Welcome to the Australian Women Writers Challenge diversity round up for June and July 2021.

In the past two months we’ve had 90 reviews of 56 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 reviews of 5 stand outs below, but if you’d like to see the full list of the other 51, scroll down for the instructions under Reading for diversity.

Digging up Dirt, by Pamela Hart

Many reviews were written about Pamela Hart’s new crime fiction offering, Digging up Dirt, the first in the new Poppy McGowan series. Poppy is thrust into the limelight when she finds bones under her floorboards during a renovation. When the archaeologist who evaluates the bones winds up murdered, Poppy finds herself a suspect.

Ashleigh Meikle loved that the novel effortlessly brought the diversity of Sydney to life: “I loved all the characters and I loved that they could just be who they were – be it male, female, gay, straight, Muslim, Indigenous – everyone who appeared on the page felt genuine, even those Poppy disagreed with.”

It definitely sounds like a great book to get into. Here’s a sampler from our other reviewers:

  • Brenda Telford: “In my opinion she has nailed the cozy mystery genre also. With plenty of twists; Poppy doing all she can to find the ‘bad guy’; great characters; intrigue and more, Digging Up Dirt is one I recommend highly. I’m keen for the second in the series 😊”
  • Helen Sibbritt: “I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is witty, entertaining and there are lots of twists that I didn’t see coming”.
  • Denise Newton: “Digging Up Dirt is essentially a light read, with elements of romantic comedy in the mix, though it does touch on some serious topics such as homophobia, sexism and the theft of Indigenous cultural materials.”
  • Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out: “I wasn’t keen on the involvement of religion and politics in the story, simply because both subjects tend to distress me. That said, it allows Hart to raise some topical issues including feminism, domestic violence, the status of LBTQIA+, Aboriginal heritage, and obliquely comments on Australia’s current political climate.”
  • Cloggie Downunder: “This is a hugely entertaining Aussie cosy and more of Poppy McGowan is definitely welcome.”
  • Lee@ReadWriteWish: liked the book overall as a cozy mystery but “I wasn’t keen on how Hart tried to lecture us on these themes and others, like Indigenous affairs etc.”
  • Veronica @ The Burgeoning Bookshelf: “With the involvement of an evangelistic church , politicians, the local council, heritage orders, archaeologists and news reporters after an exclusive, it all makes for an interesting and fast paced read.”
  • Mrs B’s Book Reviews: “Topical, perplexing and thought provoking, Digging Up Dirt is an interesting Australian based mystery style from Pamela Hart.”

When Things Are Alive They Hum, by Hannah Bent

Amanda Barrett at Mrs B’s Book Reviews describes When Things Are Alive They Hum as “A beautiful, moving, wondrous celebration of life in the vein of The Signature of All Things and My Sister’s Keeper.”

Told as a dual perspective, Hannah Bent’s debut novel follows the lives of two sisters, one of whom is born with a heart defect.

Jennifer Cameron-smith gave it 5 stars: “I picked up this book and was taken into a world of both heartache and wonder. Sisters Marlowe and Harper share a deep connection.”

This definitely sounds like a heart-warming tear jerker that I’ve added to my to-be-read list. I think I’m still recovering from My Sister’s Keeper though, so will have to stock up on tissues!

The Mother Wound, by Amani Haydar

Jennifer Cameron-smith gave Amani Haydar’s memoir 5 stars, noting “This is not an easy book to read, but it is important. Highly recommended.”

Amani Haydar suffered the unimaginable when she lost her mother in a brutal act of domestic violence perpetrated by her father. Five months pregnant at the time, her own perception of how she wanted to mother (and how she had mothered) was shaped by this devastating murder.

Jackie also reviewed The Mother Wound, calling it “a poetic and moving account of the terrible impact of domestic and family violence homicide on surviving family members.”

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, by Anita Heiss

Gundagai 1852. Set on timeless Wiradyuri country, where the life-giving waters of the rivers can make or break dreams, and based on devastating true events, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.

Cass Moriarty gave it 5 stars: “Written with the inclusion of much First Nations language, the book is testament to the wisdom and knowledge of the original inhabitants of this country, an indictment of the colonial invaders who ignored that knowledge at their peril, and a demonstration of the strong connections between Aboriginal people and their country, their totems and their Dreamtime.”

Ktbookbingo also “adored” Anita Heiss’s latest offering, giving it 5 stars as well: “we get to know the characters so very well, whilst simultaneously being spoilt with easy to visualise stunning descriptions of the land which Wagadhaany lives and works on.”

The Other Side of Beautiful, by Kim Lock

Lost & Found meets The Rosie Project in a stunning break-out novel where a vulnerable misfit is forced to re-engage with the world, despite her best efforts.

Meet Mercy Blain, whose house has just burnt down. Unfortunately for Mercy, this goes beyond the disaster it would be for most people: she hasn’t been outside that house for two years now.

And so begins Mercy’s unwilling journey. After the chance purchase of a cult classic campervan (read tiny, old and smelly), with the company of her sausage dog, Wasabi, and a mysterious box of cremated remains, Mercy heads north from Adelaide to Darwin.

4 reviews of Kim Lock’s latest novel were linked up, all of them absolutely glowing:

  • Mrs B’s Book Reviews: “Redolent, compassionate, heartfelt and accepting, The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock is fully deserving of a five-star rating, sitting firmly on my list of exceptional and all time favourite reads of 2021.”
  • Jennifer Cameron-smith wrote: “This really is a lovely story, which Ms Lock writes was inspired by her own experience with anxiety and panic attacks.”
  • Theresa Smith Writes: “The Other Side of Beautiful is an exquisite blend of heartache and hope. Life affirming and bittersweet, this novel is like a breath of fresh air. A celebration of the kindness of strangers, taking on life moment by moment, and discovering the beauty of just being present. I loved this novel, in all its glorious pain and pleasure.”
  • Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out: “Written with heart, humour and compassion, I enjoyed being a passenger on this journey through Australia’s stunning interior landscape, alongside a character I really came to care about, and her sausage dog. The Other Side of Beautiful is genuine, gracious and entertaining.”

I’m really looking forward to reading this one. I adored Kim Lock’s 2016 novel, Like I Can Love (also published under the title The Good Mother), which I highly recommend. Part of the beauty of writing these round ups is that I get to hear about novels I would have otherwise missed! The Other Side of Beautiful will be going straight to the top of my to-be-read list.

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 about books, reading and writing over at Story Addict.

I’m the author of two speculative fiction novels. Stealing Time and Maternal Instinct.