’d Out Shelleyrae explores this concept further

The Lost Girls is told through memories, interview transcripts, newspaper articles and the story of the present day, revealing the events that led up to, and followed, the death of Angie. As the novel unfolds, moving between time, place and perspective, the reader begins to piece together a wider view of the tragedy, and those affected, than any one character has

If you need a bit more information about either of these great novels check out fellow writer Angela Savage discussing both books on a recent episode of Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily

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AWW participants were reading other books over the past two months though and some lesser-known titles deserve particular mention here.

  • At Whispering Gums Angela Meyer’s book of mysterious short stories, THE GREAT UNKNOWN was a winner, offering “a collection of stories that vary greatly in setting, voice, subject matter – and even tone. Some are funny, some sad, most are disconcerting and some, of course, are scary.”
  • At Books and Musings from Downunder Sally reviewed Kaz Delaney’s first young adult mystery, DEAD, ACTUALLY, high praise indeed “Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it
  • While she was a bit disappointed with the amount of ‘fluff’ in the writing, Cait at Aussie Owned and Read found some things to like about Lucy Christopher’s THE KILLING WOODS, saying of the plot “Seriously, it’s not everyday that a plot takes me by surprise! I’d heard everyone saying “I never guessed the killer!” so of course I thought, “Pfft, I’ll guess straight away.” I didn’t. (I suspected everyone, but that hardly counts because I was on my guard.)”. I love the format of Cait’s reviews too.

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As part of a month in which the AWW challenge celebrated diversity I wrote a post on Sleuthing and Sexuality , the research for which surprised me in that it highlighted how few crime novels feature lesbian characters, while Marisa Wikramanayake interviewed Katherine Howell and Lindy Cameron, both of whom have written crime fiction which features lesbian characters

If you’re after some ideas of more crime/mystery/thriller or true crime books to read then head over to the genre’s reviews page for this year’s challenge to see what else is being discussed or check out the previous roundups for this review category

About Me

I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blogging about reading since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading and co-hosting Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, for the past couple of years. I read and reviewed 18 books as part of my own participation in the 2012 challenge. Some of them weren’t even crime novels!

Children’s and Young Readers: Round Up Two (2014)

Welcome back to our second Children’s books roundup for 2014. Since our last round up we’ve had another five reviews submitted – all of which made me incredibly excited!

fire jackie frenchOur first book is also the first picture book which has been reviewed this year. Fire by Jackie French was reviewed by A Strong Belief in Wicker, who pointed out that it is clearly a companion book to 2011′s Flood. She also notes that fires are very much a part of many children’s lives – either through media or as a threat to their homes and lives and that French has captured this threat in a moving and true representation.

A Strong Belief in Wicker also reviewed the seventh in Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice-Miranda series – Alice-Miranda in Paris. This is a story which combines a school trip, Paris, fashion week and expensive fabric – so it’s definitely going on my to-read list! A Strong Belief in Wicker points to the incredible success of these books – with 9 released since 2010!

Amanda jinks unusual pursuitCurtin brings us A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks which is set around 1870 in a grim London with harshly divided class lines and children who have to work if they want to survive. Into this Jinks introduces:

. . . a coexisting supernatural realm held in fear and spoken of in hushed voices, populated by creatures inhabiting dark places like chimneys, drains, privvies. Children go missing here, presumed eaten.

Amanda is particularly impressed with the character of Birdie – a realistic, strong character with a good dose of Victorian ‘girl power’.

Birdie is gutsy and forthright but always within the context of her time and place, her social position.

Other reviews include Slave Girl (Alexa Moses) reviewed by Brenda and the classic The Nargun and the Stars (Patricia Wrightson) reviewed by Sally from Oz


As well as our regular reviews, we had the release of a couple of shortlists in the last month. I’ll take a look at the Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlists in another post, but I wanted to make quick mention of the shortlist for The Readings Children’s Book Prize – a prize which is aimed at raising the profile of debut and ‘rising’ Australian authors in the Junior/Middle area. Eight books were shortlisted with six of those written by Australian Women Writers!

The shortlisted books by AWWs are:

  • jamie-reign-tierneyJamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by P.J. Tierney (Reviewed by Tsana and Nalini Haynes)
  • Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
  • Stay Well Soon by Penny Tangey (Reviewed by Bree)
  • The Girl Who Brought Mischief by Katrina Nannestad
  • Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris by Kate Knapp (Reviewed by A Strong Belief in Wicker)
  • Smooch & Rose by Samantha Wheelerstaywellsoon-tangey

I know there are people out there who love a challenge, so I challenge you to track down these six books to read and review! It’s a great way to support authors establishing themselves and a great way to share the wonderful books they write. Everyone wins!

About Me

I’ve had a strong interest in children’s fiction since Grade 1 when a fabulous teacher bribed me with Famous Five novels. I continued reading Melina Dchildren’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader




Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards – 2014 Longlists Announced

Longlists for the 21st Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards (the Awards) were announced last week. Congratulations to all longlisted authors!

Presented annually, The Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers comprise two awards:

  • The Kibble Literary Award (currently valued at $30,000) recognises an established Australian author
  • The Dobbie Literary Award (currently valued at $5,000) recognises a first published Australian author.

Open to Australian female writers who have published fiction or non-fiction classified as life writing the Awards have recognised some of Australia’s leading female authors.

The longlisted authors for the Kibble Literary Award ($30, 000 prize) for the work of an established Australian woman writer are:


Debra Adelaide - Letter to George Clooney (Picador Australia)
Georgia Blain - The Secret Lives of Men (Scribe)
Ashley HayThe Railway man’s Wife (Allen & Unwin)
Rachel Hennessy - The Heaven I Swallowed (Wakefield Press)
Melissa Lucashenko - Mullumbimby (University of Queensland Press)
Kristina Olsson - Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir (University of Queensland Press)

The longlisted authors for the Dobbie Literary Award ($5, 000 prize) for a first-published work are:

Sarah Drummond - Salt Story: Of Sea Dogs and Fisherwomen (Freemantle Press)
Fiona McFarlaneThe Night Guest (Penguin Group Australia)
Margaret MerrileesThe First Week (Wakefield Press)
Kate RichardsMadness: a Memoir (Penguin Group Australia)
Inga SimpsonMr Wigg (Hatchette Australia)
Jill StarkHigh Sobriety: my year without booze (Scribe)

Speaking on behalf of the panel, Humanities Australia Editor, Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby AM, said: “The arts community and the wider Australian public should be immensely proud that we continue to produce such fascinating, imaginative female authors, who have an unwavering ability to create such powerful novels.”

“The scope of subject matter explored by the longlisted authors and the intensity of the themes made the judging process all the more rewarding,” Professor Webby said.

Also on the judging panel is State Library of New South Wales Research and Discovery Manager, Maggie Patton, and internationally published novelist, Dr Rosie Scott.

The shortlisted authors will be announced on Wednesday 4 June, with the winners of both categories to be formally announced on Wednesday 23 July.

You can access all reviews written by AWW Challenge participants here and as always, please keep sending us your reviews as you read through award longlists/shortlists.

About Nita May Dobbie

Nita May Dobbie (1904-1992) established the Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers in recognition of her aunt, Nita Kibble, who raised her from birth after her mother died. Miss Nita Kibble was hired as a junior assistant at the Public Library of New South Wales, when her signature was taken for a man’s in 1899. She later became the first woman to be appointed a librarian with the State Library of New South Wales and held the position of Principal Research Officer from 1919 until her retirement in 1943. Throughout her career she worked hard to raise the status of the library profession and was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Librarians. Miss Dobbie followed her aunt into the library profession and recognised the need to foster women’s writing.

She established the awards, named after her inspirational aunt, through her will. For more information about the awards visit www.perpetual.com.au/kibble

About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, writer and editor. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit

March 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

Well, last month’s bribe seems to have worked! We’ve gone from no Classics reviewed in February to four in March. I shall be true to my word and mention each one under the Classics heading below.

March was also significant for the announcement of the Miles Franklin Literary Award long list. Seven of the 11 books shortlisted are by women. Read more about it in Paula Grunseit’s excellent post.

March musings, statistically speaking

Thirty-nine reviews were posted this month, 10 more than last month. They covered 31 authors, meaning several books/authors were reviewed more than once. Amanda Curtin’s Elemental continues its march (pun intended) this month with another two reviews. Linda Jaivin’s Quarterly Essay Found in translation, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds, and Evie Wyld’s All the birds singing also received two reviews each. Hazel Rowley was reviewed twice, by Peter Corris, for  Franklin and Eleanor and Tête-à-Tête, her biography of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

My highlights for this month are:

  • Our most reviewed author for the first quarter is Amanda Curtin, with six reviews for Elemental and one for Sinkings. Congratulations Amanda.
  • Super-blogger for the month was Jane Rawson who posted 4 reviews. She was closely followed by Mindy with 3. Jane has a website but posts her reviews at Goodreads. Mindy contributes to a wonderfully titled collaborative blog Hoyden About Town.

The Classics

Thea Astley, A boatload of home folkFour classics! I think that’s pretty much a record for the Challenge.

Debbie Robson reviewed Thea Astley’s A Boatload of Home Folk, and wasn’t overly keen, writing:

A Boat Load of Home Folk are sad, pathetic, very flawed and with virtually no redeeming features. I also had a lot of trouble with Astley’s very unusual style.

Astley does have an idiosyncratic style. Debbie says she’s prepared to try one of Astley’s later works so she wasn’t completely deterred. Conversely, Jane Rawson loved The getting of wisdom, calling it “hilarious and subversive”. Richardson is probably our most reviewed Classics author in the challenge to date, and with good reason. I found Barbara Baynton’s use of the vernacular challenging in the short story “Billy Skywonkie”, but see it as a significant work for its questioning of the era’s romantic notions of the bush and bushmen.

The great gatsbyThe fourth Classic, Nicki Greenberg’s graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, is a little trickier to categorise. Is a modern Australian woman’s adaptation of an American classic still a classic? I’m not sure, but why not? Sean, the Bookonaut, writes this:

Greenberg has a reputation for drawing interesting non-human  depictions of characters and this is evident in the creation of a host of different creatures for the main characters in the book.  Nick Carraway is an unassuming slug, Daisy is a puff headed fluff ball, Gatsby a seahorse, Tom Buchannan a brutish ogre and Jordan Baker a squid, to name a few.  It’s interesting to map these depictions to certain character traits. [...] Clever and slightly bizarre, it fits the period well and was a pleasure to read.

If you are looking for something different, this could be the book for you.

Miles Franklin Literary Award

Of the seven books by women writers longlisted for the award, three were reviewed in March: Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby (1), Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest (1) and Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing (2). 

Katie Keyes notes the autobiographical element of Mullumbimby, and describes it as

a quiet and effective advocate – a compelling tale that leaves me with a better sense of Australian Aboriginal experience than anything else I’ve read recently.

McFarlane, The night guestSonja Porter describes The night guest as “a well-crafted story” about love, ageing, loneliness and deceit. Belinda Hopper enjoyed All the birds, singing, even though, or perhaps because, she wasn’t sure of its conclusion. Orange Pekoe Reviews also enjoyed Wyld’s novel, calling it “a short, almost perfect novel” though she wasn’t sure she needed all the metaphorical references to birds “as it was the story itself that hooked me”.

As Paula wrote in her report (linked above), we have only one review so far of Tracey Farr’s The life and loves of Lena Gaunt, and have none yet for Cory Taylor’s My beautiful enemy. Let’s hope we see some next month – you’ll be sure to get a mention if you are one of those!

Short stories …

Holiday in CambodiaFor my final section this month I thought I’d do a little plug for short stories. I know many readers don’t like them, but fortunately we do have some enthusiasts among our participants. Three reviews were posted in the literary sub-category last month.

Kathryn Goldie loved last year’s MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) shortlisted book, Two steps forward by Irma Gold. It was a book she noticed on the shelves at Readings bookshop and she’s glad she did. She says that “Each story is told in a different voice, without smacking of the experimental, uneven tone of some short story collections” and found the varied characters “deftly drawn and believable”.

Something rather different is Laura Jean McKay’s collection, Holiday in Cambodia, which was reviewed by Anna Sparga-Ryan. This collection, too, sounds highly varied despite all having the same setting. The stories cover “war, famine, torture, sex slavery” and exhibit an empathy for the country. Sparga-Ryan found the characterisation excellent, and said the writing is “sparse, concise and unlaboured”. 

Angie Holst read Cate Kennedy’s Like a house on fire, and called it “a glorious collection”. She also gives a plug in general for reading short stories – which seems a suitable point on which to end this month’s round-up:

I’m really enjoying reading these short stories anthologies as a departure from novel reading, with the dipping in and out much like the watching of television episodes as opposed to films. I like the quick and constant variation in genre, narrative voices and setting. Kennedy has proven herself adept at this constant variation, and she has a tremendous eye for the minutea of domestic life.

If you are uncertain about short stories, you might like to think again!


About Me

I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!

My love of Aussie literature started with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I “met” and fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.

March 2014 Wrap Up: Romance, Romantic Suspense and Erotica

Welcome to the March roundup. I will give fair warning that this is going to be a long post! Not only am I going to be talking about the books that were read and reviewed for the challenge in March I am also going to be talking about the 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards.

Once again there was a strong number of reviews linked up to the challenge during March with a total of 26.  There were several authors who were reviewed multiple times for the challenge including a couple of new releases.

Loretta Hill’s The Girl in the Yellow Vest was reviewed by both Paula and Sally from Oz and these two readers both also reviewed Someone Like You by Victoria Purman. Sally was impressed saying:

Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.



There were two new releases that were reviewed multiple times this month. The first was Mountain Ash by Margareta Osborn which was reviewed three times. Brenda was one who reviewed the book very enthusiastically over at Goodreads:

Wow! I absolutely loved this novel! It started off with a bang and continued throughout the whole book. I will admit to it being a little predictable early in the piece, but the predictability disappeared to weave a tale of deception, lies, secrets, anguish and insecurity; a wonderful story which drew me in from the start, and left me sighing and smiling when it was over.




The other book that I am going to focus on briefly is Safe Harbour by Helene Young. Shelleyrae at Book’d Out says of the book:

Safe Harbour is a first-rate, absorbing romantic suspense novel, balancing a dramatic story with strong characters and an engaging romance.  

And Bree from All the Books I Can Read was similarly impressed

 Another truly stellar novel from the go-to author for Australian romantic suspense.


Now let’s turn our attention to the ARRA Awards. Each year the Australian Romance Readers Association runs awards recognising the best romance novelists and books. The 2013 awards were presented in Sydney on March 22 in a glittering ceremony. Well, actually, it was a dinner, but each year there is a “bling off” where guest are asked to wear as much shiny, glittery bling as they can.  I was very surprised to see how much bling some of these ladies could find in their wardrobes  when I attended the dinner a few years ago! If you want to find out more (of course there are photos!), head to BookThingo’s Storify recap. Anyway, I digress.

I thought that this month I would share some review links and quotes for the winning books. After all, if avid readers of the genre think that these are the best of the best they might be a great place for others to start too!

And the winners were…

The Favourite Paranormal Romance for 2013 is Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh who is a New Zealand author .

Allegiance sworn Griffin

The Favourite Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Futuristic Romance 2013 is Allegiance Sworn by Kylie Griffin, which is the third book in the Light Blade series.

Shelleyrae from Book’d Out reviewed Allegiance Sworn and had this to say about the series as a whole

Set in an imaginative world where humans and demons are on the brink of war, Griffin combines romance, action, intrigue and magic in each book of her Light Blade series. I eagerly read one after another, enjoying an escape into the fantasy of warriors and heroines falling in love and fighting for peace.


The One That Got Away by Kelly Hunter (published by Harlequin Kiss)

The Favourite Short Category Romance 2013 is The One That Got Away by Kelly Hunter. This book was reviewed by Kat at BookThingo who summarised her thoughts about the book by saying:

This is a beautifully written, subtle, angsty story that, for me, cements Kelly Hunter as one of the best writers of modern category romance. It’s my first keeper for the year.


The Favourite Historical Romance 2013 is Untamed by Anna Cowan. This author was also named as the Favourite New Author.

Both Kat from BookThingo and Kaetrin from Kaetrin’s Musings reviewed Untamed and agree that is very unusual book, not your usual run of the mill historical romance. Kaetrin finishes her review by saying

I think the concept and not-the-usual of it deserve mad props and there was much to like.  And I’m pleased to say it was not a tangled mess. As this is the author’s debut, I can only expect her craft to improve with time and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.So: the creation in my hands at the end? I think it was an ambitious and curious thing, with parts full of beauty, parts of mystery and overall, pleasing to the eye.

Kat also highlights the unusualness by saying

Untamed isn’t a comfortable story; the plots and characters defy expectations. It takes what romance readers think we know of Regency romance and almost throws it back in our faces, and the reader must make sense of the fragments left.

andrews holding out for hero

The Favourite Contemporary Romance 2013 is Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews which was reviewed by Kaetrin who summarises

Holding Out For A Hero is a fun sexy contemporary with an Australian flavour and setting which will feel familiar to the locals but is not so very different as to be a barrier to international readers.


The Favourite Romantic Suspense 2013 is Half Moon Bay by Helene Young which was a favourite here at the challenge too as it was one of the most reviewed books in this category for the last year and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Helene Young’s latest book has just been released so I expect to see lots of reviews of that book over the coming months.  I am not going to quote from every one of the reviews for Half Moon Bay but I will share a couple and then add in links to the others below.

Marcia from Down Under said of Half Moon Bay

Fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action and intrigue with some tantalizing romantic encounters, Half Moon Bay is a fantastic addition to Australian romantic suspense and truly is “love in the heart of danger”.

And from Lauren at The Australian Bookshelf

Half Moon Bay is a fast-paced, intriguing suspense novel set against the backdrop of a tranquil setting. From conspiracies about drug smuggling in the Australian army, to the dangerous dealings of Afghanistan to the small town politics of northern NSW, Helene manages to cover all grounds while creating two intelligent and intriguing characters.

Jess at The Never Ending Bookshelf declares herself a fan saying

I highly recommend this novel to fans of the romantic suspense genre, or really anyone who wants to read a beautiful novel about the cost that comes with doing something the right way. It is heart wrenching beautiful, with a powerful love story that might just prove to be more powerful then them all.

Other reviews: Shelleyrae at Book’d Out, Bree at All the Books I Can Read, Brenda at Goodreads, Teddyree at The Eclectic Reader, Monique at Write Note Reviews and Jenn McLeod at Goodreads.

Half Moon Bay also won the award for Favourite Cover.

rake's midnight kiss

The Favourite Continuing Romance Series 2013 is the Sons of Sin series by Anna Campbell.  Whilst there are quite a few reviews for Anna Campbell’s standalone books there weren’t many at all for this series. In fact, there were none for the first book in the series, Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed, and only one by Karen and Teddyree over at The Eclectic Reader for the second instalment in the series (assuming you count novellas as a full instalment) Days of Rakes and Roses. Teddyree also reviewed the latest book in the series, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss saying

Why should you read it? … it’s deliciously naughty, romantic, saucy, funny and I loved it! Good enough? I spent half the book giggling and the other half fanning myself … a little overheating never hurt anyone. Nothing better than a book that makes you smile and when you finish you want to start all over again.


The Favourite Erotic Romance 2013 is Skin by Kylie Scott, the second book in the Flesh series. This book was reviewed by Cathleen at Goodreads in a short but sweet “I loved it” review.

In addition, Kylie Scott also won The Favourite Australian Romance Author 2013. Whilst we didn’t have many reviews for Skin, a couple of her other books have been reviewed. Bree from All the Books I Can Read and Kaetrin reviewed Lick, which is the first book in the Stage Dive series (the second of which has just been released so I expect we will see more about it in future round ups). Both reviews were very enthusiastic with Bree describing Lick as “amazing” saying

 I had my kindle handy and just began reading the book I’d most recently loaded onto it, which was this one. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. The story of David and Evelyn is so compelling and so entertaining that I had to keep going until I’d reached the end, no matter what else was happening around me.

To read Kaetrin’s review click here.

Eleni reviewed Flesh, the first book in the Flesh series over at Goodreads. She finishes her review

Still a brilliant story with great description and wicked dialogue.


Last but not least, the Sexiest Hero was named as Daniel ‘Monty’ Montgomery from Outback Dreams by Rachael Johns. Rachael was one of our most reviewed authors last year and there are a number of reviews of Outback Dreams included. Sally from Books and Musing Down Under said of the book

OUTBACK DREAMS was a great read, a perfect blend of romance, believable conflict, perfect miscommunication and a happy ever after which will melt the most romance reading resistant heart. Rachel Johns brings the outback community alive and makes excellent use of humour to break up potentially traumatic scenes

Other reviews:  Teddyree from The Eclectic Reader, Bree from All the Books I Can Read and Shelleyrae from Book’d Out


Phew! I think I need to go and read my book after all that!!

I’ll be back next month with more highlights from the romance, romantic suspense and erotica genres.

As always you can find more of the romance reviews at any time by clicking on the Weebly pages where new reviews are always being added.


Marg has long been an avid reader of all genres, with the most books read being in the romance genre. Marg has been blogging about all different genres and other things at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader for more than 8 years. You can tweet to her @margreads.

YA Speculative Fiction Round-Up: Feb-Mar 2014


Welcome to the February and March round up of YA Speculative Fiction! We’ve had 19 reviews submitted over the last two months – 9 in February and 10 in March :)

Forget Me Not Stacey Nash book coverSince her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother’s favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. When the brooch and the pendant are worn together they’re no longer pretty pieces of jewelry — they’re part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewelry’s power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device — and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she’s Enemy Number One.

The most reviewed book over this period has been Forget Me Not by Stacey Nash, with three reviews.”The tension, the twists and turns throughout, the web of intrigue – all had me glued to the pages” says Brenda, and Cassandra Page concurs with “[T]he story is action- and character-driven, whisking you along”. Rochelle Sharpe rounds out the praise of the novel with “If you like awesome technology and secret societies in your YA, as well as action and romance, I highly recommend Forget Me Not.” Sounds like a read that shouldn’t be missed!

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf book coverThe Reckoning destroyed civilisation. Rising from the ashes, some people have developed unique abilities, and society is scared of them. Guided by the ancient spirits of the land, Ashala Wolf will do anything to keep them safe.

When Ashala is captured, she realises she has been betrayed by someone she trusted. When her interrogator starts digging in her memories for information, she doubts she can protect her people forever. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

The second most popular book has been The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina. The first book in a dystopian series written by an indigenous author, the book has been getting steady attention in this challenge since its publication in 2012. There is a sequel, The Disappearance of Ember Crow, which is available now. Stephanie Gunn describes it as “a start to a very promising series by an Australian author, and an extremely accomplished debut” and Jason Nahrung elaborates on the Australian feel: “In this action story with its underlying and competently drawn romance subplot, the theme of the strength of the pack – of mutual care and concern – gives the book its heart. There are echoes of the colonial devastation of Indigenous Australia subtly vibrating through the story as Ashala draws strength from the memory and inspiration of her friends.”

Gifted Ingrid Alexandra book coverLucy Jones possesses an unusual—and extraordinary—gift. Her ability to sense the emotions of others is both a blessing and a curse, eventually driving her to seek refuge from its consequences by fleeing her hometown of Sydney.

Aussie Owned and Read enjoyed Gifted by Ingrid Alexandra, saying “Gifted was one of those books that keep you guessing. There’s a lot of mystery threaded in between all that teen drama and Ingrid balanced it out well. The whole whodunit aspect pushed the plot along and made Gifted a quick read.”

Chasing the Valley: Borderlands by Melki Wegner book coverDanika and her crew of escaped refugees are seeking the safety of the Magnetic Valley – and trying to evade Sharr Morrigan, the king’s most lethal hunter. But the borderlands they must cross to reach the Valley are smugglers’ territory: lawless, wild and steeped in ancient magic. When one of the crew is badly wounded, Danika turns to the smugglers for help – and accepts a bargain that might prove deadly.

It is Lukas, however, who hides the most dangerous secret. What has he seen through the eagle’s eyes? The answer can be found in an alchemy charm and a smuggler’s tale, and will lead Danika and her friends to an electrifying, unputdownable showdown.

“[Chasing the Valley:]Borderlands is a wonderful blend of adventure, science fiction and magic set in a dystopian world” says Sally from Oz about the second book in Wegner’s Chasing the Valley series. Sally actually picked up the book not knowing it was the second book in a series, but she didn’t find it difficult to follow at all, and is looking forward to the third book in the series.

Sally also reviewed Frontier Incursion by Leonie Rogers, the first book in a new YA Science Fiction trilogy, calling it “A truly wonderful reading experience”. She loved everything about the book, including its pacing, action and character relationships.

A Corner of White Jaclyn Moriarty book coverMadeleine 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 Corner of White is a wonderful example of the endless possibilities of fiction, and the brilliance that emerges when those possibilities are explored” says Raelke, who enjoyed the novel despite finding it a bit hard to get into, and remarks that “[h]aving finished the book, it is clearer to see that the beginning is not really slow at all, just Moriarty planting seeds which the discerning reader might sow before the end of the book.” The sequel, The Cracks in the Kingdom, is available now.

The other reviews submitted during February and March:

I’ll be back in June with the April and May reviews :) In the mean time, look out for Disruption by Jessica Shirvington, a science fiction thriller I think a lot of people will enjoy.

Happy Reading!


About Me

Hi! I’m Shaheen from Speculating on SpecFic, a book blog dedicated to works of speculative fiction – fantasy, science fiction, magic realism, paranormal romance and much more. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love reading and use my blog to peddle my love to others. When not reading (rare times indeed), I can be found completing my PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

March 2014: General Fiction

For the purposes of this challenge ‘general fiction’, is defined as fiction set post mid 1950′s, which does not fit neatly into a specific literary genre.



Anita Heiss has been one of the most popular authors in the AWW Challenge so far, with more than 19 reviews of her books including her chick-lit novels Manhattan Dreaming, Paris Dreaming and Avoiding Mr Right, her memoirAm I Black Enough For you? and her poetry book  I’m Not Racist butMarch saw the release of her newest novel Tiddas.

“A story about what it means to be a friend … Five women, best friends for decades, meet once a month to talk about books … and life, love and the jagged bits in between. Dissecting each other’s lives seems the most natural thing in the world – and honesty, no matter how brutal, is something they treasure. Best friends tell each other everything, don’t they? But each woman harbours a complex secret and one weekend, without warning, everything comes unstuck.”

Shelleyrae of Book’d Out  writes, ” These are women we can likely relate to in one way or another, smart, savvy, socially aware, they are varyingly wives, mothers, daughters, cousins, in law’s and, of course, tiddas… They variously evoke admiration, sympathy and laughter and I thought their personal journeys, and their sisterhood, to be portrayed realistically.” Bree of AllTheBooksICanRead notes, “As quite obviously, a majority of the characters are Aboriginal or connected to Aboriginals, there’s a lot of discussion of Aboriginal issues, both in a national way and also in a much more intimate personal way, such as the role of women within the family group and the community tribe.” Lisa Walker finished the book, “with a sense of having been enriched by some lively and intelligent company.”


Jennifer Smart, who spent five years working on Home and Away as a Director’s Assistant and then scriptwriter, draws on that experience in her debut novel The Wardrobe Girl  offering a behind-the-scenes peek at television production, and a close up of the action happening off camera.

wardrobe girl smartAfter the humiliating end of her last relationship, this is just what TV costume designer, Tess Appleby, needs to hear. Sure, a wardrobe assistant on a soap is a step down from her gig at the BBC, but all Tess wants is an easy life . . . Unfortunately she’s barely arrived on set before she’s warding off the attentions of the show’s heartthrob, Sean Tyler – and, as a consequence, the hostility of its other star, Bree Brenner. And if the pressures and politics of working on a TV drama aren’t enough, she’s living with her high-maintenance mother, an ageing celebrity, and her infuriating sister Emma, an aspiring actress. Still, Tess is certain she can deal with everything they throw at her – until Jake Freeman, her ex-fiancé, the man she last saw eight years ago as he walked away and broke her heart, is named the show’s new director… “

Bree of AllTheBooksiCanRead, enjoyed the parts of the story that dealt with filming the soap and all of the intricacies involved with that behind the scenes and the banter between the crew, plus I loved that it was set in Sydney.” Sam of Sam Still Reading thought, “The characters were done well – Tess’s family in particular were cleverly drawn and ….The other actors and crew were funny and unique”. Monique of WriteNoteReviews warns,I wouldn’t class this as a romance though – it’s more soap opera, what with Tess’s family, work and relationship dramas.”


grass-castle-viggersIn The Grass Castle, Karen Viggers tells an epic story of love and loss and the strength it takes to keep on living after. It is a beautifully written tale that I enjoyed immensely. Karen really impressed me with her writing style and I loved the setting.” writes Rochelle of Inside My Worlds.

“The daughter of a pastoralist, Daphne grew up in a remote valley of the Brindabella Ranges where she raised her family with her husband, Doug, in a world of horses, cattle and stockmen. But then the government forced them off their land and years later, Daphne is still trying to come to terms with the grief of her departure from the mountains and its tragic impact on her husband. It is during a regular visit to her valley that she meets Abby, a lonely young woman shying away from close contact with others, running from a terrible event in her early teens. But Daphne is a patient mentor, and slowly a gentle friendship develops between them. While Abby’s family history means she tries to ignore her feelings for journalist Cameron, Daphne struggles with her own past and the long shadow it may have cast over the original inhabitants of their land. Both women must help each other face the truth and release long-buried family secrets before they can be free. The Grass Castle is a sweeping rural epic that reflects the strength which resides in us all: the courage to grow and learn from the past.”

Sam of Sam Still Reading wrote, “The narrative has a quiet, lyrical feeling to it as if the reader is standing back, watching things unfold through a misty lens. At first I found the pace rather slow, but as the book progressed I found myself looking forward to the chance to slow down and lose myself in the book.” while Brenda thought, “The way the past was woven into the present was beautifully done, everything blended and wound its way to a very satisfying conclusion.”


Other titles earning recommendations last month include Night Street by Kristel Thornell from Jessica White, Distance by Nene Davis reviewed by Simone at Great Aussie ReadsThe Corner of Your Eye by Kate Lyons given five stars by Danielle , The Memory Trap by Andrea Goldsmith reviewed by Amanda of looking up/looking down and Shelleyrae at Book’d Out enjoyed The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster.

night street thornell    DistanceNeneDavies    the corner of your eye - kate lyons     memory-trap-goldsmith    the wrong girl -zoe foster


You can browse more general fiction titles reviewed by participants on the AWW review site



About Me

My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 7 to 17, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog,  Book’d Out.  In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge and in 2013 a total of 117. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and her children’s school library.


Miles Franklin Literary Award 2014 Longlist Announced/Reviews roundup


The longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced and includes seven titles by women, four by men. two debut novelists, and two past winners. It’s great to see some crossover with several Stella Prize-listed titles.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian, Richard Neville, said the strength and diversity of this year’s entrants is testament to the depth and breadth of Australian literary talent.

“With 53 submissions received, the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award has once again cemented itself as a pre-eminent award within the national arts community. Whittling the entries down to 11 for the longlist was both rewarding and challenging due to the high calibre of submissions.

“From acclaimed former Miles Franklin winners to exciting new voices, this year’s longlist reflects the great strength, variety and richness of current Australian fiction,” he said.

The longlisted titles are:

  • The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Tracy Farr, Fremantle Press)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan, Vintage)
  • The Railwayman’s Wife (Ashley Hay, A&U)
  • Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)
  • The Night Guest (Fiona McFarlane, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Belomor (Nicolas Rothwell, Text)
  • Game (Trevor Shearston, A&U)
  • My Beautiful Enemy (Cory Taylor, Text)
  • Eyrie (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Swan Book (Alexis Wright, Giramondo)
  • All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld, Vintage).

The Miles Franklin Award is regarded as Australia’s most prestigious literature prize, having been established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. First awarded in 1957, the Award is presented each year to the novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.

Richard Neville is joined on the judging panel by The Australian journalist and columnist, Murray Waldren, Sydney-based bookseller, Anna Low, biographer, book historian, publishing editor, and Queensland Writers Centre founding chair Craig Munro and Emeritus Professor, Susan Sheridan.

Last year’s award was presented to Michelle de Kretser for Questions of Travel (A&U).

The Miles Franklin 2014 shortlist will be announced at a public event at the State Library of New South Wales on Thursday 15 May 2014, with the winner to be announced on Thursday 26 June 2014.

Reviews Roundup


So far, there has been only one (very short) AWW Challenge review of The Life and Times of Lena Gaunt. We’d love to hear more from readers about this novel about music and the life of Lena Gaunt, “theremin player of legend.” I’ve always loved the eerie, twangy sound of the theremin and am intrigued to find out more about Lena’s life in Singapore and Western Australia.


I adored The Railway Man’s Wife and predicted it would or at least should be on awards lists so am thrilled to see it here on the longlist. It has been reviewed many times by AWW Challenge participants including Michelle McLaren who wrote: “An elegiac tale of love, loss and letting go, Ashley Hay’s second novel, The Railwayman’s Wife, shimmers with grace. It’s an unhurried, lyrical novel; sad and sweet at the same time. Hay’s pace is deliberately languid as she drifts smoothly between events in the present and the past, as gradually we learn, in alternating chapters, how Mac and Annika met and fell in love – first with each other, and then with Thirroul. The Railwayman’s Wife is an elegant novel, rendered with consummate skill. It’s charged with emotion – after all, how could a novel about grief be anything else? – but Hay never lets herself stray into melodrama or mawkish sentiment.”


I raided a couple of my local public libraries for this year’s Stella Prize titles and am looking forward to grabbing this one from my TBR pile. Mullumbimby has been reviewed by many Challenge participants including Katie Keys, Sue over at Discombobula, and AWW’s Jessica White. Katie Keys writies: “It is a book of love, grief and discovery, of the small daily fights that make up the one big one, and of a new quality of conversation that Australia is having with itself.” Sue loved the book saying: “As a whitey, reading a novel set in Queensland, a few thousand k’s away from me both geographically and otherwise, I feel a rather keen sense of jealousy, running alongside a feeling of kinship, alongside a conscious need to check my romanticism….This book is about dualities. About the ways language is used as a tool, as a proof of identity.  About barbed wire spaced throughout land once stolen, fences which keep out or keep in.  It is about misconceptions, on both sides of the black and white divide, and about generosity.  It is about a familiar Australia and a foreign one.”

McFarlane, The night guest

Sonja reviewed The Night Guest saying: “McFarlane has approached this story of love, ageing loneliness, and deceit in impeccable style. The writing is subtle and sensitive, the pace slow and meandering in some parts, chaotic and in others, until the underlying tension accelerates to reach a sinister crescendo.” Lisa Walker writes: “The Night Guest was a standout read for me. Something of a psychological thriller, it also covers a wide emotional territory. Ruth’s memories of her first love Richard and her life with her husband interweave with her increasingly bizarre daily life. The story raises themes about aging, trust and dependence. McFarlane tells this story in simple but evocative prose. Inspired, she says, by both her grandmothers having dementia, it is a finely wrought picture of a mind coming undone. This is a hard book to review without spoilers so I’m going to have to leave it there. Eerie, suspenseful and thought-provoking, I suspect that The Night Guest will be one of my top reads for this year.”


Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy has not yet been reviewed for the AWW Challenge — looking forward to reading your reviews. The synopsis tells us that “Arthur Wheeler is haunted by his infatuation with a Japanese youth he encountered in the enemy alien camp where he worked as a guard during WW2. Abandoning his wife and baby son, Arthur sets out on a doomed mission to rescue his lover from forced deportation back to Japan, a country in ruins. Thus begins the secret history of a soldier at war with his own sexuality and dangerously at odds with the racism that underpins the crumbling British Empire.”


The Swan Book has been reviewed many times by AWW Challenge paritcipants including Chris White who found it “beautiful, tragic and breathtaking saying of it: Buy this book. It is brilliant. It made me feel almost deliriously happy, thanks to the beautiful combinations of brilliant prose and of the teasing, twisting poetry. It made me feel guilty, as a white Australian, of the Intervention and of our treatment of Aboriginals in general. It is powerful, on the topic of Aboriginal rights and their mistreatment, on the subject of boat-people and refugees and their mistreatment, on the feelings of a little girl, abused and forgotten. The mingling of Aboriginal songlines and the descriptions of birds in particular are poetically gorgeous. It also reminds me (in the best possible way) of Kafka and Borges —I cannot recommend The Swan Book any more than I do.”

All the Birds Singing

I loved All the Birds, Singing and reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books saying: “This is a novel written from and for the senses. It is full of sounds, strong emotions and smells  bush smells, food smells, the smell of blood and fear. It is also a novel about the rhythm of life on the land, about loss, grief, and friendship, about lonely people trying to reach out and connect with one another. Part thriller, part coming-of-age story, All the Birds, Singing is probably not for those who don’t like to read about the darker side of human experience. As for me, I couldn’t stop reading and the novel came with me into my dreams the night I finished it …” Sue of Whispering Gums wrote of it: “Wyld’s writing is marvellous. The imagery is strong but not heavy-handed because it blends into the story. The rhythm changes to suit the mood. The plot contains parallels that you gradually realise are pointing the way. There’s humour and irony. I love the fact that our Jake, on the run from whatever it is, smokes “Holiday” brand cigarettes. There’s a bleakness to the novel, but it’s not unremitting. Jake, always the outsider, is tough and resourceful. She sleeps with a hammer under her pillow, but she has a soft side that is revealed mostly through her tenderness towards her animals….All the Birds, Singing is about how the past cannot “be left alone”. “We’ve all got pasts”, the shearers’ boss tells Jake early in the novel, but for some people the past must be dealt with before they can move on. The novel is also about redemption. It’s not the first novel about the subject, and neither will it be the last, but it is a finely told version that catches you in its grips and makes you feel you are reading it for the first time.”

Please keep reading and sending in your reviews, all of which can be accessed here.

About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, writer and editor. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit





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