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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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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Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

bookshop girl.jpgTitle: Bookshop Girl

Author: Chloe Coles

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hot Key/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:A hilarious tale of female friendship, bookshops and fighting for a cause – perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison.

Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly. and also earn some money.

But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ – it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat.

Time is ticking – but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

~*~

Paige Turner – her real name, not a pseudonym – is sixteen, and works in her town’s local bookshop, Bennett’s. She’s saving up to go away to university, but the impending closure of Bennett’s threatens to ensure she never gets out of Greysworth. Paige and her friend, Holly, and the rest of the staff plan an intervention – protests, a petition – they undertake a month-long campaign to #SaveBennetts, getting local businesses and authors on board, and garnering support from the local community, starting with neighbouring stores and the art school. Here she meets Jamie, and a fellow artist, Blaine, who works at the local stationery store, and is a bit or an anarchist – she wants his support but at what cost?

Bookshop Girl is exactly my kind of book and Paige is a character that is easy to identify with. She’s not perfect and perky all the time – her flaws show through realistically, and they are acknowledged, as is her family reality and what they are going through. Having a character like Paige, more interested in books and studying rather than looks or a boy is a refreshing sight in Young Adult literature – in fact, it is a refreshing thing to see in literature for any age group and demographic. This is a book about standing up for what you love and doing whatever you can to keep it – be it books, family, whatever your cause is – the activism to save the beloved bookshop is what drives the plot in this book.

Seeing a character like Paige – driven by a passion other than wanting a boyfriend – though she does develop a crush, her bookshop, art, family and best friend Holly are much more important to her – is like a breath of fresh air, ad reminds readers that it is okay that they’re not perfect, that they can be the way they want to be, and that being awkward as a teenager or young adult is okay – you don’t have to be perfect. Embarrassing things happen to Paige – and they are relatable events, from dropping personal items out of a bag, to art class and school, and family – Paige is the kind of character girls need to read about for the very reason that she is so genuine and could be any one of us.

The love of books and bookshops in this debut novel from Chloe Coles is lovely and shows that not everyone needs technology to be happy – it is useful, yes, as is shown in Bookshop Girl, pushing the campaign and ensuring the bookstore remains open – but it does not replace the fabulous feeling of a bookstore and the books to be found within the shelves, and the adventures and friends to find.

A funny, heartfelt book about activism, protests and standing up – first and foremost – for what you love and believe in, and friendship in a world so often dominated by the need to be perfect in everything.

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Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

embassy of the dead.jpgTitle: Embassy of the Dead #1

Author: Will Mabbitt

Genre: Children’s/Horror/Ghost Stories

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 12th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meet the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meets the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . .

~*~

Embassy of the Dead opens with Jake preparing for a school trip – as he is dealing with the separation of his parents. On his way home one day, he bumps into a ghostly figure called Stiffkey, who mistakes him for someone called Goodmourning – and gives Jake a box to take care of and deliver. When Jake opens the box, he sets forth a series of events that lead him into the world of the dead, and Undoers – set with the task of Undoing a ghost or becoming one himself. Accompanied by Stiffkey, a ghost fox called Zorro, and a ghost from a girl’s school Cora, Jake sets about trying to find a way to save his life so he doesn’t end up on the other side of the Embassy of the Dead.

His spooky journey takes him into the Embassy of the Dead – where the records of the dead are kept before they crossover, and where Undoers and their ghost companions meet and work. The world of the ghosts has rules – in breaking them, Jake has to pay a price, but he also has the finger to worry about, and Goodmourning to find before his time is up, and he has to leave his body and life behind forever. His adventure will take him far from home – further than he ever dreamed that he would go – and is full of fun, fear and laughs along the way.

Reading Embassy of the Dead was very enjoyable, and I think younger readers will enjoy it too. Aimed at early teenage, around eleven and older, it has fun characters and an intriguing plot that moves in ebbs and flows, at a decent pace that allows for the story to unfold continuously and for secrets to be revealed at the right moments, ensuring the mystery within the story is always there, and continues throughout the novel – and is not resolved instantly.

It is a fun, and quick read, and is also engaging for the reader. Will Mabbitt doesn’t talk down to his readers, and in the world that he has created, is unique and has all the hallmarks of a ghost story, but appropriately written for a younger audience, and those not quite into the full-scale horror stories that are available. Embassy of the Dead is a great start to what will be a very fun series.

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P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

p is for pearl.jpgTitle: P is for Pearl

Author: Eliza Henry Jones

Genre: Young Adult, Literary

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 19th of February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A POIGNANT READ BURSTING WITH HEARTACHE, GRIEF AND SMALL-TOWN FAMILY SECRETS THAT WILL DRAW YOU IN UNTIL THE FINAL PAGE’
– Gabrielle Tozer, award-winning author of The InternFaking It and Remind Me How This Ends

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.

She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.

And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.

From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.


PRAISE

P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.’  Books+Publishin

~*~

Gwendolyn P. Pearson hides the dark family secrets that have plagued her family for years very well, and she is good at it. For years, the small Tasmanian town of Clunes has whispered and spoken about her mother, who died when Gwen was a child, one of two family tragedies that happened within months of each other. Gwen has her best friends, Loretta and Gordon, school and running to distract her – that is, until a strange incident at the cafe she works at triggers a memory, and Gwen must confront her memories. When new kids, Ben and Amber arrive in town, Gwen is torn between letting them be, and befriending them and their aunt. As she tries to hide secrets from everyone and hide from her past, it is Ben who will show her that the surface of someone is not always what they seem, and that it is okay to be angry when you are hurt.

AWW-2018-badge-roseP for Pearl completes my book bingo for the first half of 2018 – this will be in a separate post next Saturday, and then I am embarking on round two, using the same card but hopefully, different books as much as I can. First written when Eliza was sixteen, P for Pearl is the world of tragedy and loneliness seen through the eyes of a teenager whose understanding of what happened is coloured by what she wants to believe, and what, as a child, she was told or led to believe. Through narrative and diary entries, Gwen’s story is slowly revealed, and we see the pain she has been in for years, slowly emerging and bubbling its way to the top following the smashed windows at work.

Gwen’s family – her father, stepmother Biddy, step-brother Tyrone and half-sister Evie, are all key figures in the way Gwen experiences her life, and of them all, she seems to feel closer to Evie at first, and a little distanced from the rest of her family, perhaps feeling a little lost in it all. Tyrone is older – and at first, is rather annoying but later, I found something endearing about him and the way he genuinely cared for Gwen, which comes through gradually as she comes to terms with her confusion and pain. In the end, Tyrone, Ben, Loretta and Gordon are the ones who help her come through her pain and the realisation of the painful family history that has haunted her.

P for Pearl is aimed at teenagers but is a novel that speaks to the grief and complicated events and tragedies in life that we all face and endure. Gwen’s voice is genuine, and works well in the novel, as is the character growth and learning little bits about characters as the novel progresses. A greet novel to check off my final bingo box.

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Ready to Fall by Marcella Pixley

ready to fallTitle: Ready to Fall

Author: Marcella Pixley

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Pushkin Press/Allen and Unwin/Murdoch Books

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A YA novel about a teen who finds hope and a fresh start after a terrible loss, and learns that being strong means letting go

When Max Friedman’s mother dies of cancer, instead of facing his loss, he imagines that her tumour has taken up residence in his brain. It’s a terrible tenant – isolating him from family, distracting him in school, and taunting him mercilessly about his manhood. With the tumour in charge, Max implodes, slipping farther and farther away from reality.

Finally, Max is sent to the artsy, off-beat Baldwin School to regain his footing. He joins a group of theatre misfits in a steam-punk production of Hamlet where he becomes friends with Fish, a girl with pink hair and a troubled past, and The Monk, an edgy upperclassman who refuses to let go of the things he loves. For a while, Max almost feels happy. But his tumour is always lurking in the wings – until one night it knocks him down and Max is forced to face the truth, not just about the tumour, but about how hard it is to let go of the past. At turns lyrical, haunting, and triumphant, Ready to Fall is a story of grief, love, rebellion and starting fresh from acclaimed author Marcella Pixley.

 

~*~

 

Max’s story begins with a flashback to when he was five, and the first time his mum came home from hospital after being sick. And then, ten years later, she has passed away from a brain tumour. Max has watched her slow deterioration, struggling to cope with his own grief as he goes back to school, and as his dad tries to make the best effort he can, but Max just wants to feel close to his mother, which is when his own brain tumour comes into being. Max’s belief that the tumour exists impacts everything in his life, and he begins to become withdrawn, hiding away from friends. When his father sends him to an artsy school – the Baldwin School, Max begins to settle down a little, finding friends like Fish he can talk to. But the cloud that is the tumour is always there, hovering at the edges of his mind – until the day he is forced to face the truth and come to terms with what has happened in his life.

 

This was a surprise arrival from Allen and Unwin – I have only managed to finish it now after a gap in other books presented itself, and found that, as strange as the story felt, it was one where I wanted to know what happened to max, to Fish and I wanted to know more about Lydie and her girls, Soleil and Luna.

 

When I read it, I could feel Max’s grief over losing his mother – it was raw, real and Marcella didn’t shy away from letting Max feel things or bottle them up – she let him exist as the person he was, wary, yet wanting to talk – yet not knowing how to begin a conversation. Throughout it all, I also felt for Max’s dad, whose grief was just as intense and in his own way, he dealt with it and showed his love for Max, though it was hard for him. When it came to Lydie and her twins, I enjoyed getting to know them and came to love them, especially Luna and Soleil as the novel progressed.

 

Of the friends at Baldwin, Fish was my favourite – the one who let Max be who he was, and didn’t judge him, who truly cared, but had secrets of her own. I quote liked Ravi too, because he seemed to temper The Monk, who I didn’t really like and couldn’t understand why everyone did when he came across as quite the bully, trying to get everyone to think like him – at times, I felt Max agreed with him to keep the peace. This showed I think, the dynamics of school and various relationships though, and in the end, it was the ones with Fish, Dad, Lydie and her girls that helped Max the most, and the ones I cheered for – because here we had family love, the love of friends, and romantic love – though this last one was a delightful surprise that wasn’t forced, and that felt real when it happened.

 

Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book when I first got it, I did enjoy it, though I found it hard to pin down a genre – it doesn’t neatly fit into one, and I feel that the books that do this are ones that are either very good, or potentially odd – this one was a little odd, but good – and the execution of the storyline, and anthropomorphising of the tumour made Max and how people deal with their own grief or illness interesting and relatable. A decent, though provoking read for teenagers.

Booktopia

 

Book Bingo Six: A Book With a One-word title, a book published more than ten years ago. 

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Only two books for today’s book bingo post – both of which fit into one of the categories I am filling today, and two more rows have a bingo – Row One Across:

Row #1 – – BINGO

 

A book set more than 100 years ago: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham – AWW2018

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

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

A book more than 500 pages: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

A Foreign translated novel: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner (translated by Niall Seller)

And Row Two down.

Row #2 – BINGO

 

A book written more than ten years ago: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

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

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

A book with a one-word title:Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018, Munmun by Jesse Andrews

A book based on a true story: Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The first square that I filled for this week is a book with a one-word title, and there happened to be two books that filled this square, with one of them filling the other completed square. First, Munmun by American author, Jesse Andrews, a new release book where, in a satirical world based on America, your height is related to your wealth, and where littlepoors struggle to climb up the wealth ladder whilst being blamed for their standing in the society – a reflection on how society treats the vulnerable today. I reviewed it several weeks ago on the blog, and wasn’t overwhelmed by it, though the premise was interesting and there were times that the execution worked well, though I still found some aspects could have been reworked to have a similar effect.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Second is an old favourite, Thunderwith, which fits two squares this week. I first encountered this book in 1998 and still have the same copy that has been sitting on my shelf for twenty years. I’ve been trying to fill each square with at least one book, but this square had so many options, I felt that at least two would work. I also entered Thunderwith into the published more than ten years ago square – it was published twenty-eight years ago in 1990. Lara’s story has layers of emotion that many can relate to, and is set in the Australian bush, in an area a few hours north of me, so reading the familiar names of places I have visited is always enjoyable. I’ve reviewed it here.

So that’s my sixth book bingo of the year, and I’m off to see how Mrs B and Theresa Smith are doing with theirs!

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