Welcome to the Australian Women Writers Challenge diversity round up for April and May 2021.

In the past two months we’ve had a whopping 120 reviews of 74 books featuring themes of diversity and/or by Australian women writers from a diverse background. Thank you so much to all our reviewers and remember: you can join the Australian Women Writers Challenge any time.

I’ve rounded up just 10 stand outs below, but if you’d like to see the full list of the other 64(!!), scroll down for the instructions under Reading for diversity.

I’m also trialling a new segment – Kids’ Corner – for those who’d like to expand their child’s reading horizons.

The Emporium of Imagination, by Tabitha Bird

Book coverNo fewer than NINE reviews of this fabulous book were linked up on our database in the past 2 months. I can personally recommend Tabitha Bird’s latest novel, The Emporium of Imagination. Set in small-town Boonah, Queensland, it deals with themes of grief, illness and how coming together as a community – around a magical shop with a quirky keeper – can heal us all.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here are 8 more rave reviews:

  • Cloggie Downunder: “Bird’s second novel is easily as captivating as her first, if not more so. She gives her readers a dose of magical realism that will have them wishing they, too, could enter the Emporium of Imagination and experience its delightful quirks and oddities.”
  • Mrs B’s Book Reviews: “…beautiful and uplifting story, that will make you laugh and make you cry.”
  • Veronica Strachan: “The Emporium of Imagination has a beautiful way to deal with grief, and offers wonderful alternatives to lives spent with regret and recriminations, shame and anger.”
  • Carolyn Scott: “What a delightful and magical novel from the wonderful imagination of Tabitha Bird!”
  • Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out: “Infused with creativity, wit and wisdom, The Emporium of Imagination Is a magical read. Let yourself believe.”
  • Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse: “It is as much about acceptance and finding yourself and those who care about you as it is about grief and the impact of grief, and what it means and does to different people.”
  • Theresa Smith Writes: “Tabitha Bird is a highly imaginative writer whose creativity is akin to sunbursts and showers of stardust – magical, fragile, beautiful, incredible. This is a novel about grief: death, missed opportunities, failed moments, lost relationships, guilt over the things we wish we could change. It’s beautiful and devastating all at once.”
  • Brenda Telford: “With excellent characters and everything magical, The Emporium of Imagination ties it all up in a beautiful bow for its readers, and I for one am totally enchanted!”

Living on Stolen Land by Ambelin Kwaymullina

“Beautiful, emotional, intelligent, insightful — everyone who purports to fight for social justice or feminism should read this and use it as a guide. Love it,” wrote Tegan Edwards immediately after reading Living on Stolen Land by Ambelin Kwaymullina.

Just 64 pages, this short book sounds like it packs a lot in.

From the back cover: Living on Stolen Land is a prose-styled look at Australia’s colonial-settler ‘present’. This book is the first of its kind to address and educate a broad audience about our colonial contextual history, in a highly original way. It pulls apart the myths at the heart of our nationhood and challenges Australia to come to terms with its own past and its place within and on ‘Indigenous Countries’.

This title speaks to many First Nations’ truths; stolen lands, sovereignties, time, decolonisation, First Nations perspectives, systemic bias and other constructs that inform our present discussions and ever-expanding understanding. This title is a timely, thought-provoking and accessible read.

The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions: The ultimate Miss Phryne Fisher collection, by Kerry Greenwood

If you haven’t read any of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series yet, Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out says “this collection of short stories is a wonderful introduction to the elegant, sensual, and sassy lady private detective, while established fans will enjoy the opportunity to again accompany the intrepid investigator on her adventures in 1920’s Melbourne, and occasionally further afield.”

Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse writes that “The stories are also peppered with a diverse cast of characters – race, class, gender, occupation – as well as several others, and I love the way Phryne deals with this. She treats people kindly, and fairly – and only judges those who have committed abominable wrongs and determines how she shall deal with the outcome – and in each story, this is different, and is always played out elegantly.”

Brenda Telford “particularly liked Hotel Splendide. Phryne’s quick wit and way of immediately judging a character good or bad…” while Mrs B’s Book Reviews recommends it, exhorting readers to “Travel back in time to Melbourne in the 1920s in the company of the esteemed Miss Fisher, as she uses her beauty, wit, intelligence and elegance to solve a variety of mysteries.”

Traffic, by Robin Gregory

Next up is another crime series set in Melbourne. Set in modern-day Melbourne, Traffic by Robin Gregory is the first in a new series, published at the end of 2020.

Veronica @ The Burgeoning Bookshelf gave it 4 stars: “I really warmed to Sandi. We get a fair bit of her personal life and she has had a rough time in the love department. She tries much too hard to please and I feel her girlfriends seem to abuse her loyalty.”

Ashleigh Meikle – The Book Muse noted the way Robyn Gregory focused the narrative “allowed for Sandi to be who she was as a lesbian and a detective, showing that stories that have LGBTQIA+ characters don’t need to be about that specifically, but that it is always a part of who they are and can inform so much about their lives and the people they share their lives with…”

From the back cover: Melbourne Private Investigator, Sandi Kent, has her hopes for an easy December dashed when two complicated cases crash into her lap.

Sandi is hired by her volatile ex-girlfriend to rescue a young South Korean woman from an illegal brothel. And then – in a curiously parallel case – is engaged by a lawyer friend seeking defence angles for a Colombian immigrant charged with murdering a sex worker.

As Sandi juggles the demands of her clients, she becomes embroiled in the city’s seamy underworld of human trafficking, drugs and murder. And soon more lives, including her own, are at risk.

Kids’ corner: 6 diverse books for younger readers

I’m trying something new this month – a bit of a kids’ corner. Let’s see how it goes! Whether you want to expand your child’s view of the world, or find a book they can see themselves in, hopefully this will help.

1. Night Ride Into Danger (middle grade readers)

Set in Australia, Ashleigh Meikle hails Jackie French’s latest book, Night Ride Into Danger as “giving insight into class, racism and the immigrant experience.”

Denise Newton writes, “The author doesn’t avoid describing the racism inherent in white attitudes of the time, or the strictures of colonial society against Chinese immigrants, First Nations people, or unmarried mothers.”

From the back cover: Six mysterious passengers and seven dark secrets. Who can be trusted?

It’s a dark and dangerous journey for the Cobb and Co night mail coach, but when his coach-driver father is injured, young Jem Donovan must take the reins.

2. PAWS, by Kate Foster (middle grade readers)

A book like this is important for everyone to read – so autistic and neurodivergent people can see themselves in it, and so neurotypical people can gain an understanding of what it is like to have autism, and hopefully, show them how they can try and interact with someone like Alex, and build understanding and friendship. (Ashleigh Meikle, The Book Muse)

From the back cover: Everything is changing for 11-year-old Alex and, as an autistic person, change can be terrifying. With the first day of high school only a couple of months away, Alex is sure that having a friend by his side will help. So, he’s devised a plan – impress the kids at school by winning a trophy at the PAWS Dog Show with his trusty sidekick, Kevin. This should be a walk in the park . . . right?

3. Heroes of the Secret Underground (middle grade / younger YA readers)

‘We have to know the past, otherwise everything’s just a maze. We’re buried in lies and dead ends. It’s hard to find the way out then.’

An excellent summary of the value of learning history, summed up in a quote from Susanne Gervay’s Heroes of the Secret Underground (quoted by Denise Newton in her review).

A great introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers, Ashleigh Meikle wrote: “I loved this book, and its message. It pulled so much complexity together in an easy to read way for middle grade readers, and another good introduction to the Holocaust for this age group.”

From the back cover: A timely and powerful time-slip story inspired by the author’s family in Budapest during the Holocaust.

Louie lives with her brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a hotel run by their grandparents. It is one of Sydney’s grand old buildings, rich in history … and in secrets.

When a rose-gold locket, once thought lost, is uncovered, it sends Louie and her brothers spinning back in time. Back to a world at war: Budapest in the winter of 1944, where their grandparents are hiding secrets of their own …

4. Sunburnt Veils by Sara Haghdoosti (YA readers)

“It’s not often that I start a book review with the words: definitely one of the best books I’ll read this year, but this was my first thought after I finished reading Sunburnt Veils by Iranian Australian Muslim Feminist, Sara Haghdoosti.”

Nadia L. King is a prolific reader, so when she makes a statement like this in her review it’s worth taking notice.

From the back cover: Sunburnt Veils is an own-voices rom-com with a political activist edge and a deliciously savvy pop culture voice. Girl meets boy, ghosts his text messages, then convinces him to help her run for the student union. Just your typical love story with a hijabi twist.

5. Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne (middle grade readers)

From the back cover: A seriously smart and funny new series about a reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice who would rather study science than magic, which asks the question: In a world of magic, can science save the day? Perfect for fans of Nevermoor, Artemis Fowl and The Witching Hours.

The characters sound quirky and delightful, as Ashleigh Meikle describes them: “As Wednesday learns to embrace her magical talents, she is accompanied by her best friend from school, Alfie, who loves prime numbers, robotics and magical swords, as well as a talking skull called Bruce.”

She goes on to outline what is special about the first book in this new series: “It celebrates difference and allows kids to see themselves in Alfie and Wednesday – in a variety of ways that celebrates what makes us different and special and shows that it is wonderful when it is our interests, rather than physical similarities that unite us and bring us together.”

6. Huda and Me by H. Hayek (middle grade readers)

From the back cover: A cheeky, fun and fast-moving tale of two Lebanese-Australian kids who decide to escape their horrible babysitter by running away…to the other side of the world.

In her review, Ashleigh Meikle mused that: “Books like this are a great entrée into a world of diversity, giving just enough for context and creation of the setting and characters, but also, allowing readers the space to think about the concepts, and go away and research themselves.”

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 and Maternal Instinct.