#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…