For the first month of 2021 there was:
Books Reviewed: 11 (2 poetry)
The most prolific reviewer was: Jennifer Cameron-smith with 3 books reviewed – congratulations & thank you!
The most reviewed titles this month were: Bindi by Kirli Saunders (poetry) and The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic — each were reviewed twice.
As always, click on the coloured quote from a review to be taken directly to it.
Bindi by Kirli Saunders
I am thrilled to say that a poetry book was one of the most reviewed books this month. Bindi (2020) is a verse novel by Gunai woman Kirli Saunders for mid-upper primary students about environment and climate. 11-year-old Bindi navigates the devastation turned to hope that comes from bushfires, and reminds us that Indigenous Australians have thousands of years of wisdom about the extremes this landscape faces. Lauren Platt at Underground Writers says that:
“To read and consume the verse novel Bindi is a gift—especially for children who will get the opportunity to share and learn from its contents…I hope that all schools will include Bindi in their curriculum as it is a beautiful way to start a dialogue with children about caring for Australia during our climate change crisis and looking forward into the future for ways to prevent fires.”
Bindi is written in both Gundungurra and English with a glossary at the back, purposely weaving the two languages together. Nadia L King’s review perhaps encapsulates this by saying: “Written so simply and so beautifully, the words in this story speak of more than just themselves.”
The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic
Also reviewed twice this month was The Schoolgirl Strangler (2021) by Katherine Kovacic, the true story of a serial killer in 1930s Melbourne whose victims were girls of school age. Shelleyrae at Book’d Out says that “Kovacic presents a meticulous and astute account of a fascinating historical crime” that replicates the temporality of the crimes beginning with the discovery of the victims, including newspaper articles and reports, to revealing the identity of the murderer and his subsequent trial. Marianne (or Cloggie Downunder) agrees writing:
“Kovacic’s meticulous research is apparent on every page, but at no time does this make for a heavy read: the way the facts are fed into the narrative gives it the feel of a crime novel, never dry or dense; always interesting, moreso from the benefit of hindsight and modern psychiatric and psychological knowledge.”
The Passing of Time: Quarterlies & Essays
Time, both abstract and impactful, is particularly relevant in the wake of the last year or so, and two reviews of new-release collections by multiple authors delve into this concept. The first is 2020: The Year That Changed Us, a book of fifty essays edited by Molly Glassey. Jennifer Cameron-smith’s review suggests
that in looking back at 2020 in this way we can look forward to what happens next. For her all the essays were valuable but in particular Part III ‘The New World’ was compelling. In the wake of tragedy and change Jennifer Cameron-smith is reminded of how time is subjective and strange:
“Here we are in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic continues. There has been a global recession, political turmoil, and several other disasters. Life (for those of us fortunate enough to be alive) has changed. International travel is a distant dream (or a nightmare, depending on your viewpoint), mask-wearing and social distancing are part of life.”
In a similar vein is edition 68 of Griffith Review entitled Getting On edited by Ashley Hay. This edition of the quarterly contains essays, reportage, memoirs, fiction and poems all about ageing and age care by a range of authors. According to Sue at Whispering Gums it deals with both “practical and political issues” as well as “philosophical and personal reflections which provide breadth and life to the discussion”. The review gives a range of responses to the pieces and expands the conversation further in an interesting and insightful manner which I recommend reading in full, including the comments section. Ageing is fundamental and confronting but this edition of Griffith Review, says Sue, is “informative, as you’d expect, but it is also inspirational and challenging. Recommended for adults of all ages!”.
Sydney & Melbourne
Sometimes the reviews for Non-Fiction are so eclectic you just have to order them by state. So that’s what I’ve done!
Starting in Sydney is Elizabeth Farrell’s Killing Sydney (2021), a book about the buildings, industrialism, and soul of a city embroiled in bureaucracy. With more people than ever but the same amount of space, Jennifer Cameron-smith writes:
“Ms Farrelly raises several important questions in this book If you have an interest in Sydney, if you care about cities meeting the needs of their inhabitants, then I recommend reading this book. The issues raised by Ms Farrelly apply to all large cities.”
Meanwhile in Victoria’s capital we have The Freedom Circus (2020) by Sue Smethurst. It is her grandmother-in-law Mindla’s story of surviving the holocaust recounted while living in a Jewish nursing home in Melbourne. It is a deeply personal narrative of WWII and German occupation that eventually ends in Australia, reminding us of the local connections we have to a time that seems longer ago than it is. Grace Wholley at Underground Writers says that, “Smethurst is so thorough in her explanation of people and events…[and] does an exceptional job in seamlessly blending the information given to her firsthand by Mindla and that acquired via an extensive historical deep dive.”
Some titles continue to be reviewed years after their release. This month we have two such books. The first is the well-known The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster (2017) by Sarah Krasnostein.
I love the aptly extended metaphor that Cass Moriarty’s review uses to describe it:
“In the end, this is a book featuring the ordinary and the extraordinary, the mild and the wild, the famous and the quiet, the unbelievable and the mundane. It is about the messiness of life and one woman’s drive to squeeze the sponge of life to get out every possible last drop of experience.”
And the second, for some lighter reading, is Jo at Booklover Book Reviews’ discussion of Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules: The Thankless Art of Being Correct (2019) which continues to garner steady reviews. A mock self-help book that invokes observational humour, Jo says that “the entertainment factor more often stems from Kitty’s delivery and discussion of the rules, rather than the rules themselves…[because] Flanagan contextualises her rules with amusing anecdotes from her own life and that of her friends, and wry segue ways from one rule to the next.”
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!
- Lauren Platt — at Underground Writers
- Nadia L King — at nadialking.wordpress.com
- Shellyrae — at Book’d Out
- Marianne (Cloggie Downunder) — here at Goodreads
- Jennifer Cameron-smith — here at Goodreads
- Sue — at Whispering Gums
- Grace Wholley — at Underground Writers
- Cass Moriarty — here at Goodreads
- Jo — at Booklover Book Reviews
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.
By Tegan Edwards
About Me: I’ve worked extensively on nineteenth century fiction by women and decided it was high time I was more acquainted with books from this period that are closer to home. Did you know that the first book ever published on mainland Australia was by a woman?!
I write mostly about literary history and classic books which make up much of my research work. However my more personal writing often deals with different concepts such as illness, interpretation, trauma, injustice, and melancholia. My 2021 website relaunch will be happening very soon (really!)
Thanks so much for including my review 🙂
Thanks for submitting it!
Thanks Tegan, another lovely round-up, with some great sounding books here.
I’m wondering about a verse novel – Bindi – being categorised as non-fiction? Categorising verse novels is tricky I find, but on my own blog I include them as poetry and fiction not non-fiction? I’m guessing the reviewer/s categorised it, not you, so am just wondering what you think. In the end it doesn’t matter a lot because it sounds like a special book and the more mentions the merrier!!
Sorry, I should have been clearer. I was including it as poetry but began with it because it was most-reviewed this month. I probably need to be more delineating about when I’m talking poetry and when I’m talking non-fiction. It’s because I look at the numbers/entries in totality. I do definitely think a verse novel can be poetry though!
Oh silly me Tegan, I should have clicked that that’s where it was fitting.
Yes I agree that a verse novel is poetry. No argument there!
Great wrap up and loved the Melbourne and Sydney inclusions, how fun!
I did wonder if the link between Melbourne and Circus Freedom was a bit tenuous but glad someone enjoyed it! Thanks Tracey 😊