Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check in Four – forty-five to sixty.

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My fourth check in, and most current one as of the 12th of August, 2018, takes me to sixty books for the year, and in July I managed to read an entire Kate Forsyth series, as well as historical fiction, an #OwnVoices book, female focussed books, and one with  fascinating link to ancient history that I adored, as well as memoir about race, feminism and religion that unpacked how various identities can often be at conflict and how this affects you as a person and how you see the world, but also looked at how various aspects of one’s identity can inform a world view and understandings.

From Cromwell’s England to the desert hospitals of World War One, a haunted house and survivalists, dragons and China, and memoir, along with a good dose of fantasy, this list is as diverse as the others, with a large dollop of Kate Forsyth, whose books are always delightful.

My next post of this nature will begin with the latest Kensy and Max adventure, and from there, who knows what else will come?

Books forty-six to sixty

  1. The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart
  2. The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1)
  3. The Silver Horse by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #2)
  4. The Herb of Grace by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #3)
  5. The Cat’s Eye Shell by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #4)
  6. Children of the Dragon: Relic of The Blue Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  7. The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele
  8. The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #5)
  9. The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn and Interview
  10. The Butterfly in Amber by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #6)
  11. When the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson
  12. Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer
  13. The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios
  14. No Country Woman by Zoya Patel
  15. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

From here, there will be many review books to come, some feminist fairy tales, crime, a whole mix – anything could be read and that is what is so enjoyable about the challenge and these posts – getting to see what I have read so far, and where it all fits in.

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Australian Women Writer’s Challenge check in two – books sixteen to thirty.

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Marking off the half way point for my first sixty books as it stands on the 11th of August, is my second post, with the next fifteen books up to thirty. These range from books for kids, to choose your own adventure to historical fiction, and nearly everything in between. This post, there is much more diversity in the authors read – including some short stories, surprise arrivals and a fairy tale retelling. There were a few World War Two based books – this was around the time I read many Holocaust influenced stories from authors from around the world, one of them a true story – The Tattooist of Auschwitz – and after reading this one and going onto other Holocaust stories, it made me wonder -how many people from those stories did Lale tattoo, how many did he see – the faces that were clear as characters and historical figures in the novels would have been just numbers once he had tattooed them.

This next allotment also marks, with book sixteen, the beginning of my quiz writing job, and at times I have reviewed some of the books I have been sent, but not all. Not many are picture books on my list here, but a couple have pictures – be they photos related to the true story a novel is based on, or pictures that accompany and complement the text for younger readers, such as in Grandpa, Me and Poetry.

Sixteen to thirty:

  1. Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan
  2. The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester
  3. The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun by Emily Conolan
  4. The Book of Answers: The Ateban Cipher Book 2 by A.L. Tait
  5. Little Gods by Jenny Ackland
  6. I am Sasha by Anita Selzer
  7. Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn
  8. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  9. Lovesome by Sally Seltmann
  10. Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen
  11. The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross
  12. Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
  13. Australia Day by Melanie Cheng
  14. The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela
  15. Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

My next list will be thirty-one to forty-five. The vast array and mix of books I have read this year is interesting and has definitely been fun to read. Once the posts for the first sixty are up, upon the completion of the next fifteen, another post will go up – whether this is monthly or less frequently, these will act as little capsules of books to show what I have been reading in short bursts.

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

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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.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

bronte mettlestone.jpgTitle: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: November, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 512

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: An enchanting and whimsical spell-filled fantasy novel from Jaclyn Moriarty, the award-winning author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and A Corner of White, suitable for readers who loved A Most Magical Girl.

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

Awards:Longlisted Book of Year, Younger Readers – Australian Book Industry Awards 2018 AU; Longlisted CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers 2018 AU; Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018 AU; Longlisted Indie Book Awards – Children’s Fiction 2018 AU; Shortlisted Best Children’s Novel, Aurealis Awards 2017 AU

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseTen-year-old Bronte Mettlestone has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler, ever since her parents, Lida and Patrick, left her on her Aunt’s doorstep to go off on adventurers and hunt down pirates. The book opens with Bronte recounting the day she found out her parents had died, that they had been killed by pirates, but having been raised by her Aunt Isabelle, it does not affect her as it might other children. Following the news of their deaths, their will is read out and she is sent on a series of quests and adventures to visit all her aunts across the Kingdoms and Empires to deliver a series of gifts to them. Aunt Isabelle tries to get her out of it and go with her, but the border has been adorned by Faery cross-stitch- binding Bronte to the quest and rules set forth by her parents – and so, she must go alone.

Each gift it seems, as Bronte delivers them, is special or relevant to that aunt – and as she travels, her mind is constantly going over what will happen if she breaks the rules of the Faery cross-stitch, which will result in Gainsleigh, her home town, being destroyed. It is a journey of utmost importance, and is filled with aunts, and new friends, cousins she has never met or seldom met, as she stumbles – accidentally and against her wishes – into trouble and unforeseen scenarios, Bronte’s colourful, magical and humour filled world comes to life with the array of aunts, whose vastly different approaches to Bronte’s visits are all different, and some are far more interesting than others – her visit to the cruise ship with Aunt Maya and Aunt Lisbeth – one of her longest visits – is interesting and filled with danger, whereas her visit with Aunt Nancy is one Bronte finds rather dull and limiting, a visit where she fears the magic of the Faery cross stitch might come undone if she allows Aunt Nancy to keep her from her parents instructions.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a book of beauty, from the lovely cover, to the adorable illustrations, to the magical words that fly off the page on the back of a flying unicorn and envelop the reader in the story – so much so, that whilst reading one day, I didn’t even realise how much I had read and that I was only a few chapters from the end of the story. So I’m not surprised that it has had several award nominations, long-listings and short-listings – these accolades are very well deserved, and this bridges a gap between early readers who have the confidence to read and those about to embark on Harry Potter, Narnia and other books, but is also a book that anyone can enjoy and lose themselves in as I invariably did the one day.

I loved Bronte’s character – she wasn’t a stereotype or archetype, she was a little girl, who had fears, and flaws, and who managed to find ways out of sticky situations, in a world she had not had much contact with, and yet, seemed to fit into really well. Determined to make sure she abides by the wishes and rules set forth for her in her parents will, yet still individual, and creative, able to see solutions to problems, and not the typical fairy-tale girl, Bronte is exactly the kind of character who we need these days – brave, and confident, active and able to think for herself, yet also able to accept help when she needs it. Whether it’s negotiating with water sprites to get an aunt out of jail, inadvertently causing an avalanche, or exploring a ship with a boy named Billy and a girl named Taylor, Bronte is the childhood hero for girls that my generation needed, that this generation needs, and in fact, that every girl, and woman, no matter her age or identity, will hopefully enjoy, and have a laugh with, worry and hope with her, and share in everything she feels and does.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, and I hope Bronte makes another appearance as she is a rather enjoyable character, and I would like to see more of her. Aimed at what I hope will be a varied audience, it was the title and cover that attracted me to this book, and it’s fabulous first line is an excellent hook for the story – bring on book two!

The Brink of Darkness by Jeff Giles (Edge of Everything #2)

the brink of darkness.jpgTitle: The Brink of Darkness
Author: Jeff Giles
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy.
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 1st August 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Things have changed for seventeen-year-old Zoe ever since the dramatic events that brought her together with the mysterious X. In order to save Zoe and her family, X did the unthinkable – he traded their freedom in exchange for his captivity in the Lowlands forever.

But being back in the Lowlands has its advantages. It gives X the chance to discover his past, which could be the key to breaking the Lords’ hold on him forever. Little does X know that Zoe has her own plan to reunite with him . . . one that risks her life and brings her perilously close to losing all that she and X are fighting for.

Gripping and full of heart, this epic continuation of Jeff Giles’ series–which already has rave reviews from Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson and New York Times bestselling author James Dashner, among numerous others–will bring readers right to the edge of everything.

~*~

X is back in the Lowlands, after trading the freedom of Zoe’s family to live in captivity forever. In Zoe’s world, she must grapple with the death of neighbours, and living with Rufus, who is involved with her mother, as well as protecting her brother Jonah, and hiding X and his secret from her friends, Val and Dallas. Until the three friends are confronted by an angry hunter, and Ripper comes to their rescue, and the story of X and the Lowlands is revealed. From there, Zoe must find a way to help Ripper on her quest, and rescue X from the Lowlands, as well as maintaining her family’s safety and not revealing the truth to them if she can help it. Over several weeks, Zoe will assist Ripper on her quest, and together with Regent, they will help X find his mother and overthrow Dervish, who has been trying to control the Lowlands. But whether Zoe and X will come out unscathed, will be another piece of the puzzle all together.

This follow up to The Edge of Everything, published in February last year, picks up shortly after the death of Zoe’s neighbours and Z’s condemnation to the Lowlands. This follow up feels more X focussed, where he’s on a quest to try and free himself of the Lowlands, and keep Zoe safe, and also, find out where he came from and who his parents are. Through this journey, Ripper, Regent and Zoe help X, whose life has only ever been the Lowlands, until he met Zoe. Whilst Zoe and X are in love, the drive for X to find out who his mother is drives the narrative more as he searches for a sense of self.

The other important relationships are between Zoe and her brother, Jonah, who is always there for his sister, and Zoe and her friends, Val and Dallas, whose presence in Zoe’s life give her some grounding, yet at the same time, is something she pulls against and tries to resist, especially towards the end. It is slightly darker than the last book, however, not overly.

Much like The Edge of Everything, The Brink of Darkness has light and hope as well as darkness and devastation, tying into the themes of life and death, and love in all its forms that permeate the novel. It is filled with family and friends, conflict and resolution, and the fights that families have and then forget when it looks as though the worst may have happened, but they all come together in the end.

The Brink of Darkness read like it wrapped up everything that happened in both this book and the first book, The Edge of Everything, where everything felt settled and tidy, yet with a fairly open ending to imagine what happens next. Throughout the novel there is a sense of unease or foreboding that something nasty is going to happen, but this adds to the suspense and mystery surrounding Zoe and X. Jonah is adorable, and always optimistic – again, my favourite character in the book. Overall, this was enjoyable to read and those eager to find out what happens will not be disappointed.

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel.jpgTitle: The Psychology of Time Travel

Author: Kate Mascarenhas

Genre: Science Fiction/Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia/Head of Zeus

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A time travel murder mystery, set in a female-centric alternate world.

A time travel murder mystery from a brilliantly original new voice. Perfect for readers of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven . 1967 : Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril… 2017 : Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady… 2018 : When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulpher. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder? What readers are saying: ‘A complex murder mystery thriller that offers something new and exciting … I was gripped!’ ‘Fantastic! The plot was hugely thought-provoking and the characters engaging’ ‘A fascinating, thought-provoking thriller about time travel, murder and a conspiracy that threatens to explode through time’

 

 

~*~

 

In 1967, four female scientists – Barbara, Grace, Lucille and Margaret – invent a time machine. The initial tests send them minutes, or hours into the future, before they start travelling years, and decades into the future, meeting their future selves and future families, and form an organisation called the Conclave, where they work within their own laws, uninhibited by the courts of England. As the novel goes back and forth between 2017, 2018 and various years of significance for the four scientists and the rest of the time travellers they work with, there is a death in a museum, a woman is found shot to death, but with no discernible evidence pointing towards a suspect or weapon. In 2017 and 2018, Barbara’s granddaughter, Ruby, crosses paths with a time traveller to be, Odette, and the intersection of their lives starts to reveal more secrets about the Conclave and those involved and those to come.

 

In this diverse, and female driven novel, various identities are explored, and the idea of time travel, and being able to interact with ones future and past selves, see their deaths but go back to one’s own time and see them again, and the implications of actions taken during time travel that can influence ones future are all explored in Kate Mascarenhas’ first novel, The Psychology of Time Travel.  Her characters are typically English, yet interspersed with the diversity of race and sexuality, giving the novel an atmosphere that is delightful to read and engaging, because the diversity is broad, and incorporates age, and personality as well, ensuring there is something to like for all readers.

 

Equally delightful was the entirely female main cast – showing the power of femininity, representing women as they are, with flaws, with varying characteristics, of different races, sexualities and also disability and mental illness. The story does not shy away from the rather harsh side effects of time travel on some of the characters, nor does it shy away from the devious nature of others, and the mistrust that time travel can bring for some people, the conflict of needing to know, but not wanting to know, of wanting to tell people what is to come, but at the same time, wanting to protect them from this knowledge, creating emotional journeys for all the characters amidst their penchant for science and time travel.

 

The raw humanity and the feminism that drives this female centric novel, where women are who they are, where they have family and relationship conflicts like anyone but where they accept each other without judgement for the most part, is a wonderful example of the power of female driven stories, where women can see themselves represented in a variety of ways and not just in the archetype of maiden, mother or crone, or as romantic desires – which there is nothing wrong with these topes, it is always nice to see women taking centre stage in narratives and points in history where their stories might have been overpowered by others.

 

It is important to see the kinds of representation in other fiction that is present here: female, bisexuality, lesbians, mental health, and different races, all on the spectrum of these aspects of identity that make up who we are as humans. It is a refreshing book to read with these aspects of the characters so raw and front and centre, with a realism about them that doesn’t shy away from the realities of the lives of these women as they travel through time and space. It is an intriguing book with a very curious premise, a time travelling murder mystery, where all the pieces of the puzzle do not fit as neatly together as one would think, yet this is exactly what makes it work so well, and gives it the story its unique characteristics.

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Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

early riser .jpgTitle: Early Riser

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Adventure/Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder & Stoughton

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Jasper Fforde’s first standalone novel – full of the imagination, wit and intelligence that has made Fforde a Number One bestseller.

The new standalone novel from Number 1 bestselling author Jasper Fforde. 

Imagine a world where all humans must hibernate through a brutally cold winter, their bodies dangerously close to death as they enter an ultra-low metabolic state of utterly dreamless sleep. All humans, that is, apart from the Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently watch over the vulnerable sleeping citizens.

Charlie Worthing is a novice, chosen by a highflying hero Winter Consul to accompany him to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of Wales, to investigate a dream which is somehow spreading amongst those in the hibernational state, causing paranoia, hallucination and a psychotic episode that can end in murder.

Worthing has been trained to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation, leaving only one or two skills and an incredible hunger; he’s been trained to stay alive through the bleakest and loneliest of winters – but he is in no way prepared for what awaits him in Sector Twelve. There are no heroes in Winter, Worthing has been told. And he’s about to find out why…

~*~

It has been many years since a Jasper Fforde novel has been released, and of all his books, my two favourite series are the Thursday Next books, and the Nursery Crimes books – both of which I hope get updates soon, so I can find out what happens to my favourite characters. In Early Riser, the first stand-alone novel by Fforde, which is filled with the same satire, the same references to history, popular culture, entertainment and reading, as the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series his readers have come to know and love. Yet this is a different world to that of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, set in another alternate United Kingdom, this time in Wales, where humans spend the entire winter hibernating – and where a select few have volunteered to stay awake through winter to ensure everyone makes it through.

Charlie Worthing is one such volunteer. It is his first Winter awake, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time – there is an outbreak of viral dreams that start to kill people, and Charlie must work with the Winter Consul, and contend with the Wintervolk and those infecting the dreams of the hibernating folk and killing them.

This is a sort of dystopian, alternate universe that is quintessentially British, and charmingly so, with the presence of After Eights, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and a tongue-in-cheek humour that I have come to expect and love in Fforde’s works. It is a humour that knowing some of the references, such as his cheeky nods to The Sound of Music, that knowing where they are from helps you appreciate them all the more, and it is so typically Fforde – he manages to get the balance of respect and satire just right, and it suits the book and the character of Charlie so well -one wonders if Charlie has ever crossed paths with the Nursery Crime Division and Thursday Next – books I must read again, and am hoping for continuations of.

The cruelty of Charlie’s first Winter is evident in how the Consul treats him, in the hints at hazing and how different departments perform this – where one might be akin to pranks and drills, Charlie’s hazing is said to be more like making tea and doing laundry – that is, until he is given a promotion to take on heavier duties and investigations into the dream deaths. Fforde cleverly shows how this happens but using subversive and discreet language – nothing is obviously stated, and Charlie is constantly warned about the consequences of falling asleep. Part mystery as well as satire as Charlie investigates what happens, he soon finds himself uncovering secrets about people he thought he knew and finding out things he never thought he would.

Fforde manages to capture something unique about the world, about history and literature, and British culture that is entertaining, informative and amusing. He uses the punching up rule of humour, mixed in with equal delectable dollops of parody and satire to complement the seemingly insane and odd mystery that makes sense in the dystopian alternate universe of Wales that Fforde has created for Charlie to live in, with an ending that is both conclusive and open enough for readers to imagine what happens next. It is a novel that will appeal to Fforde fans and hopefully those who appreciate a tongue in cheek humour and nods to things we’ve all encountered or heard of at some stage, which makes the reading experience richer and more enticing when you can understand these references.

Jasper’s first novel in about four years, Early Riser is the beginning of what will hopefully be a barrage of new books, and updates on our favourite characters and stories. I enjoyed being back in the world of Jasper Fforde and can’t wait for his next offering – which I hope will be soon. In the meantime, I plan to re-read the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, that latter of which only has two books at this stage.

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