Monthly Archives: December 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

I originally signed up for the “Miles” level challenge of reading 6 books and reviewing 4. To my delight, I found that I actually read 12 books! So I will now take my 2014 AWW challenge up a level. Here are the books read this year:

1.Collins, Courtney : “Burial” (Reviewed)

2. Forsyth, Kate : “Wild Girl”; 3.”Bitter Greens”

4. Hooper, Chloe : “Tall Man”

5. Jordan, Toni : ” Addition”

6.Kennedy, Cate : “Like a House on Fire” (Reviewed)

7.Kent, Hannah : “Burial Rites” (Reviewed)

8.Kwaymullina, Ambelin : “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf”

9.Lanagan, Margo : “Sea Hearts” (Reviewed)

10.Piper, Ailsa : “Sinning Across Spain”

11. Steadman, M.L. : ” The Light Between Oceans”

12.Tiffany, Carrie : “Mateship with Birds”

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AWW Challenge : “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent

This is my last review for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge – phew…and just in time! I will, naturally be signing up for 2014, and I can’t wait. I have spent a bit of time wondering if I should use this book as my last review – it really has been the Book of the Year, and that is why I finally decided that I could not resist writing about it. It has been so exciting watching the build up of attention that this book has received this year, and will continue to do so. At the secondary school library, that I work in, the staff have streamed through our doors requesting this book – we have several copies, and none of them could bear the months of being on the waiting list of their public library. This meant that I had to keep waiting my turn, until, finally, the book came up in October as the month’s reading for my Book Club. I was ecstatic.

Many aspects of this book attracted me. I was interested to see that Hannah Kent had been inspired to write this story after being an exchange student in Iceland, and that it was a story based on the the true case of the woman who was the last person executed in the country. The other main attraction was the setting. Set in the imposing environment of the Icelandic countryside, in 1829, the story is as much about the survival of the people living those times and circumstances as it is about the devastating series of events that lead to Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s death sentence.

Agnes is sent to board with a local district officer and his family, while she awaits her execution, and  over time, through her gradual interaction with the family, we learn about her life story. The descriptions of the harsh rural life are awe inspiring and truly captivating and witnessing the unfolding relationships of the family, with Agnes, was very moving. So, even though this is a story about a woman who has played a part in a murder, the book is about a community of people who live, and manage to survive, in incredible conditions and who also have lives that include love, sorrow, tragedy and the full experience of being human.

If this book is still on your “To Read” list, move it to the top and read it now!

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AWW Challenge – “Like a House on Fire” by Cate Kennedy

I am a passionate convert to short stories, and each time I pick up a collection, I can’t believe that I thought that I didn’t like the short story style. Cate Kennedy’s collection, “Like a House on Fire” exemplifies everything that is so brilliant about short stories, so if you need convincing, here is a very good place to start. Before I became converted to the short story style, I felt how most others probably feel about them – that is that the reader can’t get emotionally involved with the plot or the characters because the story ends too soon, or that there just isn’t enough of a story to be bothered reading it. I think that once you are exposed to a truly skillful short story writer, you do finally “get” it.

Cate Kennedy’s stories offer that intense experience of a good short story – the important characters are introduced, a small lead up to an incident is developed and then the “climax” hits you. Climax is probably a misleading word, but the effect of an incident, which is usually very ordinary, has that sort of impact on the reader. Kennedy’s characters are ordinary people going about their everyday lives, but the way that these lives are presented and the small incidents that Kennedy chooses to describe are the strength of these stories.

Other positives to the short story are that it is a chance to explore a particular writer’s style, or to experiment reading a particular genre that a reader may not have tried. I particularly like a collection of short stories when I am not in the mood to commit to a whole novel, or when I have just finished a book and don’t know what to read next! This collection was recommended to me and I am so glad to have read it. The characters and their stories will move you and leave you thinking about them for a long time after you have finished this book.

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AWW Challenge – “The Burial” by Courtney Collins

I recently finished reading “The Burial” by  Courtney Collins, which I will add to my list of books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. It was simply wonderful! Just published last year, this is quite a different story and it is given an historic setting that we do not often read about any more. The story is set in the bush of country Victoria in the early 1920s, and Jessie, the main character, is a rugged, outback survivor whose amazing story has the reader entranced immediately.

Jessie’s life story is told by a very unusual narrator, her dead child who has been born prematurely and has just been buried. Over the early parts of this story, we learn that Jessie has recently murdered her abusive husband and after giving birth to her dead child, is now on the run. The book tracks her escape and reveals the story of her early days as a circus performer, a horse thief, prisoner and finally a murderer on the run.

Apart from being a captivating story of a wild, brave and independent young woman, the style of writing is beautiful to read. I enjoyed reading the evocative descriptions of the bush, which made the reader feel as if we were riding alongside Jessie, crashing through the trees, up into the clear mountain air. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Jessie’s bush survival skills, which certainly highlight the differences between our modern lifestyles and the way people were able to support themselves by hunting and growing their own food not so long ago.

This story, apart from being an adventure from another time in Australian history, is also a complex, tragic and finally, uplifting, tale of the relationships of a group of larger than life characters. Please read it!

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