Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

AWW-2018-badge-rose

All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.

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Harry Potter – Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook by Warner Bros with Jody Revenson

diagon alley.jpgTitle: Harry Potter – Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook

Author: Warner Bros with Jody Revenson

Genre: Film Guide, Harry Potter, Children’s, Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 5th July 2018

Format: Hardback

Pages: 48

Price: $27.99

Synopsis:Diagon Alley is a cobblestoned shopping area for wizards and witches, and it was Harry Potter’s first introduction to the wizarding world. On this bustling street, seen throughout the Harry Potter films, the latest brooms are for sale, wizard authors give book signings and young Hogwarts students acquire their school supplies – cauldrons, quills, robes, wands and brooms.

This magical scrapbook takes readers on a tour of Diagon Alley, from Gringotts wizarding bank to Ollivanders wand shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and beyond. Detailed profiles of each shop include concept illustrations, behind-the-scenes photographs and fascinating reflections from actors and film-makers that give readers an unprecedented inside look at the beloved wizarding location. Fans will also revisit key moments from the films, such as Harry’s first visit to Ollivanders when he is selected by his wand in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Gringotts on the back of a Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.

Destined to be a must-have collectible for fans of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook also comes packed with removable inserts.

~*~

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The latest companion book to the Harry Potter series, specifically related to the movies, is a movie scrapbook of Diagon Alley, its various stores and how the street, exteriors and interiors were created for the series of eight movies that began as a series of books in 1997. With the recent release of the 20th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, this movie scrapbook complements its release and will become a good shelf companion.

Starting at the Leaky Cauldron, and ending with Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, the book is interactive, with maps, and pictures, stickers, and pieces of wizarding money peppered through the book, to illustrate the visions from the books, and how they ended up being translated onto film, as well as where inspiration came from: Tudor times, Georgian and Victorian times, and Dickensian illustrations. The Wizarding World is shown as being from a distant time and place, untouched by modernity – ensuring the magic remains intact – just as readers would have imagined it when reading the books, and just as I did – Diagon Alley could be a mishmash of various architectures from Tudor times to Victorian times, all imbued with the magic used to create the buildings.

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As each new movie guide or character comes out, a new layer of information and enjoyment is added to the series for fans new, and old. These fun and quick reads can be dipped in and out of as well and used as you watch the movies to identify various aspects of Diagon Alley and keep an eye out for them as they watch. It is an exciting and fun book for the whole family to enjoy.

Each companion book to the Harry Potter series – whether related to the books or the movies enriches the experience, and this one is no exception. I enjoyed reading it and will enjoy revisiting it, either after watching the movies or during them, to pick up on the subtleties that I may have missed in previous viewings. As there are so many things to explore, these guides are the perfect way to discover or rediscover these things and fully appreciate the complexity of the books and movies.

Diagon Alley is shown in the book from the beginning of the series to the end, from light and airy to dark, and dingy, a world that has been destroyed during war time, to accompany the darkening themes and moods of the books and films. Diagon Alley is central to the Wizarding World, in both the books and the movies. It gives readers of the books and those who enjoy the movies a chance to see behind the scenes of how the sets the most well-known areas of Harry’s world were created in a creative, fun and interactive way for all ages.

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If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

Title: If Kisses Cured Cancer

Author: T.S. Hawken

Genre: Literary Fiction, Fictionif kisses cured cancer.jpg

Publisher: Seahawk Press

Published: 1st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 466

Price: $30

Synopsis:If Kisses Cured Cancer is a story about life in a growing coastal town, falling in love and stealing shopping trolleys.

Matt Pearce is depressed, working an uninspiring job and lacking any prospect of dragging his life out of mediocrity. That is until he meets Joy: a cancer survivor who lives beyond the rules of normal people.

As the pair go on a series of unusual dates – from hijacking fish n chip orders, to ‘extreme people watching’ at the airport – their love for each other grows. But Joy’s past is about to catch up with her, and a hidden secret could tear the two apart forever.

If Kisses Cured Cancer is a quirky look at finding love in unlikely places. It is about the importance of connecting with those around you, enjoying every moment and not being afraid to go skinny dipping in the forest.

It will have you in tears of joy, tears of sorrow and tears of laughter.

~*~

When we meet Matt Pearce, he is working in a job he hates, with no real idea of where he wants to be in life – he feels he’s forever going to be stuck in the monotony of customer service and scripts he must adhere to without ever being able to actually help people. Until he sees a young woman hijack a trolley at the supermarket and take groceries that aren’t her own and buy them for herself. Intrigued, Matt follows her – the trolley thief – and a relationship starts to form, based on stealing trolleys, hijacking fish and chips orders, and extreme people watching at the airport. This woman is Joy, a cancer survivor who lives each day as it comes, determined to get the most out of life before her past catches up with her – and forces her to keep a secret from Matt that he never saw coming.

When Matt finds out what is happening to Joy, he tries to put his plans for university on hold to try and help her, to get her through this rough patch of her life. But her determination to go out on her own terms and without holding him, and her friends back, is the defining characteristic of Joy as she tries to face what is to come without fear, and without worry for herself, but concern for those she is leaving behind.

This was a bittersweet story – sad, but at the same time, happy and realistic. It didn’t shy away from the hardships and flaws of the characters, and it allowed Matt, Z, Joy and Gerard to be themselves, to discover what they want their lives to be, from jobs to study to simply living for each day as it comes. It is about love, friendship, life, and death. About taking chances and new leaps towards the future that you had not ever thought was possible.

What I liked about this novel was that despite it’s title, it didn’t dwell overly on Joy’s cancer, which only showed up and overshadowed her in about the last third of the book. Instead, it combines a character who feels at a loss in his life, with one who has such zest for life, it is infectious to Matt and his friends who rally around him when he decides to go to university, and branch out into a new venture, and see him through caring for Joy towards the end, and creates a feeling of family, who are willing to help each other. Brought together by a desire to help people and do what makes them happy, Matt, Joy, Z – a former work colleague of Matt’s, and Centrelink call centre employee – Gareth – show that the unexpected changes and ups and downs in life can push us into decisions and pathways we never thought possible.

I was contacted by the author to review this book and decided to give it a go – at first, unsure of what I would encounter, but in the end, I did enjoy it. The fact that it had several strands and elements given equal attention, without a primary focus on one over the other ensured that there is something in there for all readers of this book. It is emotional, but all good books tug at the heartstrings, make you laugh and make you angry at some things – they move you, which is exactly what this one does. A well written book.

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Cover Reveal: The Crimes of Grindelwald Screenplay

Releasing on the 16th of November, 2018, is the screenplay of the second part in the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald,which will pick up where the first film left off two years ago, with the capture of Gellert Grindelwald by Newt Scamander and the MACUSA squad. However, Gellert has escaped and is on a quest to give power to pure blooded wizards over non-magical beings. Newt is enlisted by Albus Dumbledore to thwart these plans, and draw lines between loyalty and love, as they fight to save the wizarding world.

The cover of the screenplay (pictured below), hints at what is to come in the film and screenplay. As expected, the Deathly Hallows symbol is present, its significance known to fans of the Harry Potter books. The Eiffel Tower is present, signifying a move into the wizarding world of countries beyond the UK and Hogwarts and America, a few favourite magical creatures, and other symbols from the film. We will not know what these symbols mean until we see the film and read the screenplay.

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MinaLima is the graphic design team behind the cover and the Fantastic Beasts series, and they have done a wonderful job of this cover as well as the previous one. They used the Art Nouveau aesthetic for this because of the centrality of France to the film and the iconography of the Eiffel Tower associated with France. Looking forward to reading this and seeing the film when they are released, and a review of the screenplay will appear on my blog later in the year.

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Book bingo nine – a book of short stories, and an award-winning book.

book bingo 2018

This week, I’m knocking off two more squares, leaving me with two more before I embark on a second card for the second half of the year – which will include new reads and some previous reads from this year that had several categories to fit into, but I ended up choosing one. In this week’s bingo, I have also completed two more rows across,

Row #2 – BINGO

 

A book with a yellow cover: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier – AWW2018

A non-fiction book: Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard

A collection of short stories: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book with themes of culture: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Row #3:  BINGO

A book written by an Australian woman:The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

A prize-winning book: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe – AWW

A book that scares you: The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

A book with a mystery: Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen – AWW2018

And one row down, Row three, the middle row:

Row #3: – BINGO

A memoir: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

A non-fiction book:Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard

A prize-winning book: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

A book with non-human characters: Monty the Sad Puppy by Holly Webb

A book everyone is talking about: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – AWW2018

Australia DayThe square for a book of Short Stories in row three across and down, was filled by one that is also an award winner and has a yellow cover – but that I had not read in time to fill the yellow cover square, is Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards this year for the fiction category. It is a series of short stories about Australians from various backgrounds and walks of life, full of diversity and difference, and the attitudes towards people in each of these groups. It is a reflection on who we are as a nation as well, digging into the Australia that is perhaps less laidback, more complex and at times, not as ideal as the image of Australia we want everyone to have is – whether it is race, gender, socioeconomic status or a combination of those. It is bookended by two stories that take place on Australia Day itself and the clashing of cultures and ideas about the day and the nation that illustrate the day is not the same for everyone, in a myriad of ways.

Miles Franklin Short BioMy second, and 23rd book of this book bingo card, is an award-winning book. Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe – an abridged version of her longer one, which won three awards in nine and eight years ago:

Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – 2009

South Australian Prize for Non-Fiction – 2010

Australian Historical Association Magarey Medal for Biography – 2010

The interesting story of Miles Franklin’s life fills this category, because I thought it was rather fitting that the biography of a woman who has two literary prizes named for her – one endowed upon her death in her Will – The Miles Franklin Literary Award, and the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing, which was inaugurated in 2013. Miles Franklin is primarily known for her literary prowess and the awards named for her – and for being a feminist. This biography shows much more of her life and what she did over her lifetime for literature and politics.

I’ve been enjoying doing this book bingo with Mrs B and Theresa Smith – I perhaps let my enthusiasm get away with me in marking off squares but in doing a second round, I at least will have some of the books read already and can space them out a bit more.

Until next time!

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Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Australia Day.jpgTitle: Australia Day

Author: Melanie Cheng

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes about are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.

Melanie Cheng is an important new voice, offering a fresh perspective on contemporary Australia. Her effortless, unpretentious realism balances an insider’s sensitivity and understanding with an outsider’s clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we’ve seen before.

Prizes won:

  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018
  • Shortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2017
  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, 2016

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAustralia Day by Melanie Cheng contains fourteen unique, and individual stories about Australians – those born here, immigrants, and from all walks of life, moving through a society and country that has various expectations, and where those they encounter respond to them in a variety of ways, from ignorance to trying to help, to saying the wrong thing and sometimes, misunderstandings that could happen to anyone, as well as clashes of cultural and generational expectations that illustrate the differences in everyone’s lives.

They are simple, yet complex – stories where identities and sense of self are sometimes at war internally, and sometimes externally, and where the flaws of humanity are exposed – no character is perfect, no character knows everything, and no character has ultimate control.

I wasn’t sure what story was my favourite because they were all so different and diverse. Melanie allowed the characters to speak for themselves, revealing their true natures, how they thought and went through their lives. Since publication, Australia Day has won two awards in 2016 and 2018, and been longlisted for four awards this year and shortlisted for one last year – a remarkable achievement for a new book, and very much deserved.

It is filled with various experiences of Australia and Australia Day – the first and last story – both taking place on Australia Day – bookend the book, with the in between stories taking place, around the day, before, or after, but still capturing something of what it means to be Australian, and how this differs for many people, regardless of your race or gender – that being Australian and living in Australia is not the same for everyone. It is a multicultural book, where cultures clash or come together, and where some people try to embrace the multicultural world, and accept it, or where some look upon the differences with disdain or disappointment that things are not what they always expect them to be – perhaps a key factor in Australia, with the ever-changing world we live in. I found this aspect to be the most interesting – to see how different people responded to and accepted difference, or perhaps, struggled to. How people tried but failed to be inclusive or perhaps said the wrong thing or felt trapped by what was going on around them and just tried to fit in with it all. The diversity these stories show give a snapshot into modern Australian life and how everyone is trying to find a way to live together.

An intriguing book, and one I enjoyed, as I don’t often read short stories but thoroughly enjoyed the way these were written and opened my eyes to the different way people approach living in Australia and Australia Day.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

guernsey.jpgTitle: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: Movie tie-in published 21st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:A celebration of literature, love, and the power of the human spirit, this warm, funny, tender, and thoroughly entertaining novel is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II and the writing project that will dramatically change her life. An international bestseller.

‘I can’t remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one. Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.’
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

The beloved, life-affirming international bestseller–now a major film coming in April 2018, starring Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.

It’s 1946. The war is over, and Juliet Ashton has writer’s block. But when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey–a total stranger living halfway across the Channel, who has come across her name written in a second-hand book–she enters into a correspondence with him, and in time with all the members of the extraordinary Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Through their letters, the society tell Juliet about life on the island, their love of books–and the long shadow cast by their time living under German occupation. Drawn into their irresistible world, Juliet sets sail for the island, changing her life forever.

Gloriously honest, enchanting and funny, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is sure to win your heart.

~*~

This book came to me as a surprise from Allen and Unwin, and it being the shortest of the ones that arrived the other day, I decided to read it first and work my way through the others over the next week or so. And what a lovely surprise it was! Juliet Ashton is a writer who has writer’s block and is searching for her next story. Whilst searching, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society on one of the Channel Islands, who are emerging from years of occupation by German forces during World War Two. Dawsey’s letter begins the months of correspondence between the society and Juliet, and the novel is solely told in letters and telegrams. As Juliet begins to uncover a story in Guernsey and those who live there, she is courted by Markham Reynolds, and goes to the island to do research for her book, leaving Markham behind. As Juliet corresponds with the society members and her publishers, a picture of their life and what they have been through unfolds, with heart-warming results for many of the characters of the book.

The use of letters to tell the story was really quite effective because you got to know the characters and their voices, how they thought and what they enjoyed doing, and even though some questions or letters might not have had direct answers, the questions in them were given in other letters, ensuring that their stories were told. Within these stories was that of Elizabeth and her daughter Kit, and Markham Reynolds, who was keen on Juliet. I enjoyed the way these two plot points were dealt with, and that Juliet was of her own mind, and her own person – she was probably my favourite, next to Dawsey and Kit.

Key to the society is literature, and what it means to them. The literary society they created is what got them through the war, and what they survived on – potato peel pie, and what they did to try and keep the German forces at bay and survive. It is touching and at times sad when you read some of the letters, but it has the impact needed: showing what happened and how people dealt with it. A very touching testament to the power of the human spirit, and what people do in the face of adversity for themselves and each other.

The letters are peppered with literary references, and talk about books – the solace that they give, and what they meant to the society but also the Channel Island of Guernsey as a whole, as they endured things they never thought they would endure. Literature and their society pulled them through, showing the power of literature and how it can help people in hard times.

The novel is both peaceful and heartbreaking – the memories and aftershocks of the years of German occupation are not quickly forgotten, especially as someone who knew Elizabeth and knew of her fate comes into their lives, and the realities of what was happening on the European Continent hit home for the society members. There are hints of romance, but the focus is on Juliet and the society members, and their friendship and the family they have built for themselves and Kit, whose entertaining and intriguing character is revealed through the letters.

I really enjoyed this novel and read it quite quickly. It reflects on how war can affect a small community, and in this instance, bring them closer together as family, and the way they welcomed someone else into their family and society, where they could help each other heal as they emerged from an occupation during wartime and the implications of that, where their love of literature binds them together.

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