#AWW2016 Review – Flywheel by Erin Gough

Flywheel

 

I first heard of The Flywheel at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival earlier this year. Author Erin Gough spoke about her experiences discovering her sexuality as a teenager. Attending an all girls school she had never ever heard of anyone who was gay – it wasn’t mentioned at school – there was not even any teasing, and she’d never come across gay characters in any of the books she read. She assumed that the only reason she liked girls was because she didn’t know any boys, or at least, not well enough to develop a crush on.

She wrote this because she wanted other young gay girls out there (and guys too I guess) :), to be able to see themselves in fiction – to learn that they are normal, that there are others out there just like themselves.

I loved The Flywheel, it really is such a sweet story.

Delilah is 17 years old, and gay. It’s the universal high school story – misplaced crushes and the embarrassment that stems from the world finding out – but there’s a twist – the popular girl Delilah has a crush on likes her back, but is not confident enough to admit to the world she’s gay, let alone she’s attracted to one of the uncool kids.

Struggling with the taunts after popular-girl’s friends find out and believe the attraction is all one-sided, Delilah decides to ditch school for a bit and focus on the family cafe she’s supposed to be running while her father is away. This also gives her more time to spy on her newest crush, the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road.

This is such a well written story – and I’m sure totally relatable to anyone who has ever attended high school, regardless of their sexuality. Highly recommended! 🙂

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Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2014

awwbadge_2014

I made a pledge at the beginning of this year to read and review 6 books by female Australian authors. I thought it would be easy – I read all the time and writing a review of each book would be no trouble.

Sadly I got a little sidetracked along the way – the later stages of pregnancy and the early stages of having a newborn took up a good deal of my attention – especially the newborn bit – and then in more recent times there have been other issues taking up my  time and energy. In the end I managed to review the following (click on each title to go to the review):

The Sinkings by Amanda Curtain

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

if I should lose you by Natasha Lester

I also managed to read Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Land of the Sleeping Gods (non-fiction) compiled by Jane Cooper, Tiddas by Anita Heiss, and probably several others I forgot to record!

I am hoping to repeat the challenge next year, with a new lot of novels by female Australian authors, so look out for a post early in the new year with more details.

In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday period, and a very happy new year!

if I should lose you – Natasha Lester – Review #aww2014

if I should lose you

I’ve been following the blog of Australian Author, Natasha Lester for a while now. She has some great content, and her books have been on my reading list for some time. But it was this blog post that propelled her novel ‘if I should lose you’ to the top of my TBR list.

In the post, Natasha gives 10 tips on how to write a brilliant beginning, and then she does a very brave thing – she allows us to see the original draft of the first chapter or so of ‘if I should lose you’, and compare it with the final published version, so we can see where the first draft was lacking, and how those issues were cleared up in the final copy. If you’re a writer, you might want to check it out, and even if you are not, it’s really interesting to see the changes that were made from first to final drafts.

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‘if I should lose you’ tells the story of Camille, a transplant coordinator whose role is to support families through the difficult decision to donate their loved ones organs. At home she is on the other side of the fence, desperately awaiting a donor liver for her own sick child. The stress has impacted on her marriage, which seems to be slowly and surely crumbling away. When she’s asked to curate an exhibition of her late father’s sculptures she jumps at the chance to add a bit of interest and excitement to her life, but in the process learns more than she bargained for about her (both deceased) parents.

This may sound like an odd thing to say, but I was really satisfied with the ending. I can’t really say why without giving any spoilers, except that it was not the ending I was expecting (because I had an expectation that most books end in a certain way, and so I thought this would be ‘most books’), and while this left a little uncertainty about certain matters, I felt it was the right way to end the story.

Natasha Lester does a remarkable job of delving deep into the emotions of parenthood, marriage, and the horror and guilt of waiting, or worse still, hoping, for the death of another child so the life of your own might be saved. If you’re a fan of Jodi Picoult, I highly recommend you pick up this book.

The Sinkings – Amanda Curtin – Review #aww2014

The Sinkings

“Perhaps the name that matters is not the one we were born to but the one we choose for ourselves.”

The blurb of this book caught my attention first. The story is based around a true event – the discovery of human remains at a campsite called ‘The Sinkings’ near Albany, Western Australia in 1882. The body had been hacked to pieces, so the initial post mortem had only parts of the body to go by, and it was determined from the size and shape of the pelvis that the body was female. A short time later, when the head was discovered, it was identified as ‘Little Jock’ a male ex-convict.

So how did a male ex-convict’s remains get confused as female?

When the main character of The Sinkings, Willa, comes across the story, she believes she knows exactly why Little Jock’s remains were considered female to start with.

Willa has lost her child. But in what is simultaneously the most heart-wrenching, and the most hopeful loss for a mother – Willa’s daughter is still alive. Willa is tormented by choices of her past, choices that brought about this disconnection between parent and child. Willa’s daughter, Imogene, was born intersex – with one testicle, and one ovary. On the advice of doctors and encouragement from her parents and husband, Willa consents to surgery that will give her child the look of a girl, a daughter, Imogene.

But the surgery goes wrong, and a simple ‘fix’ that should be over while Imogene is still an infant, before she would ever have memory of the event, leads to ongoing procedures and examinations, leading well into childhood. The problem is compounded for young Imogene, when, again following the advice of doctors, none of these procedures are explained, and Imogene grows up into a young woman, not understanding either the events of the past, or why she has to take a concoction of pills on a daily basis.

So when Willa reads the tale of Little Jock, she knows why the body was initially determined to be female. Little Jock was just like her daughter, born over a century earlier, in a time when surgery was not an option, and the only chance of surviving in a harsh and misunderstanding society was to hide as best you could.

After losing of her daughter, Willa develops almost an obsession with Little Jock’s story and sets out to find out all she can about the convict.

Alternating between Little Jock’s story in the past, and Willa’s story in the present, The Sinkings explores the choices we make in the life we are given.

It is beautifully written, capturing so well the heart-wrenching choices Willa is forced to make, and expressing a mother’s uncertainty, fear and guilt about the choices she has made for her child.  Little Jock’s story is equally well told – raised as a daughter during the famine in Ireland, Little Jock takes on a male persona as he is adopted into a family who have just lost their son. His humiliation at having to reveal himself during convict examinations is palpable, as is the fear of rejection, and the suffering he experiences as he survives life by hiding, by pulling away from human contact lest someone discover and spread his secret to all who’ll hear.

As a historian, I loved the description of Willa’s experiences in searching for details of Jock – of having to wait for information, of the painful, and sometimes fruitless searching through page after page of old curly handwriting, of finding that elusive piece of information – that one gem among hundreds of pages of dross.

I highly recommend reading this story, if you only read a book a year, read this one!

Taking up a challenge for 2014

awwbadge_2014

It’s time. This year I’m taking up the challenge and joining the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to read a certain number of books by female Australian authors and review them.

When the challenge was first announced two years ago, I have to admit to being somewhat perplexed by it all – who wouldn’t read Australian Women Writers? I checked my bookcase, half full of Australian author’s with Isobelle Carmoday and Kate Forsyth probably the best represented on the shelves, but Lian Hearn and Nikki Gemmell also make repeat appearances. Julia Leigh, H.F. Brinsmead and Sally Morgan can be foundand on closer inspection, I was surprised to find other female writers on my shelves were also Australian – Kylie Ladd and Geraldine Brooks for example.

So why the need for such a challenge? Clearly, my bookshelf is not the norm. These studies (VIDA, CRIKEY) show that women writers are often far behind in terms of their books being reviewed by major publications. (Though I was pleased to see that one of my state’s newspapers – The Sunday Tasmanian – has an almost equal representation of male and female authors – go Tassie! 😉 ) But The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge is getting the word out, and the reading and reviewing of books by Australian female authors is on the increase.

So this year, I thought I’d join in. I’m setting myself an easy challenge – a mere 6 books for the year. And I’m aiming to read a particular genre – historical fiction, with a focus on those that cover convict/colonial times. It’s research, in a way, for I have my own novel in the works, one for which I have lots of research planned, and hopefully with my reading I’ll have more of an idea of what’s already out there. I can’t tell you too much about my own tale yet – though the main character is a Scottish cunning woman/witch transported to Van Diemen’s Land for an as yet undecided crime. It will have supernatural themes: ghosts, spirits, magic, with the main conflict being her inability to connect with the spirits who helped her in her magical workings back in Scotland.  Are there such spirits here, in colonial Van Dieman’s Land? And if so can how she connect with them?

I’m halfway through my first novel for this challenge – Amanda Curtin’s The Sinkings – and I’m very impressed so far. The story has drawn me in, and I love Amanda’s descriptions of genealogical research. Having done quite a bit of my own I can say she’s captured perfectly the ups and downs of delving into the family history!

If you’d like to join, go to the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge website and sign up! 🙂