Welcome to the Australian Women Writers Challenge diversity round up for December 2020 and January 2021. As it’s the first round up for the year, I’ll include the wrap up from 2020 as well.

The start of a new year is a great time to join the Australian Women Writers Challenge. You don’t need a website or even a Goodreads account. You can post your review on Facebook, Instagram or even your favourite online bookstore – Sign up for the Challenge here.

2020 Yearly Wrap Up

In 2020 our reviewers linked 454 reviews of 218 books by 196 authors, for books by Australian women writers either from diverse backgrounds or which featured diverse themes.

I reviewed 8 books – not a huge number, but then I didn’t review (or read) as many books as usual in 2020. The Melbourne lockdowns broke my concentration span so I tended to watch back-to-back episodes of things like House Hunters while doomscrolling on my phone. May 2021 be better!

Most prolific reviewers

Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed books and linked them to our database in 2020. Every review you post helps books by Australian women writers to succeed. Special mentions go to these dozen prolific reviewers:

Most reviewed books

If you’re putting together a reading list for 2021, here’s a great place to start – all the links below lead to the Goodreads entry so you can easily read more about the book, and add it to your ‘Want to read’ list if it sounds like your cup of tea.

These are the most reviewed books from 2020 in the diversity category:

December 2020 / January 2021 Wrap Up

Now for our usual bi-monthly wrap up! In the past two months we’ve had 64 reviews of 47 books featuring themes of diversity and/or by Australian women writers from a diverse background.

It’s a bigger mix than usual, possibly because you’ve all been catching up on your to-be-read list over the summer holidays! I’ve listed a few stand outs below – if you’d like to see the full list, scroll down for the instructions under “Reading for diversity”.

The Angel of Waterloo, by Jackie French

From bestselling author Jackie French comes the story of one woman’s journey from the hell of Waterloo to colonial Australia, where she can forge her own dreams in a land of many nations.

Denise Newton Writes found the historical detail ‘impeccable’:

As always, Jackie French’s historical detail is impeccable and layered through the narrative seamlessly, so readers can learn a great deal while being immersed in the story. We become aware, for example, of how the colony’s politics and economics affected all who lived there: the indigenous people who were quickly dispossessed of their lands, the poor, the convicts and the free settlers who followed in their wake. The violence and injustice imported along with the settlers are clear to see.

Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse wrote in her review that:

It is a love story to a nation and the people that built it – those who were already here, those forced to come here and those who chose to come. The attitudes of the time are captured in a way that illustrates what it was like, but also, show the disgust that characters like Hen feels as she grows and changes, and the ways she learns about Indigenous lore and the importance of finding ways to incorporate that with what she knows.

The Charleston Scandal, by Pamela Hart

If you devoured The Crown you will love this exuberant story of a young Australian actress caught up in the excesses, royal intrigues and class divide of Jazz Age London, losing her way but reclaiming her heart in the process. It depicts the prejudice by the British upper crust against anyone ‘foreign’ – including Australians and Canadians.

Brenda Telford called it fabulous and highly recommends it: “The shows, the dancing, the music, the fun they all had.”

Helen Sibbritt called it a ‘beautifully written story’:

This story was filled with so much fun and laughter the dancing, singing I am sure my feet were tapping while reading I felt so much a part of the story and the fun these actors could have on the town, there are so many wonderful characters, Perry and Val then the support that the Cowards gave to Zeke, all in all this is a fabulous story one that had me turning the pages…

Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse called it a ‘wonderful’ book:

The world of theatre is exquisitely drawn and painted with words, and the characters that populate the world are richly created and well-rounded. It follows on in a way, timeline wise from Pamela’s ANZAC books.

Claire Louisa Holderness found it an enjoyable read:

I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the acting and dancing scene in the 1920s, it was also fun seeing the social scene that they got to be part of, Fred and Adele Astair and Noel Coward and the friendships they forged, I’d of loved to have been a part of that scene.

I really enjoyed this one too – here’s my review.

The Valley of Lost Stories, by Vanessa McCausland

Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains.

Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.

As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie, with a damaged marriage; Emmie, yearning for another child; Pen, struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra, hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.

But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.

Denise Newton Writes found it a gripping tale of mystery and danger:

Woven throughout are the events of 1948, and hints of other dark episodes in the valley’s history, including the dispossession and murder by white settlers of the Wiradjuri people, and exploitative behaviour by mine owners and managers when the valley was a major producer of shale oil.

Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out found it captivating:

Brilliant and beguiling, The Valley of Lost Stories is an absorbing and atmospheric tale, beautifully told, I’m happy to recommend.

Lee@ReadWriteWish thought the ‘Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock’ comparison was not a bad one and, in among the thrills and chills, McCausland covered many themes including “such as domestic violence, alcoholism, adultery, bullying, homophobia, and Aboriginal genocide.”

Mrs B’s Book Reviews gave it high praise:

Haunting, resplendent, bewitching and intriguing… A story bathed in mystery, speculation, convoluted secrets and shocking truths, The Valley of Lost Stories is a seducing tale from a storyteller I hold in high regard.

When the Apricots Bloom, by Gina Wilkinson

What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? Three women confront the complexities of trust, friendship and motherhood under the rule of a dictator in this debut inspired by the author’s own experiences in Iraq.

Cloggie Downunder gave it a glowing review with 5 stars:

This is a book that explores questions of truth, loyalty, and friendship, and demonstrates how, under extreme circumstances good people can make bad choices. Wilkinson has a marvellous turn of phrase: “But lies didn’t take kindly to being forgotten, they clung to her pant leg, even as she ran for the door” and “Instead, they sucked on their nargilah pipes and fanned the coals with their bitterness” are examples. Moving, thought-provoking and clearly authentic, this is a brilliant debut novel.

Jennifer Cameron-smith found it thought-provoking:

Each woman’s story is difficult and heartbreaking in its own way. As I read, I wondered what choices I might make in their situations.

calzean found it an interesting novel:

The three women’s stories work well and while this is not a literary gem it is thought provoking in showing the types of threats women and the innocent had to suffer.

Brenda Telford highly recommends it:

a novel which is nothing short of horrifying as it shows the brutality of the time.

Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse calls it a ‘delicately written book’:

a compelling story that captures a time and place, through the eyes of specific characters and the ways they experienced the regime and the threats they were all living under.

Reading for diversity

I hope you’ll consider adding one or more of these books to your reading list. You can also check out some of our recent Diversity round ups or have a look through the reading lists on our Reading for diversity page.

Find more books by Australian women writers from diverse backgrounds, or featuring diverse themes, by typing “Diversity” into the keyword search on our Books reviewed page (you can sort the mega-list by genre or year of publication to narrow your search a little).

Reviewing for diversity

Keep the reviews coming! Remember to check the “Diversity” box when you link your review if the author is from a diverse background or your review touches on Indigenous issues, migrant heritage, LGBTQI/non-binary or disability experiences.

About me

Rebecca BowyerI’m Rebecca Bowyer, a storyteller, novelist and Diversity Editor here at the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband and two young sons. When not at my day job or wrangling kids, I can be found writing my next novel, or writing about books, reading and writing over at Story Addict.

I’m the author of two speculative fiction novels. Stealing Time is out in March 2021. Maternal Instinct, my first novel, is out now.