Posts Tagged ‘#AWW’

I signed up late to the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s challenge. Despite those lost months, I committed to reviewing at least six books by Australian women authors, which is known as the ‘Franklin’ challenge. I ended up reviewing seven titles and I would have written more had I not found myself unexpectedly moving house!

What a delightful experience the #AWW has been! I’ve ventured into genres I wouldn’t normally read. I’ve found many absolute gems along the way.

I began with Kathryn Gossow’s Cassandra, an absolutely charming literary coming of age story. “Cassandra is laced with evocative descriptions of rural Queensland. Gossow’s characterisations are convincing and her pacing measured. Early suspense shades into a textured exploration of clairvoyance, dreams, trance states and the predictive powers of Tarot, as Cassie tries to get a handle on her own inner powers; her friend, the ever doubtful Athena, egging her on.”

From there I ventured into crime with Sandi Wallace. I ended up reviewing two titles by this author, Tell Me Why, and Dead Again .  “With wit and a sharp eye for the essentials, Wallace has built a story world that feels real. A page turner with much to savour, Dead Again is a moving and highly engaging read.”

For literary fiction, I turned to Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love “Rose is a masterful writer, her depictions of incidental characters sharply observant, yet her prose is always gentle, haunting. The Museum of Modern Love is a meditation, on art and creativity to a large extent, but above that on pain, physical and emotional pain, the anguish of loss and grief.”

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. Read more of my reviews at https://isobelblackthorn.com/my-book-reviews/

I went back to crime with L.J. M. Owen’s Mayan Mendacity  my review appearing on the Sisters in Crime Australasia’s website. “In all, I found Mayan Mendacity difficult to put down. Owen has provided her readers with an entertaining story that also informs, without allowing exposition to put a brake on the narrative. Pulling off a story laden with this much technical detail and maintaining a fast pace is quite a feat.”

I then took a detour into historical fiction, unable to pass up the opportunity to review Elisabeth Storr’s  Call To Juno an absolute feast of a read. “This is a story for those who enjoy their historical fiction rich with fine and accurate detail. Call to Juno is intensely visual, bringing ancient Rome to life, composed by an author who clearly knows her subject.”

Finally, I was treated to Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s The Tides Between “The Tides Between pulls the reader in two directions, the desire to continue turning the pages at odds with an equally a strong wish to pause and reflect on its various intricacies, its depth. The only difficulty faced in reviewing a book of this quality is putting it down long enough to scribe reflections. A work I would describe as literary historical fiction, The Tides Between, is a captivating and immersive read.

Advertisements

I am delighted to share my review of Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel, The Tides Between.

“In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bride’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world.

When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.

As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.”

My Review

Told from three viewpoints, Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel is a fearless yet endearing exploration of the day-to-day existence of a small cast of characters, each with their troubles, who are incarcerated along with numerous families in the steerage deck of a ship bound for Australia. The Tides Between is an ironic tale in some ways, for the duration of a voyage that spans half the globe, the epic journey that unfolds is one situated at the hearth of human existence.

Corbett writes with a deft pen. The author is unafraid to expose the reality of life for working class migrants making the treacherous voyage to Australia. In true literary fashion, the narrative presses forward through the unfolding realisations of its characters, the backstory interwoven in fragments.

The Tides Between opens with fifteen-year old Bridie clutching a notebook of fairy stories she was forbidden to keep as she boards a ship bound for Port Phillip. What unfolds is in part a coming of age story, as Bridie learns to handle the grief she feels at the loss of her father, and accept the benevolent affections of her stepfather, Alf. Yet The Tides Between is less a story of one girl’s entry into adulthood and more a meditation on trauma and its consequences, and on identity and the power of myth.

These themes are strikingly played out through Rhys, a young Welshman and miner’s son crippled by claustrophobia.  His wife, Sian, is pregnant, as is Bridie’s mother. Will either woman manage to safely birth her child before the ship pulls in at its destination? Will Rhys transcend his anguish? Will Bridie shake off her adolescent ill humour? Can Alf, a man strangled by his sense of duty and obedience, find the courage to confront the ship’s surgeon?

Corbett carries her plot forward with intricate attention to emotional detail. The heaving waters of the various oceans traversed a powerful metaphor for those heaving in the hearts of protagonists Bridie, Rhys and Alf.

Corbett’s writing is visual, metaphoric and intelligent.

“The night air fell like a chill shawl on her shoulders. Turning back towards the hatchway, she heard an eerie drawn out sound from beyond the deckhouse. She halted, nerves feathering her spine.”

It is in this fashion that dramatic tension is maintained, the reader treated page after page to Corbett’s elegant prose.

The theme of fairy tales is prominent, but these are not the stories of children’s books. They are powerful myths rich with significance. Bridie strives to make sense of the world and relationships through the lens of fairy tales, questioning, comparing, speculating. Corbett juxtaposes Bridie’s musings with the reality of her situation, conveyed through the harsh, albeit sensible worlds of her mother.    Meanwhile, Rhys grapples with his own demons. The only time he can cope with being in steerage is when he is on stage, telling Welsh fairy tales to a captive audience. Through the friendship that grows between Bridie and Rhys, Corbett explores the healing power of fairy tales, a release as much for the teller as the listener.

In one respect, The Tides Between is a vivid portrayal of life in steerage. The reader is there with the stench and the lice and the privy buckets. Just as she is unflinching when it comes to portraying the physical hardships onboard, Corbett casts a microscopic eye over the complexities of grief and shame, taboos and social rejection.

Despite its heartrending moments, The Tides Between is ultimately a story of redemption, transformation and hope.

“She had begun to treasure their moments together, like bright beads, slipping through her fingers and puddling at the bottom of memory’s purse.”

The Tides Between pulls the reader in two directions, the desire to continue turning the pages at odds with an equally a strong wish to pause and reflect on its various intricacies, its depth. The only difficulty faced in reviewing a book of this quality is putting it down long enough to scribe reflections. A work I would describe as literary historical fiction, The Tides Between, is a captivating and immersive read.

 

About the author

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. An early draft of her debut novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. Elizabeth lives with her husband, Andrew, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far, far away.

BUY your copy here

Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

 

 

 

My Review (written for Sisters in Crime)

Set in Canberra, and in the Mayan empire in what is now Guatemala, Mayan Mendacity is the second in L.J.M. Owen’s Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series. It is a challenge setting up the next book in a series and Owen has done so with finesse. The narration is light, buoyant, playful at times, yet ever observant, the result, a most satisfying read.

The main plot is driven by protagonist Dr Elizabeth Pimm’s new volunteer project, given her by the exacting Dr Marsh. She must assess an archeological find, the remains of a cesnote in Guatemala, meeting a series of crushing deadlines. Elizabeth’s pursuit of answers to the mysteries of the find is continuously thwarted as a number of complications beset her. Obstacles and challenges come from all directions, enough to make the weak among us buckle, but not Dr Pimms.

Owen has created a convincingly flawed and utterly lovable protagonist. She’s determined, dedicated, thorough and loyal. She sallies forth with gung ho exuberance, never down for long, no matter what befalls her. Elizabeth’s attitude is probably best summed up when she confronts another disaster and asks herself, ‘What fresh new hell was this?’

Dr Pimms is supported by a cast of characters, all rounded out and believable. The reader is introduced to each in turn as the story unfolds and a secondary plot emerges, one that is deeply personal. Indeed, it is Dr Pimms’ own history that thwarts her investigation, yet ultimately leads her to mature and open her heart.

The story is thoroughly researched; the author clearly knows her themes and her setting. Technical details are provided in an engaging, easy to follow manner. This is especially evident when Owen opens a window on the fascinating world of the Mayan empire, making use of a parallel narrative to take the reader back to the time of Dr Pimms’ find.

Elizabeth’s phrenic library is an interesting addition to the narrative, a fascinating invention, one that creates a curious occult dimension to Owen’s series. This phrenic library is a personal and mundane version of the Akashic records, a metaphysical compendium of all that has ever occurred in human history, stored on the inner planes, according to Theosophical belief. As a device, Elizabeth’s inner library works well, granting her plausible, if esoteric, access to knowledge she would otherwise be hard pressed to gain.

In all, I found Mayan Mendacity difficult to put down. Owen has provided her readers with an entertaining story that also informs, without allowing exposition to put a brake on the narrative. Pulling off a story laden with this much technical detail and maintaining a fast pace is quite a feat.

You can buy a copy of this book HERE

Visit the author L.J.M. Owen
With thanks to Sisters in Crime for my review copy

Heather Rose has produced a work of considerable finesse. The Museum of Modern Love sets a high bar for Australian literary fiction.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. Read more of my reviews at https://isobelblackthorn.com/my-book-reviews/

 

 

“Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovíc in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.”

It is always a delight to read an intelligent book. In The Museum of Modern Love, it is as though the author caresses the intellect through exquisite prose; coaxing, inviting engagement. Rose has produced a deeply introspective, slow-paced book, one that will appeal to lovers of literature, rather than those seeking page-turning entertainment.

The primary setting is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where the main characters observe a piece of performance art by the renowned Marina Abramovíc, in which the artist sits unflinchingly still, all day for seventy-five days. The object of Rose’ pen is therefore a real life and contemporary figure, Serbian-born Abramovíc, who has loose and controversial associations with Australia. The Museum of Modern Love is faction, a considered rendering of biography in fiction.

What commences as the audience observes ‘The Artist is Present’ is the delicate unfolding of backstory, petal by petal, first here, then there, until the essence of the narrative, a poignant and bruised heart, is revealed.

It is her metier to dance on the edge of madness, to vault over pain into the solace of disintegration.”

Rose is a masterful writer, her depictions of incidental characters sharply observant, yet her prose is always gentle, haunting. The Museum of Modern Love is a meditation, on art and creativity to a large extent, but above that on pain, physical and emotional pain, the anguish of loss and grief. Can themes of art and creativity rescue a narrative that strolls along in the doldrums of lingering despair? The answer is immediate: Yes. ‘The Artist is Present’ installation represents trauma on a grand and complex scale, the artwork a culmination of a lifetime of suffering, depicted in a retrospective piece on display in the museum upstairs. Abramovíc’s artistic and personal pain is juxtaposed with the ordinary pain of ordinary people, yet each time another sits on the vacant chair and locks gaze with the artist, whatever they are feeling is transformed, subtly perhaps, to become a part of this ever changing, yet remarkably unmoving, work of art.

The narrator of The Museum of Modern Love is deft, light, observant, forgiving. If there could be a point of criticism it would be the use of self consciousness, at times the narrator identifying as a disembodied entity, an angel, a muse, naturally omniscient, one given to addressing the reader directly. Some may deem the exploitation of this device unnecessary and intrusive. When it first appears, the reader may be forgiven for worrying that this voice may overpower the narrative, but thankfully it does not.

All fiction is contrivance, a pasting together of characters, settings, themes. When drawing on real people and real events, such pasting can appear awkward and stilted. The Museum of Modern Love is not one of those works. Evident in abundance is Heather Rose’ passion for her subject and deep empathy for her themes. It comes as no surprise that the work won The Stella Prize, 2017.

You can buy a copy of this book HERE

I WOULD LIKE TO THANK ALLEN & UNWIN FOR MY REVIEW COPY. I REVIEWED THIS BOOK AS PART OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS CHALLENGE #AWW

 

 

All good books are hard to put down. Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why is no exception.

“Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side. Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer.There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly? A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers.What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?”

********

The twin elements that will win the hearts of crime fiction fans are setting and an interesting sleuth. In Tell Me Why Wallace has both. The setting is Daylesford, a small country town east of Melbourne famous for its proximity to Hepburn Springs, rendering the locale a lure for the rich and famous, an area of luxury hotels and spa retreats. Knowing this before opening Tell Me Why, the reader may be forgiven for anticipating an Agatha Christie cosy mystery, or a sort of corporate crime conspiracy novel. Tell Me Why is neither. The novel is firmly situated in the sub-genre of Australian rural crime, since there is such a thing.

The novel has two sleuths, senior constable John Franklin, and Melbourne-based writer Georgie Harvey, each investigating a separate mystery. The inclusion of two sleuths, one from the country, the other the city, plays to the theme of the rural-city divide, although the dichotomy serves more as a backdrop than as an issue explored and developed in a literary sense. Both Franklin and Harvey are well-crafted characters, satisfyingly complex and damaged. Neither sleuth is especially likeable at first. Both are hard edged, carrying their hurts and prejudices close. Both are judgemental, Harvey more so, her heart filled with resentments and frustrations, whereas Franklin is prone to the sort of casual sexism found in Australian rural society. Through both pairs of eyes social realism veers close to stereotyping, with single mothers under the spotlight.

Inevitably, the various foibles of Franklin and Harvey drive the plot. The story opens with a short prelude, a catastrophic fire and a mystery. From there the  narrative jump cuts from Franklin to Harvey, as their individual inquiries unfold.

The jump cuts work well, if making for a seemingly disjointed narrative at first, more demanding of the reader’s attention. The style makes for a fast pace and creates natural tension, the reader forced to wait for vital information as her attention is diverted back and forth between the points of view. What unfolds is a cracking plot. There is never a dull moment. The reader sinks into the story, confident the author is in control of the narrative and won’t disappoint. No small feat. Crime readers are a sharp bunch, likely to extract a calculator to check up on a distance or a passage of time. Thankfully, Wallace manages to avoid stepping outside the bounds of plausibility.

The writing is strong, gritty, earthy and witty at times. Tell Me Why  is a considered work, written with care. Wallace knows her craft. Tell Me Why is a perfect balance of action, dialogue, and reflection. Description is kept to a minimum, just enough to be evocative. Wallace knows her readership too. Themes appealing to female crime lovers abound. Mothers and babies, the strong bonds of female friendship, a cast of utterly believable and endearing minor characters, all held together in a pleasing the rural setting.

Tell Me Why is a compulsive read. The novel should appeal to crime lovers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading the newly released sequel, Dead Again.

BUY Tell Me Why

Find Sandi Wallace here: http://www.sandiwallace.com/

This is the second book I have reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. To find out more about the challenge, visit the website