Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

the year the maps changedTitle: The Year the Maps Changed

Author: Danielle Binks

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: One extraordinary year will change them all…

Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

Even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.

~*~

At eleven, almost twelve years old, Fred’s life is changing rapidly. Her adoptive father, Luca, has been seeing Anika, and has recently allowed Anika and her son, Sam, to move in with them. She’s in her final year of primary school, and Pop, who usually lives with them, has had to go into hospital in the next town. It’s 1999, the year before the Y2K panic, two years before an incident in New York would change the world forever. It’s the first time the idea of refugees and war crosses the consciousness of Fred and her friends in Sorrento beyond what they have been taught about past wars. In this year, Fred will grow up, find out what family is, and who she can rely on in a world that is beginning to change in so many ways.

There were so many things I loved about this book – its 1999 setting was very relatable, and I was a year older – 12-13 than Fred was in the novel, so some of what she felt with her changing body, and friends, I could understand. It was my first year of high school and like Fred, the first time that refugees and discussion about current wars crossed my path – most likely in history, and some of what I saw on the news. Like Fred, Kosovar seemed so far away, at first, it was hard to understand. Fred’s life will change in many ways in this year, and Danielle has used maps as a metaphor for physical changes in locations, borders and lives – as well as a way of understanding the world and how the maps we know were and have been created.

There are some very cool nineties references I loved – watching movies on VHS, sleepovers, and a time before computers and technology like iPhones became something just about everyone had and used every day – a time when switching off the computer really meant switching off, and we sent hand-written invitations for parties. Kids rode bikes in their neighbourhoods, and we read newspapers in print.

AWW2020Whilst this nostalgia made the book feel comfortable for me, the idea of a refugee facility near my home was something unknown to me, and as we explore this phenomenon and the reaction to refugees through Fred and Sam, as they deal with the changes in their family, showed how much kids can notice what is going on around them, and what it means to have ethics and morals, and what happens when doing the right thing morally might not be the right thing legally. This conflict comes into being strongly, as Luca is a police officer and is at times, caught between what he believes is right and what he must do within the confines of the law and his job. It is about the conflicts we face in life in all their measures, and how we deal with them.

I enjoyed this book – it was like heading back to a world before everything changed – or before we became aware of what things were like for people outside our circles, as it was an age where we were likely to encounter some of these things for the first time, or at least, an age where we may have the clearest memories of these things happening. It will vary from person to person, and experience to experience. What Danielle has done here is to capture one experience through the eyes of one child during this time, and how she made sense of it all.

I recommend this to enthusiastic middle grade readers, and those older, as it can offer something to each reader and readership.

The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One) by Meg and Tom Keneally

soldiers curseTitle: The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One)

Author: Meg and Tom Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 27th February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg.

In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.

His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer. And so begins The Monsarrat Series, a fast-paced, witty and gripping series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter, Meg.

~*~

This is another series that I have had on my shelf for years and have only just started reading. All the books in this series are out, so hopefully I can get through them over the next few weeks or months. The first book introduces us to Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat, a gentleman convict who is towards the end of his sentence in 1825. He is friendly with a local housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, and Hugh now works as the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie settlement in 1825.

It is around this time that the commandant heads off – and his wife, Honora starts getting ill, and eventually dies. When Hannah is accused, Monsarrat sets out to uncover the real killer.

The mystery within The Soldier’s Curse starts out slowly – as an illness that the doctors have several ideas as to what it might be – but poisoning does not cross their minds until it is too late, and this is where it is clever, as once Honora dies, the investigation Hugh conducts ramps up – whereas  before he is an observer, and finds himself reflecting on the events that led him to where he is at the stage of the novel. As a result, there is a lot of backstory and build up, yet I think it helps contribute to the setting and feelings of the characters and mystery. Hugh is determined to prove Hannah Mulrooney is not guilty – the presumption that she is guilty because those in charge of finding out what happens ignore the access that others had to what may have to Honora and her home.

AWW2020

Whilst Hugh navigates his position between the world of convicts, education and freedom, he also observes how the Indigenous people of the area the settlers named Port Macquarie – the Birpai – interact with the newcomers to their land, and the intersections of these communities in different ways – from those who do not come into contact, to the Birpai returning absconding convicts and to those mentioned who are said to have relationships (though this is not expanded on) with the settlers – of which, knowing history, there would have been negative ones as well as the positive ones hinted at in this book. As these stories are not always told, having them mentioned brings them to light at least, and readers can, from there, explore this area of history further to gain a better understanding of what happened in those early colonial days. It will be interesting to see how this is further explored in future books. There are complexities of relationships between convicts, jailers and free settlers, between the Indigenous people and the Europeans, and indeed, between the men and women, as well as between Englishmen and Irish or Scottish folk dealt with in this novel throughout. It felt as though these were carefully considered through the lens of Hugh, and based on his personality, and ways of understanding the world. Inequality is highlighted in many ways here – as is the hierarchy of everyone there. The way this is navigated throughout is consistently there, even if not mentioned on every page: there is a constant feeling that this is all going on at the time. It reflects a world where nobody quite understands each other and struggles to find a way to collaborate.

As the start of a series, it is very dense in establishing the character and his history,  yet as with any series with a key character, there is always more to come in subsequent books – the little things that have not come to the surface yet, and questions about the character that were not answered in the first book. I have the four that are already out on my shelf and hope to get through them all soon. It is an intriguing read about colonial history, and colonies other than Sydney Cove as well as the various interactions between the original inhabitants and those brought here for punishment, and the attitudes towards those two groups from the people who south to enforce their authority. A great start to a series.

Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes

tiger heart.jpgTitle: Tiger Heart

Author: Penny Chrimes

Genre: Fantasy/Time slip/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 260

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land that’s found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS and PAX.

One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of The Girl of Ink and Stars and Pax.

Fly never meant to end up in a cage with a man-eating tiger. And though she’s sure she’s no princess, when the tiger addresses her as ‘your majesty’, she can’t help but vow to free him and return him home.

But the bird-filled jungles and cloud-topped mountains of the tiger’s homeland are an ocean away. And not everyone wants the tiger – or Fly – to get there alive.

With dark and dangerous forces working against them, will Fly be able to fulfil her promise and maybe – just maybe – become the queen her tiger knows her to be?

~*~

Gutterling and chimney-sweep Fly lives in a world that is partially Georgian, and partially Victorian – combing inventiveness of one with rumble-tumble of another to create a unique yet familiar London. It is here that she has lived her entire life after being found outside an orphanage with a strange box with strange symbols. Brought up in a tough world where she’s given little education little clothing and taught to steal, Fly soon finds herself face-to-face with a tiger, and this is where her journey begins as she escapes the life she’s known for a faraway land where, the tiger tells her, she is a princess. Here, she must find her family and save the animals who are destined to be sold by those trying to stop Fly gain her throne back.

Along her journey to Barithea, the mystical country she is trying to get to, Fly meets a boy called Jack, who looks remarkably like her. Reaching Barithea is their first challenge: surviving what is to come is their next challenge, and Fly and Jack must work together to defeat the forces that wish to destroy their family and place of birth.

This was a unique story, combining a historical setting with magical realism and a touch of fantasy to create a world that is believable – Barithea could be a real country, one that is undiscovered, yet it also fits the fantasy country bill. As a result, it is perfectly constructed and perfectly fits in with the feel and tone of the novel. This is one that had a great start, a great middle and wonderful ending for all ages nine and older – great to read alone or with someone and share your thoughts.

In Penny Chrimes’ first novel, an exquisite world has been created that readers can lose themselves to, and it captures danger, childlike wonder and a faraway world of royalty, talking tigers and cursed jewels that threaten to ruin entire families and kingdoms if action to protect them and preserve the traditions of the culture and land is not taken by Fly, Jack, and her tiger.

This was a lovely novel, and one I highly recommend. I hope others enjoy it as much as I did.

 

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

deathless girls.jpgTitle: The Deathless Girls

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Historical, Gothic, Fantasy

Publisher: Bellatrix/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

Gothic, intoxicating, feminist and romantic – this is the breathtakingly imagined untold story of the brides of Dracula, by bestselling author Kiran Millwood Hargrave in her much-anticipated YA debut.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

~*~

Kizzy and Lil are Travellers, whose lives change forever when they are enslaved by Boyar Valcar and taken from their community. Lil tells the story – so everything we see is shown through her eyes, and her understandings and feelings for her sister, and those she meets at the castle, like Mira, and her love for her brother and those she fears she will never see again.

In the castle, as they work, rumours swirl around about what happens to the girls who disappear – until Kizzy is taken, and this sets in motion a series of events that leads Mira, Fen and Lil to search for and save Kizzy and brother Kem from an unimaginable fate – but at what cost. and where will everything lead them all?

Set a few hundred years in the past, maybe three or four hundred years, The Deathless Girls follows Kizzy and Lil as they are ripped from a life they know and into one that they will ever escape from. It draws on the myths and stories of Dracula and his brides, and their untold story. The first half move slowly, as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed and as hints towards the fates of Kizzy and Lil are dropped for the reader to follow – and it is done quite cleverly, so whilst it is slowly, it doesn’t feel slow or meander too much.

The turning point, where Kizzy is taken, is where it picks up. More questions arise but these foreshadow what is to come and what the rest of the book had been heading towards. Whilst not the ending I had hoped for, it was perhaps what I had expected from the title and the hints that had been dropped throughout the novel – especially when it came to some of the characters.

This book is aimed at a young adult audience – and I don’t think you need to know the Dracula myths or stories to enjoy it – it can stand alone as its own story, but can also be read alongside a reading of the Dracula stories and myths that people do know. Either would make for an interesting discussion and reading, as each explore different themes. Here, the power of the women involved and their choices and lives, and what leads them to their fate are highlighted. They have agency and personhood, rather than just being a passive victim.

Whilst a vampire novel in a way, the vampire element, and Dracula element only becomes clear towards the latter half. For the first half or so, the divining by Cook and the other things that are hinted at could have led to anything, which is perhaps what makes it powerful and different to what usually constitutes a vampire novel. I’m sure there will be a very keen audience for this book, I I hope future readers enjoy it.

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

what the woods keep.jpgTitle: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Katya de Becerra’s stunning debut combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home – on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden has tried to put the past behind her, and so far it’s worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and flatmate, Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, Del in tow, it begins: neighbours whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible – something that threatens reality itself.

~*~

What the Woods Kept is the haunting and disturbing, yet intriguing and captivating debut of Katya de Becerra. For ten years, Hayden has lived in Brooklyn with her father, following the disappearance of her mother when she was eight in a town called Promise in Colorado near the woods. But for the past decade, Hayden has been able to put the past behind her, focus on getting into college and hanging out with her flatmate, Del. It all starts on Hayden’s eighteenth birthday, when she inherits an old manor in Promise where she spent her early years. Best friend Del in tow, she ventures into the town – and her past, where she is confronted by her nightmares, and the whispered secrets about Hayden’s mother and many secrets kept by those she thought she could trust. Over the course of a few days, Hayden’s life will go from being completely normal to filled with mysterious myths and legends that hint at a supernatural heritage from her mother that Hayden could never have imagined.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a dark fantasy, filled with hints of mythology, science fiction, mystery and magical realism, this is a dark and creepy story for young adults and older readers who enjoy unusual stories, and marks my sixty-eighth book of the year for my Australian Women Writers Challenge and my 134th book overall. It is one that whilst slow to begin with, picks up later on, and using first person perspective, interspersed with reports hinting at Hayden’s troubled past and how events in her childhood were explained. The early reports have a creepy feel about them, where the supernatural ekes in, yet there is also a sense of discomfort, as though there might be a perfectly logical explanation as well that Hayden held back from those writing the reports. It is through these reports, and her trip back to Promise, that Hayden discovers there is no logical explanation, that she’s different in many ways.

This is the crux of the novel – Hayden’s journey to uncovering the truth about her mother, and what happened to her, and Hayden’s own identity and what this means – what her father has been hiding from her all these years. To Hayden, these secrets force to her think about leaving – and ignoring everything in Promise, but something is keeping her and Del there – something that cannot be explained. It is haunting in its plot and execution, with short, sharp chapters that heighten the tension and gives an ebb and flow pace to the story, where, as soon as things seem to calm down, the degree of panic and uncertainty rockets sky high, leaving fates of characters uncertain all the way throughout the novel, and the final revelations are a shock to the reader and characters.

What the Woods Keep it is the first horror-like novel is the first I have read in a while. More mystery, fantasy and speculative fiction than horror, there were elements of several genres woven throughout, but with the primary mystery and mythological connections at the forefront of the novel, and driving the plot and Hayden’s story, to a rather uncertain, and very open conclusion that leaves the reader guessing and stays with you in a haunting way.

Booktopia

The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier *Debut novel*

oceans edgeTitle: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge

Author: Kali Napier

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 30th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Every family has secrets that bind them togetherA heart-rending story of a guesthouse keeper and his wife who attempt to start over, from devastatingly talented debut author Kali Napier.

  1. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression; all they have keeping their small family together are their secrets. Abandoning their failing wheat farm and small-town gossip, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances with the locals isn’t easy.

Into the Hasses’ new life wanders Lily’s shell-shocked brother, Tommy, after three harrowing years on the road following his incarceration. Tommy is seeking answers that will cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily and Girlie really are.

Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is a haunting, memorable and moving tale of one family’s search for belonging. Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences. If you loved The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower’s Companion you will love this story.

‘Kali Napier may be a debut author but she is certainly no novice. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is an incredible novel, a story layered with all of the hallmarks that make for an Australian classic.’ – Theresa Smith

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is a story about a family and the secrets they are hiding from each other, and the small towns they live in – Perenjori, on the wheat farm – Cowanup Downs, and the town they move to at the height of the Great Depression in 1932 – Dongarra (spelt with two r’s at the time) in Western Australia. Ernie, his wife Lily, and their daughter, Girlie have left a failing wheat farm for a new life and new guest-house venture in Dongarra by the ocean. Here, they are determined to hide their secrets – from each other and from the close-knit town – unsure of who they can trust. As hints drop at their secrets – Lily’s Arnott’s tin, Ernie’s frequent absences, and Girlie’s questions about the Feheely family and why Ruby Feheely can’t go to school with her – more secrets are destined to come out, especially when Lily’s brother, Tommy arrives – still scarred from The Great War, after six years apart, and Tommy’s search for his family. The secrets Lily has kept from him will set off a chain reaction of events, where even the most innocent of secrets can harm, and where the Hasses secrets are unlikely to stay secret forever.

Kali has used her own family history as inspiration for this story, and woven these family stories and history together with research and fictional characters to create an engaging story. It is a story about what the love for family does, and what people will do for family and to protect themselves and those they love. Likened to The Light Between Oceans, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge reveal the flaws of humanity and the attitudes of small towns to something a little bit different, and how the people involved cope with this. I’m finding that Australian Women Writers have a wonderful way or using more than just romantic love to tell a story, and when it is used, it fits in with the rest of the story and doesn’t overpower the driving force of the plot. In The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge, Kali Napier has achieved all of this, and diversity within her novel where the characters and plot drive the novel in equal amounts, ensuring that the history is presented realistically and the characters are true to themselves. A wonderful debut that I recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and stories about family love with a depth that allows the flaws as well as the good characteristics of Lily, Girlie, Ernie and the other characters to shine through.

This marks off square two in row two of my Book Bingo and will be linked back to in one of the write ups to come in the next few weeks.

Kali Napier’s debut novel, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award as her first manuscript. It was also a finalist in the Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program.

Booktopia

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

terra nullius.jpgTitle: Terra Nullius

Author: Claire G Coleman

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In the near future Australia is about to experience colonisation once more. What have we learned from our past? A daring debut novel from the winner of the 2016 black&write! Writing fellowship.

the truth that lies at the heart of this novel is impossible to ignore‘ – Books+Publishing

‘Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from. Jacky was running.’

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.

This is an incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.

~*~

aww2017-badgeTerra Nullius begins in an Australia that has a sense of a distant past, a setting that could have ben colonial days between 1788 and 1901, prior to the Federation of the nation, and it begins with a Native (as Claire writes it), running from a mission, conjuring up a very specific, and what is to me. A very sad, gut wrenching image of a young man running to find his true home and family after being ripped away from them by people who lack understanding of their culture. The first third or so of the book has this image and implication – the way the Settlers and Natives speak or don’t speak, the way they are portrayed through the eyes of the other, all suggest a novel about the early British arrivals making contact with the Aboriginal Australians, and their journey throughout the country, and how they dealt with what they saw as a hindrance and the aftermath that has had a trickle down effect into later generations. What Coleman has done though, is using this experience as a basis, is placed the Australia as we know it in an undecided time and place – and instead of the British, an alien race has come down and taken over all humanity and set out to destroy them, regardless of race, and regardless of how humanity, at the stage of the novel, has been working together to combat racism. Faced with interplanetary overlords, the remaining humans must fight to keep their humanity, keep their planet, and come together against a common enemy.

Told through a few perspectives – a spiritual sister, Sister Bagra, whose slow unravelling shows the flaws in thinking of the need to re-educate native populations that permeated throughout colonial times and powers, Johnny Starr, the rebel who slowly realises through contact with the Natives of Earth that perhaps, his people are wrong, showing that following a doctrine and specific way of thinking will often result in rebels who come to aid the down trodden, runaway Jacky, and refugee Esperance, whose stories, along with the head of the so-called protection board and the one who hunts down runaways, form a story that is familiar to many, yet unfamiliar to others, a story that some can identify with, but that others can hopefully learn from, and realise the mistakes of the past, and hopefully, work towards a better future.

Each character presents nuances in the way they react to the world around them, from outright hatred, to feelings of displacement, to attempting to understand beyond what they know, or feelings of superiority. Jacky and Esperance do not lose their humanity – instead choosing to unite their humanity and desire for freedom to fight an enemy that even some of its own people fear, or so it felt in the case of Johnny Starr, who could have acted as an intermediary, the one who wanted to stand up and say this is wrong, but whose own people refused to listen to. It sparked something in my mind of how people during colonisation thought – whether they all just accepted what officials told them without question, or if there were pockets who felt the desire to speak out, and yet didn’t – whether it was fear, or because they were laughed at or ignored – it would be interesting to know how these early contacts happened and whether different people had different experiences – and how listening to the other side and allowing them to be equally involved might have changed the history of Australia – would things have been better? I certainly hope so, for everyone.

Using speculative fiction to tell a narrative like this is powerful. Rather than distance itself from the history of colonisation, Coleman’s novel uses it but reimagines it in an undefined time during the history of Australia – so indistinct that it could be the distant past or near future. In doing so, Coleman has communicated a message of hurt and pain, and has evoked an empathy for the Australian Aboriginals in people who have not experienced what they have, and who also, may not understand it, but through speculative fiction, diverse voices like Claire’s can explore the politics that have influenced them and their families, and slot politics in where readers don’t expect it. I did come to expect some when I came to read this – I didn’t expect the speculative fiction, but rather, a historical fiction or alternate history dealing with colonisation in the eighteenth century. This would have been just as powerful, but the way Claire has done it, is exceptional. It provokes empathy and thought, and illustrates how the colonisation and settlement really was an invasion that led to colonisation and settlement – maybe this would be a better, more rounded way of putting it, and a way to acknowledge everyone involved in the history of Australia.

Black&write! Fellowship

Made up of the Indigenous Writing Fellowships and the Indigenous Editing Fellowships, this is a program designed to recruit, train and mentor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editors to develop Indigenous authored manuscripts. It is a State Library of Queensland project and more information can be found here: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/awards/blackwrite

Goodwood by Holly Throsby

goodwood

Title: Goodwood

Author: Holly Throsby

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th September/October 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It wasn’t just one person who went missing, it was two people. Two very different people. They were there, and then they were gone, as if through a crack in the sky. After that, in a small town like Goodwood, where we had what Nan called ‘a high density of acquaintanceship’, everything stopped. Or at least it felt that way. The normal feeling of things stopped.

 

Goodwood is a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s a place where it’s impossible to keep a secret.

 

In 1992, when Jean Brown is seventeen, a terrible thing happens. Two terrible things. Rosie White, the coolest girl in town, vanishes overnight. One week later, Goodwood’s most popular resident, Bart McDonald, sets off on a fishing trip and never comes home.

 

People die in Goodwood, of course, but never like this. They don’t just disappear.

 

As the intensity of speculation about the fates of Rosie and Bart heightens, Jean, who is keeping secrets of her own, and the rest of Goodwood are left reeling.

 

Rich in character and complexity, its humour both droll and tender, Goodwood is a compelling ride into a small community, torn apart by dark rumours and mystery.

 

~*~

 

Goodwood is told in a first person point of view from the perspective of Jean Brown. It is her story of a period of time during her surge towards adulthood, where she is hiding her own secrets from those closest to her, but also tells the story of two missing people and the response of the town she lives in.

When Rosie White goes missing, the town is sent into turmoil. Whispers about what may have happened – mostly surrounding the idea that she ran away, circulate. Set in 1992, the Belanglo State Forest backpacker murders are woven into the plot – and the town begins to buzz about Rosie’s possible fate if she had walked out of town and tried to get a ride somewhere. When Bart MacDonald goes missing a week later, secrets begin to unravel: Rosie’s family begins to come apart at the seams, and drastic measures are taken to ensure their safety, other residents whisper and do their best to cope, and others hide away and keep the truth to themselves, even from the local police officer, keen to aid everyone as best he can and keep things running smoothly.

As Jean witnesses this, her teenage mind keeps her preoccupied with her own secrets and fascination with the new girl in town, Evie, who arrived in the days before Rosie disappeared. Caught between her own secrets and life, and the desire to know what has happened, and the fascination and worry that such disappearances in a town where people die, but don’t disappear as Rosie and Bart have, Jean’s story is fraught with teenage desire to remain innocent yet at the same time, grow up ad find out who they are. Jean’s secrets are slowly revealed throughout the book and hinted at, but they don’t dominate the story – the storyline involving one of her biggest secrets is handled with care and just happens to be a part of who she is, without making it the large focal point. The novel reaches a climax when the secrets about what really happened to Rosie and Bart start to fall apart, and those who know something begin to come forward, their fear dissolving across the course of the novel. A well-written debut that tells a mystery and a coming of age story that engages the reader, and allows them to try to solve the mystery with the clues that are dropped every now and then.

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

*I received a copy of this from the publisher for review*

ruins .jpg

Title: Ruins

Author: Rajith Savanadasa

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 28th June 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: A country picking up the pieces, a family among the ruins.

 

In the restless streets, crowded waiting rooms and glittering nightclubs of Colombo, five family members find their bonds stretched to breaking point in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Latha wants a home. Anoushka wants an iPod.

Mano hopes to win his wife back.

Lakshmi dreams of rescuing a lost boy.

And Niranjan needs big money so he can leave them all behind.

~*~

Ruins is a book unlike others I have read. Set in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war, shadows of war and threats to daily life still exist. Amidst these shadows, a family is slowly crumbling like the ruins around them. Latha, the servant, desires nothing more than a home, a place she can feel safe. Daughter Anoushka wants an iPod, and to be a modern girl, who doesn’t want to be too traditional. Her brother, Niranjan just wants to escape this world and make his life somewhere else, whilst their parents, Mano and Lakshmi, are preoccupied with the distance forming between them: Mano wants his wife back, and Lakshmi is worried about a lost boy, whose fate is unknown. Each point of view is told in first person, with each character being given a chapter where the reader can explore the world from their point of view throughout the novel. In doing so, the reader is able to understand how each member of the family is affected by the world and the decisions they make: nobody is perfect, they are all flawed – they are human.

The ancient and modern worlds collide: the traditions of class and race, and expectations of men and women of the old world that Mano, Lakshmi and Latha have been a part of collide with the rapidly changing world Anoushka and Niranjan are growing up in. The characters and their worlds are set on a course of collision as secrets are revealed, and a journey to an ancient city reveals prejudices and the family, rooted in the old and the new, begins to unravel.

 

Savanadasa has drawn on an historical event that may not be as well known as some in recent years. It opens up this world to the reader, and allows them to explore it without prejudice, in a way that they can start to explore this Sri Lankan world of Tamils and Sinhalas, of class, race and gender stereotypes and assumptions in a setting that is both confrontational, unapologetic but also, that shows that all humans are flawed, that all humans can have prejudice and that all humans can work together to combat this. Savandasa’s words have an authentic voice behind them – born in Sri Lanka, he knows this world, and can relate to it, and can relate to the modern world he now knows in Australia. Ruins arose from the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2014, and are Savandasa’s debut novel. He is a refreshingly diverse voice in Australian literature, and I look forward to his further works.