#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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#AWW2016 Review – A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester #kissfitz

#kissfitz

I’ve been a follower of Natasha Lester’s blog for some time now – she always has fantastic information for writers – even before I’d read any of her novels! I think I fell in love with ‘A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald’ from the moment I first read about it, and I certainly was not disappointed.

‘A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald’ is a break from Natasha’s previous publications which were both more literary: ‘What is Left Over, After’ and ‘If I Should Lose You’. (I haven’t read ‘What is Left Over, After’, but I loved ‘If I Should Lose You’ – it reminded me very much of Jodi Picoult’s novels).

#kissfitz (as the twitter hashtag goes), is a historical romance set in 1920’s New York [think Great Gatsby], but it’s not your average romance either. Evie is coming of age in a time where it’s still the accepted thing for young women to marry and stay home with their needle-work. But Evie wants something more – in fact, at a time when Universities were only just opening their doors to female students, she wants to study medicine.  Unfortunately her family and intended fiance, Charles Whitman will not abide by it. Luckily she has a supporter in Charles’ mother, and she soon finds support from another, rather unexpected source.

This is a beautiful book, and such a well-written story! Highly recommended, I was hooked right from the start!

#AWW2016 Review – My Year Without Matches – Claire Dunn

So I’ve fallen in love with this book, and the adventure behind it.

My Year without Matches

It’s a memoir; Claire’s experiences living in the bush for 12 months in a wilderness survival program. With her tribe of 5 others (also taking part in the program) as well as organisers Kate and Sam, and a variety of other ‘elders’ – those who come to lead workshops and teach Claire and her tribe some of the finer details of living on the land: bird watching, basket weaving, pottery making, tanning hides – Claire  navigates not only the outer landscape of her new home, but also the inner landscapes of her emotions.

“Its not being alone that worries me, but the company I keep sometimes when I am alone: the characters who come out to play in the empty rooms of solitude, the shadow walkers within.” (p.160)

Following Claire’s tale fills me with the urge to head out to my own trees, my own wilderness. I’m lucky in a lot of ways – home, at the moment, is a four-acre block, about half of which is bush, and surrounded mostly by bush. The neighbours are not too far away, but not visible either. Unlike Claire who lived in Sydney prior to her escape into the wilderness, I have my own bush, literally at my backdoor, and I find myself wondering how I can duplicate her experiences, here.

But it’s not only her experiences I want to emulate, I’d love to be able to write as she does, too. Her descriptions are so crisp, so clear: “a wisp of campfire smoke, curling….”, “palest of pink dawn skies…”, “Amber spreads in an arc across the horizon as the first star appears”. Beautiful. I know this is a weakness in my own work – the lack of description, something to think about in the next polish of my manuscript.

There were so many things worth reading in Claire’s book, but I’ll leave you with two thoughts:

“Survival is violent. It demands blood and bark, burning the flesh of trees and animals alike. In the city it is hidden under packaging and buffered by distance…Here it is in my face: ugly, raw, and real. A letter arrived from a friend the other day. He asked me what I was giving back to the land. Perhaps it is this, the willingness to confront the violence that supports my life.” p. 140

and…

“The fire gives off a large crack. Mark [a local Gumbaynggirr guide] stops, a serious look coming over his round face. “What you’re doing out here is important. We gotta keep the old ways alive, and it’s not just up to blackfellas anymore. We gotta get back to Mother Earth.”… In an ideal world, Mark would stay and hold our hands as we learn to walk the old ways. He would be our bridge, passing on the customs and gestures appropriate for this land… [Because] the world needs a new  dance more than ever. It needs people who feel so inextricably linked to the Earth that to damage or destroy it is akin to ransacking the family home.” (pp. 66-67)

In a way, this latter quote is what my novel is about – learning the ways of the land from those who knew it best. Fingers crossed I’ve managed to achieve that.

 

 

 

 

#aww2016 Tangara by Nan Chauncy

Tangara

 

If you’re a ‘liker’ of my Facebook Page, you would have seen the post last month about discovering ‘Tangara’ by Nan Chauncy in a box of books my grandmother gave me.

I posted at the time:

So my grandmother was clearing out some books and gave me two boxes full! In amongst the treasures I discovered ‘Tangara’ by Nan Chauncy. What a wonderful tale – a young white girl comes across a band of Aborigines living in the wilds of the Great Western Tiers cir. 1960’s and makes friends with one of the Aboriginal girls!

Now I’m still only part way through, so no spoilers please (though I have a sneaking suspicion the Aborigines are ghosts?? Praying I’m wrong, but still a good story even if that turns out to be the case.)

Now I’m still not going to give away any spoilers as to whether my hunches were right or not, but safe to say this is a fantastic story. There’s something ageless about the writing, something easy-to-read about it despite the fact it was published in 1960, and I really appreciated reading about so many places familiar to me – the Great Western Tiers for instance, an impressive mountain range stretching across the north coast of Tasmania, not too far from where I live.

Growing up I thought there were no books set in Tasmania, I thought my dream to be a published author was perhaps a bit of a long shot. Perhaps if I’d discovered Nan Chauncy’s books earlier (she has several others based in Tasmania, including ‘Mathinna’s People’, and ‘Tiger in the Bush’), my dream might not have felt so unattainable for so long.

 

 

#aww2016 Book Review – The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ashala Wolf

 

This is my first book review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.

I recently discovered The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, starting with The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.

What a brilliant story!

It reminded me of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn (another favourite of mine). Set in a post-apocalyptic world a young girl with special powers has to face a machine which threatens to reveal the secrets that keep her loved ones safe.

In this instance, however, the main character, Ashala Wolf, is a young aboriginal girl  – though in this world notions of race no longer have any real meaning:

“…there were different peoples, different “races”. Ember had told me about it, once – how things like my skin not being the same colour as hers, or the way Pen’s eyes were almond shaped, used to mean something. After the end of the old world,when there were so few humans left, everyone stopped worrying about things like that.”

Ashala Wolf leads a tribe of ‘Illegals’, children with special powers: Rumblers, who can create earthquakes; Skychangers who can cause lightning strikes, Firestarters who can – yep – start fires. It’s Ashala’s aim to not only protect her tribe, but also to shut down a detention centre where Illegals are being kept and interrogated.

There was so much to love about this story:

I loved the animistic world-view – everything has a spirit in this story, and a memory – from the Tuarts – great gums that remember the time before ‘the Reckoning’, to the machine itself – a device that carries the spirit of a playful puppy, though it has been collared and chained as Ashala has, and put to less playful purposes.

I loved the presence of the Rainbow Serpent – “I stood trembling as the massive snake slid upwards, it’s pale blue scales shimmering with rainbows in the light” – who tells Ashala: “I am your many times grandfather, one of the creators of your people” and who travelled the land after the Reckoning, collecting all the bits of life and remaking them.

‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ is well written, and had me hooked from the first line. I’m really looking forward to getting onto the next books in this series: ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’, and ‘The Foretelling of Georgie Spider’. Highly recommended!

 

 

Book Review – The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

The natural way of things

So about a month ago I won a copy of The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood from Allen and Unwin. This is the first of Charlotte’s books that I’ve read, and I was a little nervous as I opened the first page and began to read. I was nervous because I’d read so much of the publicity around it; interviews with Charlotte, reviews by other people. I knew it was going to be a hard book to read. I wondered if I was up to it.

First – an overview:

Ten women find themselves locked up in an asylum, somewhere in the outback. Victims of wealthy men, these women have all been involved in sexual acts – some consenting, some not – which have resulted in shame for themselves while the men who took part experience no such repercussions.

There are two men present at this asylum, the gaolers, though the women soon learn that the men are just as much prisoners as themselves when week after week whoever is in charge fails to return, and their supplies of food run dangerously low.

The women all manage this knowledge; that they are trapped, perhaps indefinitely, in different ways, and it was interesting to see the ways in which the women survive as best they know how.

Opening the pages I was not disappointed. It was a hard book to read, but not as hard as I imagined… I was up to reading it. I read it in two days. It wasn’t eye opening, exactly. It was all the things you read about in the newspaper, the things that women know as just another aspect of life – even those of us lucky enough not to experience such things on a regular basis. Someone we know has experienced it. Not the being locked away in some Outback Prison of course, but the rest of it – the misogyny, the knowledge that as women we are not granted the same freedoms most men enjoy – still, in the 21st Century.

Mothers Grimm – Danielle Wood

Mothers grimm

Mothers Grimm was not quite as I expected. I thought I’d be reading some traditional fairy tales, twisted to show the mother’s point of view. Instead what I got was a selection of short stories each expressing a different side to motherhood. The stories are heart-wrenching, some of them quite dark, but what brought me to tears was not the horror, but the joy. A teen who has just given birth looks to her own mother and asks about that gut-twisting spasm of love. “Hold onto that feeling,” the mother responds. “It has to last you through at least the next eighteen years.”*

But what this book shows more than anything else, is the different and difficult situations we all face in life. If only we could empathise with others, instead of assuming we know best and judging them based on our own situations and experiences. It’s something I strive for, and fail, every single day.

This is the first of Danielle Wood’s books that I’ve read. But I’ll definitely be going back for more.

Highly recommended!

*note: I must admit that I forgot to write down the exact quote before I returned the book to the library… so this is more a paraphrase…

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.

*

‘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.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent – Review #aww2014

Burial Rites

As you may remember from my March Blog Post  I was lucky enough to hear Hannah Kent speak about her book, Burial Rites, at the Festival of Golden Words in Tasmania earlier this year. Hannah’s account of the journey that inspired her book – from being an exchange student in Iceland where she originally heard the story, through to her final decision to write about the story years later as part of her Honours, the vigorous research she undertook to tell the story properly, and the rules she set for herself when dealing with the past were such great inspiration for me.

She spoke of how important she felt it was to present the story as accurately as possible, to ensure the story stayed true to its Icelandic origins, and did not become some anglicised version. I feel the same with my own story, as I wade my way through the research. As a history of my own land, Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, it will not be complete without a mention of the Tasmanian Aborigines, but I am doing more than merely mentioning them; an Aboriginal woman is one of the main characters. But how to present them accurately, when they have been all but wiped from the history records, and little of their culture and beliefs was ever recorded in the first place?

But my main purpose for this post is a review for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, and so – here are my thoughts on Burial Rites.

The book is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Agnes was accused of the murder of Natan Ketilsson, her employer and lover.

The story begins with the arrival of Agnes to the farm of a family who are required to house her until her execution. The members of the household, a family of four with two teenage daughters, are hostile towards this intruder, whose presence is forced upon them, and more than a little fearful of having a murderess in the house.

Due to the nature of their housing, a dwelling comprising of several storage rooms and one large ‘living’ room, in which everyone, family members, servants, visitors- sleep together, Agnes is literally thrust into the family life, and she takes on the role of servant, contributing to the household in this way.

As time passes the barriers between Agnes and the family break-down- first through a memory the older daughter has of meeting with Agnes on a previous occasion, when Agnes gave them two eggs to eat. Agnes also has some knowledge of herbal healing and midwifery, and as she helps the family and their neighbours with ailments and a particularly difficult childbirth, they come to respect her.

Beautifully imagined and thoroughly researched, Burial Rites is a tale that grips your heart and your imagination. I could not put the story down, Hannah Kent has managed to present the story of a young woman facing her own death with such realism. Highly recommended read, if you haven’t already.

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!