I signed up for the highest of the three levels of the inaugural Australian Women Writer’s Challenge which required me to read and review 10 books written by Australian women. I also agreed to ‘dabble’ with genres which meant reading more than one genre but not as many genres as I could find.
In the end I read a few more books than I needed to (which feels pretty good) but I did not come anywhere near the super-human efforts of Shelleyrae of Book’d Out who has, at the time of drafting this post, read and reviewed 106 books by Australian women writers this year! Because that wasn’t enough she also interviewed and/or featured many of the authors at her blog, hosted giveaways of many of the books, designed the challenge logo, kept the Good Reads discussions flowing, tweeted up a storm and generally put the rest of us to shame. I am in awe Shelleyrae and just so you know there were a couple of times during the year when I thought I’d slink away from the challenge due to the various annoyances of the non-bookish elements of my life but I figured if a busy mum of four could find the time to be such a stalwart the least I could do would be to stop my grizzling and get on with it. Thanks for leading the way with such an enthusiastic spirit Shelleyrae..
Before giving you a full list of the 18 books I read I thought I’d tease out some of the reading themes and highlights I noticed:
Meaning to get some of the dreaded genre-dabbling over with early I started out the challenge by plucking a book at random from my library’s shelves that I would not otherwise have bothered with. Caroline Overington’s MATILDA IS MISSING was an unexpected treat, offering genuine insight into family breakdown plus a narrator eerily reminiscent of my own father. Along with Overington’s latest novel, SISTERS OF MERCY, this novel prompted a late-year rant about the dangers of labelling of books as women’s fiction. I am still reflecting on this issue as I think it’s at the heart of why books by women are, still, under represented in wider literary discussions and the subject of such puerile nonsense as this.
As far as demographic groups receiving consideration at any level of politics, the media or wider society women over 60 are not even a blip on the radar. If they appear at all in popular culture they are either kindly, grandmotherly types or crazy cat ladies and are rarely the focus of a single scene let alone an entire novel. But the protagonist of Virginia Duigan’s THE PRECIPICE, octogenarian Thea Farmer, is a vibrant, intelligent, socially awkward, sarcastic, hilarious heroine and is, without doubt, the favourite character of my reading year. She is who I want to be when I grow old (I’ve started early on socially awkward and sarcastic).
This year one of my new favourite authors, Sulari Gentill (whose first book of her 1930’s historical crime series was only released in 2010) released two novels in the series. They were both the kind of great reads I have come to expect from Gentill but the second of them, PAVING THE NEW ROAD, was particularly pleasing. I have railed against authors who hit on a winning formula then keep churning out the same novel time after time in seeming disdain for the intelligence of their readers and with this novel in particular Gentill made it clear I don’t have to fear her treading this path. This novel does have the same core elements as its predecessors – a delightful lightness of tone and an intriguing minor cast of real historical figures to add spice to the adventures of the four key characters – but the tough issues that one might imagine would crop up in a novel set during the rise of the Nazi regime are neither ignored nor turned into ridiculous clichés. It’s a more sombre novel than the earlier ones but still a marvellous read and a great addition to the series.
Living in Australia you could be forgiven for believing that the only places which produce writing worth reading (or even settings worth reading about) are Sydney and Melbourne and so, even though I live in a different under represented part of the country, I am thrilled to see TASMANIA feature so strongly. THE BETRAYAL, PAST THE SHALLOWS and POET’S COTTAGE were all written by women who have lived on the island in the past even if they don’t live there at present and though very different novels all three offer a great sense of their Tasmanian setting. Funnily enough I’ve just today bought what might be my first read for next year’s challenge and it too is set in Tassie. It’s an epidemic!
In the end I read a mixture of crime, historical, contemporary, women’s (ugh to the term) and literary fiction by a nearly even mix of authors I knew and those who were new to me. I overcame my lingering aversion to literary fiction (thank you Favel Parrett), reconnected with some old favourite authors and found several new authors whose writing I want more of. I am ever grateful to Elizabeth Lhuede for creating the challenge and to these talented women for providing such a plethora of delights for my personal enjoyment. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.
My full list: (in reading order):
- Caroline Overington, Matilda is Missing
- Sulari Gentill, Miles Off Course
- Sylvia Johnson, Watch Out For Me
- Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues
- Wendy James, The Mistake
- Felicity Young, A Dissection of Murder
- Virginia Duigan, The Precipice
- Annie Hauxwell, In Her Blood
- Ellen Mary Wilton, Hysteria at the Wisteria
- Sulari Gentill, Paving the New Road
- Katherine Howell, Silent Fear
- Gabrielle Lord, Death by Beauty
- Y.A. Erskine, The Betrayal
- Kathryn Fox, Cold Grave
- Tara Moss, Assassin
- Caroline Overington, Sisters of Mercy
- Favel Parrett, Past The Shallows
- Josephine Pennicott, Poet’s Cottage