For November there was:
Books Reviewed: 27 (6 poetry)
This includes some reviews that were technically from October but—shh—no one else need know.
The most prolific reviewer was: Nancy Elin with 7 books reviewed – congratulations & thank you!
The most reviewed title this month was a 3-way tie between: Rebel Without a Clause, Phosphorescence, and The Fire Wombat — each were reviewed twice.
As always, click on the coloured quote from a review to be taken directly to it.
Being Non-Fiction November there was, as can be expected, an array of titles and subject matters covered in this month’s reviews. It was great to see. I’ve highlighted a few in particular from each general non-fiction category that appeared as it speaks to the broadness and diversity of the genre.
Rebel Without a Clause: Losing the Linguistic Plot by Sue Butler was sure to pique the interest of our reviewers who necessarily have a fascination with the English language in some way or another. An exploration of uses (and misuses!) of terms, words, and phrases, it is a book that Tracey at Carpe Librum says “is full of surprising, amusing, entertaining and informative moments and I thoroughly enjoyed the short, sharp chapters on a variety of topics”. I was particularly interested in Shellyrae at Book’d Out’s discussion of the first chapter ‘To Care or Not To Care’ which “provides a brief explanation of how and why language changes, the need to balance preservation with the right of expression, and the importance of clarity and meaning”. It seems this is a title that both provokes friendly (or not…) conversation of the kind at home on any trivia or fun-facts table, while also tapping into bigger questions about language and articulation.
Also of note in the literary genre was a fascinating title reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith on Goodreads entitled Jane Austen’s Sewing Box: Craft Projects & Stories from Jane Austen’s Novels by Jennifer Forest. Although published (all the way back) in 2009, this melding of the literary with crafting meant I couldn’t resist including what Jennifer says is a “beautifully illustrated book [in which] Ms Forest provides a social history of the late 18th century as viewed by Miss Austen and her characters”. The book itself doesn’t appear to be widely available for purchase any longer so we may have to tuck it away in the memory bank for when the second-hand hunting basket comes out.
Social & Local History
I love receiving these histories because it usually means they are an amalgamation of ideas and theories that defies a straight categorisation in history. And while I often leave them for our history, crime, or memoir round-ups, this Non-Fiction November I wanted to take a moment to show my appreciation for them and the place they have in this conglomerate category. Even if they don’t often make an appearance here specifically, it is nevertheless such a pleasure to see them.
This is certainly true of the October 2020 release The Edward St Baby Farm reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith. A book by Stella Budrikis, it explores how a string of infant deaths in the 1900s in Perth can be linked back to a woman named Alice Mitchell who would ultimately go on trial for murdering a five month old baby at her Edward St residence. It is a book about history and crime but it is also about the social conditions and cultural factors that contributed to what happened. Thus it is also about our understanding of child welfare, making it – as Jennifer’s review shows – “a difficult but important book to read”.
Jennifer also reviewed Dancing in My Dreams: Confronting the Spectre of Polio (2016) which sits in a similar multi-genre space with a focus on Australian social history. You can find the full review here, which draws an interesting link between the history of pandemics and vaccinations with our current COVID world.
Although certainly not the only other local history book reviewed this month, the review of The Seventies: The Personal, the Political and the Making of Modern Australia by Janine Rizzetti at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip was a particularly n in-depth and fascinating review. In discussing how this title by Michelle Arrow from 2019 depicts the cultural climate of Australia in the 70s the review feels like an expansion, rather than summary, of the book. The comments are well-worth a peruse to this end too! As Janine says, the “book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of the decade, but it does emphasize social change rather than political events and economic policies” by putting the women’s and the gay and lesbian movement at the forefront of its analysis. At it’s core it looks at the long tendrils of the seemingly simple idea that the personal is political, which came to the forefront of consciousness during the 70s. But neither the book, nor the review, take a simple approach in analysing it. Of the book in totality, Janine says:
“This book won the Ernest Scott Prize for 2020, awarded annually ‘to the book judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation published in the previous year.’ It is carefully footnoted and researched, but it maintains a light tone which is personal at times. It is well-structured in a narrative sense with chapters divided into discrete sections, and ‘hooks’ at the start and end of each section to drive the argument forward.”
If only this review had scraped in for our Personal & Political section in last month’s round-up! But it’s inevitable this will be an ongoing theme here. You can catch up on that round-up here if you missed it.
Special Mention – Phosphorescence
It felt like Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence (2020) was popping up everywhere in literary spheres, including here. But there was actually only 3 reviews of it in the AWW database and 2 of those were from this month. I’m not entirely sure where I got this skewed perspective about it? Nevertheless, barring one review, they have been included in previous Memoir round-ups. But it’s clear this is a book that flies in the face of a single genre and belongs here just as much, if not more. So I’ve created a quick-fire summary of the reviews:
First reviewed by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best
→ line encapsulating review: “In one sense, there are not a lot of new ideas in this book – we know that we live in a culture that is increasingly ‘silence-avoiding’; that under-appreciates nature; that is faster and faster and faster – but Baird frames it in a new way – the overarching tenet is awe, with a theme of mindfulness, and a foundation of fascinating research.”
Then reviewed by Sue at Whispering Gums
→ line encapsulating review: “As I’ve been writing this post, it’s become clear to me that the book does, in fact, satisfy Baird’s goal of searching for “the light within” – even though, while reading it, I sometimes felt I was losing the overall plot as I followed her down multifarious paths. In retrospect, I’ve decided that this could be the book’s strength. Not only does it offer a variety of experiences and thinking, but it enables us to choose paths most suitable for us, paths that may change depending on our circumstances.”
Most recently reviewed by Denise Newton Writes
→ line encapsulating review: “…reading Julia Baird’s book was like applying a balm to raw damaged skin: soothing, calming, but also an invitation to think deeply about life and what really matters.”
The reviews seem to be unanimous in having found something valuable in reading it and in being glad that they had. It sounds as though it may very well be poetical in nature, where what makes it expansive and transformative at times can also be what makes it, potentially at one and the same time, restrictive or too-specific for some readers.
In self-help, Tracey at Carpe Librum found How to Break Up with Friends (2020) by Dr Hannah Korrel to be a guide on how to ditch crappy companions with some hard truths, which “does a great job of explaining what a good friend is, how to set boundaries, highlighting misnomers about friendship and telling us how to let go of toxic friendships.” While at the other end of the scale, Veronica Strachan on Goodreads found Dr Paige William’s Becoming AntiFragile: Learning to Thrive through Disruption, Challenge and Change (2020) to be “a user-friendly guide to thriving in today’s fraught leadership space” that is a “thoughtful and practical read”.
For environmental books, we had two dealing specially with climate change this month. The first is Jonathan Shaw’s review of Quarterly Essay’s The Coal Curse: Resources, Climate and Australia’s Future (#78) by Judith Brett from June 2020. According to Jonathan, it is a dialogue on coal (penned in response to a previous piece on fossil fuels) that is written “with wonderful clarity” fostering a conversation that is “is civil, nuanced and challenging”. While Georgia Rose at Goodreads found The Carbon Club (2020) by Marian Wilkinson to be “well-researched and well-written” and a “great book to read in the lead up to the Biden presidency, which may end up placing more pressure on Australia to reduce its carbon emissions”.
Special Mention – Unseen
Finally, I wanted to end Non-Fiction November with Unseen: The Secret World of Chronic Illness (2020) by Jacinta Parsons. Not only does it encapsulate this multi-faceted type of non-fiction that we’ve been discussing but one can’t ignore that the Australian disability justice advocate and author Carly Findlay is the top review on Goodreads who, like our reviewer Georgia Rose, highly recommends it. Part memoir, it is a book that also confronts the emotional, social, and cultural aspects of chronic illness, including not only the general discrimination at large but the failures of the medical and governmental systems that are meant to support those with disabilities (whether visible or not). Georgia says that: “Parsons does a great job of zooming in on her own story, then zooming out and looking at the public health system in Australia and the things we could do make things just a bit better for people living with chronic illness”.
Non-Fiction Kid’s Corner
I am thrilled to see reviews for children’s non-fiction books keep coming in. Non-Fiction November wouldn’t be complete without them! Two of these were for The Fire Wombat (2020) by Jackie French. A story of a wombat that is based on events witnessed by Jackie French during the 2020 fires, Denise Newton describes the book as “craft[ing] a gentle fable about how even the smallest of beings can survive with the support of others”. And for Ashleigh Meikle at The Book Muse it is “a story of courage, compassion and survival” and poignantly concludes the review by saying:
“This beautiful book is a marker of our history. It will serve to teach us the power of fire and when to have courage. It shows the amazing nature of animals, and the power of friendship in the bush, and will remind us that we need to take care of them… A powerful book that gave me hope amidst the fear of the encroaching fires. A must read for all Australians.”
Ashleigh also reviewed and recommended The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book (2020) by Jennifer Cossins as an educational title all about animals that is perfect for the budding zoologists but also “filled with fun and whimsy that will allow children to learn their alphabet using words and images”.
When it comes to poetry this month, I can only reiterate what was mentioned in our latest Classics and Literary round up: that Nancy Elin, our Netherlands-based reviewer, has been on an absolute roll with Brona’s AusReading Month. Because, on top of a multitude of other reviews, this includes 5 of poetry in November. All of which—wonderfully—are from independent and small press publishers.
Released most recently was a book of letters and poetry entitled Nganajungu Yagu (2019) by Aboriginal author Charmaine Papertalk Green which won the Victorian Premier Award for poetry in 2020. It is a collection of verse that is bilingual or entirely in Badimaya or Wajarri, with a glossary at the back for translation. It is based on letters between Papertalk Green and her mother from when she was living in an Aboriginal girls’ hostel in Perth attending high school. Confronting fear, displacement, and loneliness, it is a book that evokes the love that parses through the written words of a letter and how it can foster connection when physically distanced. Nancy adored this book about generational wisdom and maternal relationships, giving it “A++++++++++” and designated it a must read. It is accompanied by some lovely personal recollections of their own mother (that you can read in full here).
Also included was Ruby Moonlight (2012) by Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman Ali Cobby Eckermann. It is a collection that confronts the violence and trauma of colonisation in an act of reclaiming both tenderness and power. Although a relatively short read, Nancy warns against confusing length and density because the poetry is “a joy to read out loud [with] sounds linked by alliteration, internal vowels and final consonants”. For Nancy, unequivocally, “Ruby Moonlight was a delight to read”. Alongside this was a review of Things I’ve Thought to Tell You (2018) by Penelope Layland which ruminates on mourning, memory, the passing of time, and how this plays into human connections. Nancy is clearly a strong advocate for poetry and begs, “Please, if you never read poetry give this 68 page book a chance. It will alter you”. It is a reminder we can all use when approaching a new poetry collection, or any book for that matter.
Also reviewed by Nancy Elin were Argosy (2017) by Bella Li here and Emperical (2019) by Lisa Gorton here.
Thanks also to Jonathan Shaw for another review of an indie poetry collection, this time of Play With Knives 5 by Jennifer Maiden which is part poetry, part mystery and is a review that really must be read in full (which you can do here).
Thanks to all the Reviewers
Here is a list of the reviewers mentioned this month and where you can find their work. Visit them, if and when you can. Say that I sent you!
- Nancy Elin — at nancyelin.wordpress.com
- Tracey — at Carpe Librum
- Shellyrae — at Book’d Out
- Jennifer Cameron-Smith — here at Goodreads
- Janine Rizzetti — at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip
- Kate — at Books Are My Favourite and Best
- Sue — at Whispering Gums
- Denise Newton — at Denise Newton Writes
- Veronica Strachan — here at Goodreads
- Jonathan Shaw — at shawjonathan.com
- Georgia Rose – here at Goodreads
- Ashleigh Meikle — at The Book Muse
Unfortunately, we aren’t able to fit all reviews into our round-ups but it doesn’t mean we appreciate them any less!
Until Next Month!
Happy Reading 🤓📚
And remember, you can join the Australian Women Writers Challenge at any time. You don’t need a website or even a Goodreads account. You can post your review on Facebook, Instagram or any other online medium – Sign Up for the Challenge or Add Your Review now.
Round Up by Tegan Edwards (formerly Virginia Ives – new website coming soon!)
Fantastic round-up Tegan. I’m impressed by the depth you’ve gone to in your post. You’ve done the books and their reviewers wonderful justice.
Nancy is a wonder when she gets going. I must read some of that poetry. The only one I’ve read here is Ruby Moonlight, which is great.
Oh and thanks for the link.
Thank you. I think it’s both a strength and curse to insist on being in-depth – it’s just unnatural for me to do it any other way. But it’s very gratifying to hear that it does them justice.
Nganajungu Yagu was shortlisted for Small Press Network’s Book of the Year as I was doing this write up so I think it’s a sign for me to put it on as my next poetry read!
Yes, me too Tegan. And Nancy’s review was very encouraging.
Brilliant round up. Thanks so much!
Thanks Theresa 😁 Good leadership at the helm makes it so easy!
Fantastic round-up- thank you! Such a broad range of books, and you’ve represented them so well.
With your calibre of reviews it makes it easy to do Janine 😁 (seriously, your reviews always have such compelling analysis!)
In the year that “locktail hour” and ‘zoom chic’ are the new trends ….books are the escape we all need. Poetry is often passed by on reading lists but I have decided to embrace it. I’m new to this genre.
You don’t have to go through a windshield to realize life is important.
Poetry is tapping you on the shoulder to remind you….of that every day!
Thanks so much for all the links to my reviews, appreciated….from the other side of the world!
I think you’re absolutely right Nancy, poetry is like all genres of books – you’ve just got to find the one that speaks to/works for you. And it’s okay if that’s wholly subjective, that’s half the magic!
Warm wishes and keep up the good work.
Thank you for mentioning one of our titles, Jennifer Maiden’s novel ‘Play With Knives: Five’ and recommending Jonathan Shaw’s excellent review. Just to clarify: this work is a prose fiction novel with alternating and very accessible chapters in verse. Those readers who enjoy exciting prose thrillers will also enjoy this book enormously.
Katharine Margot Toohey
TheresaSmithWrites on December 16, 2020 at 12:11 am (Edit)
I just wanted to clarify that poetry is included in this round-up separate to non-fiction. We just round them up together because they are both smaller categories. Jennifer Maiden’s novel would have been entered into our database by Jonathan as poetry (and possibly also general fiction – many books are marked with more than one category) and that’s why it is being rounded up here. It’s definitely not included as non-fiction, just poetry. Tegan has indicated that it is a hybrid work. Apologies for the misunderstanding where you’ve thought it was being represented as non-fiction poetry.
What a brilliant wrap-up, I loved the level of detail you went into Tegan, and I’m off to check out the review of Jane Austen’s Sewing Box. And thank you so much for including two of my reviews in this round up. I enjoyed participating in Non Fiction November again this year and there were so many great books to choose from.