AWW 2012 – The Wash Up

2012 Australian Women Writers' reading challengeBack in December 2011, I decided to undertake the 2012 Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge.

I’d decided to take on the “Franklin Fantastic” level of the challenge, which means reading 10 books and reviewing at least 4 of them.

I didn’t complete the challenge successfully – reading only 6 novels, and posting 4 reviews. I intended to do more reviews, and definitely finish ten Oz women’s writers’ books. I still have a densely-packed To Read list (populated with AWW as well as others). Time hasn’t quite run out for 2012, but I doubt that I’ll be reading four novels between now and New Year’s Eve because:

1. Kiddies.
2. Funstering with kiddies.
3. Playing with kids’ presents.

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AWW 2012 REVIEW – Saltwater Vampires (Kirsty Eagar)

Cover of Saltwater Vampires (Kirsty Eagar)

Since I first heard of this novel through Twitter (prolific source of to-be-read refs ever), I’ve been intrigued by the idea of saltwater vampires.

What were they? For some reason, my mind flashed to bayous and the backwoods, alligators and inbreeding.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong! Admittedly, I would’ve been glad to read the bayou narrative, but Kirsty Eagar’s novel is set in a small coastal town in Australia.

The evocation of place is very well done, with the dynamic of the locals servicing regular influxes of tourists and musical festival goers capturing the unglamorous, tedious side of living in holiday zones.

The novel opens with an attack on a young surfer, who is one of the teens at the core of the novel. The group has layers of fractured relationships, and the reasons for why things are the way they are are revealed gradually as the growing vampire danger becomes apparent.

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AWW 2012 Review – The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

Like the typical assiduous parents of today, we’ve been reading to the kids since they were babies.

Having our eldest – who turns 6 at the end of this year – learn to read and write this year has been a magical time for me. Her reading is improving in leaps and bounds, and the hesitancy with which she used to read the one-sentence books she brought home is now gone.

When we go to the library each week, she’ll often find a few books, settle into a beanbag and start reading to herself. Tonight, she read five small books. Just because she wanted to. She reads to her little brother. He’s a big fan.

She still wants to throw a few ‘younger’ books in the pile as she loves the illustrations (as I do), and I’ll find a few short novels that I think she’ll like.

I’ll tell you the narratives I tend towards because I know the topics contrast with what she’s usually immersed in with her peer group: time travel and dinosaur tales, monsters and aliens (particularly dragons), mad scientist and experiments gone wrong, (G-rated) kungfu novels…the ones that are usually badged/branded as “for boys”.

The girls’ novels are all horrendously pink and sparkly and…I just can’t do it. She chose a fairy book last time and I threw in another book about pirates for good measure. Yes, I may be fighting a losing battle. Let me retain a bit of hope for the moment.

ANYway, I recently also found Gabrielle Wang’s The Lion Drummer, on the shelves. I chose it in the hopes that E. would find it fun and interesting and possibly reflecting a life in Australia that had similarities with hers. I try not to be too sledgehammery in my quest to ensure that the kids have a diversity of narratives and characters in their books. I’ve not focused on Chinese Australian or Asian Australian children’s lit. to any great degree, but I am aware of mixing up the material that crosses their cultural radars.

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AWW 2012 review: A Dissection of Murder (Felicity Young)

When I read this Fair Dinkum Crime review of Felicity Young’s A Dissection of Murder by bernadetteinoz, I added it to my already-excessively-long TBR* list. I’m a sucker for historical crime novels, especially when the lead character is female, and this one had the added relish of the protagonist breaking into a new, ‘suspect’ profession as an autopsy surgeon.

I fell into this book with relish. From the first scenes of the suffragette rally gone bad to the denouement, I was hooked.

The narrative opens with the arrival home of newly qualified Dr Dody McCleland, who has returned from Edinburgh where she completed her studies.

The immediate summons to the first job in her new capacity throws the first elements of latent and overt conflict into the mix: a relationship that is long overdue for pruning, the suspicion and open hostility towards her as a woman in what has been a profession for men only, torn loyalties when confronted with her first autopsy cases…and that’s just the first few pages!

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Launch of Chi Vu’s Anguli Ma

Anguli Ma (by Chi Vu; Giramondo, 2012) Image sourced from Giramondo Publishing website

It’s probably appropriate that the evening of Chi Vu’s booklaunch for her Gothic novella was a dark and stormy night.

On 24 April, upstairs at the Sidney Myer Centre, we were cossetted from the fickle weather and treated to drinks and nibblies before the main event.

The launch was hosted by Asialink and Giramondo Publishing, and was a full house.

Giramondo has published quite a few Asian Australian literary works to date, including Adam Aitken (Eighth Habitation), Kim Cheng Boey (Between Stations), Brian Castro (Shanghai Dancing, The Garden Book, and The Bath Fugues), and Tom Cho (Look Who’s Morphing).

Chi’s novella is part of a new series by Giramondo that focuses on shorter works (including poetry, memoir and fiction). Also included in the ‘shorts’ series are Eliot Weinberger’s Wildlife and Michael Wilding’s Wild and Woolly: A Publishing Memoir. There are many more in the pipeline, if the entries on Giramondo’s website are anything to go by.

The formal blurb on Chi (from Giramondo) reads:

Chi Vu was born in Vietnam and came to Australia in 1979. After studying at the University of Melbourne, she worked as a theatre maker, dramaturg, writer, artistic director and arts administrator. Chi Vu’s plays, which include the critically acclaimed and widely studied Vietnam: a Psychic Guide, have been performed in Melbourne and Sydney, and her short stories have appeared in various publications, including The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature.

Chi’s adept practice across forms and projects is infused with a consistent awareness of the constructedness of culture and language, a fierce engagement with emotion, and careful attention to the texture of interactions.

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AWW 2012 – Australian women writers of diverse heritage

After a request for titles from @ElizabethLhuede (http://www.elizabethlhuede.com) for Australian women writers of diverse backgrounds for the AWW 2012 challenge, I thought a blogpost might be in order (as opposed to a squillion tweets).

The list below is composed mainly of Asian Australian women writers as they are the ones I’m most familiar with, having done my Masters thesis on this topic. My PhD also included Asian Australian women writers, though I must admit to not being totally dedicated to keeping up since I moved away from literary studies (about five or so years ago). Apologies if I’ve missed any out – feel free to add them in the comments. Broadly, the authors are women of Asian descent who are based in Australia, and most of the texts are novels.

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AWW 2012 – Review – A Few Right Thinking Men (Sulari Gentill)


This is my first book and review for the AWW 2012 Challege. I must admit to never having heard of Sulari Gentill until I started digging around for recs and lists for the reading challenge late last year.

The reasons why I was interested in, and got excited by, Gentill (besides her being Australian and a woman):

1. Reviews spoke about her meticulous approach to the history in her crime fiction,
2. She was born in Sri Lanka, and
3. The main character, Rowland Sinclair, was not a PI or police officer but an artist, aristocrat, and amateur sleuth (I love an amateur sleuth).

When I first started reading A Few Right Thinking Men (AFRTM), I had to adjust my pacing expectations. I’d just been reading some contemporary crime novels where the pacing was very fast and content deliberately shocking. Gentill’s work is more considered and takes the reader on a mellower ride. She evokes the 1930s Sydney arts scene and various suburban traits subtly, and captures the events that caught the popular imagination in a compelling way (e.g. the controversy of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge and its subsequent opening).

I enjoyed getting to know the protagonists, their politics, and the broader context of Australia during the Depression (of which I was woefully ignorant). Gentill has an adept touch with the historical flourishes and weaves them into the narrative arc well. In clumsier hands, this kind of material can be difficult to wade through. Too much setting up of the context means to me that the author isn’t paying attention to the mode they’re writing in; after all, it’s not a textbook. The complicated politics and factions of the time, which make Left and Right politics today seem incredibly mediocre, are fascinating.

Gentill’s writing brought forth this sociopolitical context and tone, and she populated the story with well-crafted examples of the extreme characters to be found on all sides of the political public sphere. I particularly liked the range of class details the story contained, and the fact that Rowland wasn’t above being critiqued by his friends. His extremely pampered position in society enables much of the plot, and Gentill is careful to present him as eccentric for his class (i.e. happy to ‘slum it’ with hedonistic creative sorts) but not a superhero (e.g. the close encounter Rowland had at the 50-50 club with a member of the sensational ‘razor gangs’). The nuanced way Gentill writes Wilfred (Rowland’s conservative older brother) is also indicative of the character complexity she achieves.

For the most part, the narrative suspense was well retained. There were only a couple of points that stumbled for me: one was guessing the ‘mistake’ that was made with regard to the murder (while the novel’s characters were still talking me through possibilities), and the other was the denouement where Rowland’s unconventional artist friend, Edna Higgins, seemed to slip out of character.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading AFRTM and will be seeking out the others in the Rowland Sinclair series: A Decline in Prophets (released July 2011) and Miles Off Course (Feb 2012). A fourth book is also planned for 2012 release.

AWW 2012 – Reading list possibilities

I’ve just started my first AWW 2012 book today, on my first commute of the year: Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men (Pantera Press, 2010). So far, at 12% on my phoneKindle, going well and enjoying the way the protagonists are being introduced.

Something I may not have specifically stated in my last post is that all my reading for the challenge will be in the form of ebooks. I haven’t actually read a hardcopy book since…2009? This is something I’m mildly ashamed of because I have a whole shelf dedicated to the books I’ve received for birthday and Christmas presents, and I know they are sulking. My buddy, Boy Meets Book, knows me way too well and gave me a voucher to buy ebooks for my last birthday. This hardcopy book drought may be broken very soon, though, as one of the presents I received recently was Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. PD JAMES does P&P! I was a helpless squeeing fangirl at the thought…ahem. So, yes. This James book is begging to be read. I also have Michael Ondaatje’s latest looking accusingly at me every time I walk into the study.

I’ve been meaning to list the possible books I’ll be reading for the AWW 2012 Challenge. I’m happily scavenging recs from the AWW Challenge goodreads group, as well as in the flow of the Twitter streams, so this listing is highly provisional and grounded in authors rather than specific books. My list will include:

  • Sulari Gentill (as mentioned above) – Only heard of Gentill very recently, and her first two novels are out. Apparently, she has her 3rd and 4th books coming out this year, the over-achiever!
  • Kerry Greenwood – Have read all of the Corinna Chapman series and am taking my time moseying through the Phryne Fisher books. Haven’t read any others, though, and this may well change.
  • P.M. Newton – Have had The Old School on my to-read list for a long time – since it came out, actually!
  • Tara Moss – Her new book, The Spider Goddess, is recently out. I’ve read every Moss book thus far. I never expected to do so.
  • Kylie Chan – The covers of Chan’s books have always made me do a double-take. One part of me sneered and thought, “Orientalist trash!”; another part of me squeed and thought, “Orientalist trash!” First up here, I must state that I haven’t read any of Chan’s work yet so my impression is based purely on the book covers (and we all know the dangers therein…). The intercultural aspects of the novels (and author, it must be said) intrigue me.
  • Leigh Redhead – I’ve never managed to read one of Redhead’s books, even though I’ve been wanting to for years.
  • ETA: Melina Marchetta – She’s already on my goodreads list!
  • I’m much less informed about the area of Oz women’s romance, but am wading around in various rec. lists.

Love the smell of a challenge in the morning?

In a bloggy and real-life first, I’m signing up to the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge. I’ll probably be a “Dabbler” (more than one genre; concentrated in crime and romance fic at the rate I’m going) and am aiming to be at the “Franklin-fantastic” level (read 10 and review 4, with at least 1 more substantial review).

The last time I read for a challenge was in high-school and I was fundraising for something worthy. I’ve avoided them till now because:

a) the challenges never engaged me,
b) I didn’t like feeling like I was under the gun in my leisure time, and
c) I didn’t quite see the point of the challenge’s outcomes (when it wasn’t a straightforward fundraising read-a-thon-type gig).

So, what has changed?

Well, I’d have to say it’s partly Twitter and its ability to create instant cohorts, momentum, and connections that cut-across so many traditional social barriers. I like the idea of blogging alongside others who are doing the challenge and taking on their recommendations and suggestions. This blogging challenge format has been around for ages, and I’ve seen it used for projects such as book writing (e.g. NaNoWritMo, AcBoWriMo), crafting, baking, and other pursuits, and I’ve always liked peering vicariously at the results of others’ efforts. Thought it was time to step away from the sidelines.

Another reason that’s led me to take up the AWW2012 challenge is that, since I started commuting to the CBD and reading on my phone, I’ve churned through novels at a rapid rate. I read the entire series of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (aka Game of Thrones series) – 5 novels – in an unhealthily short time because I was totally sucked into Westeros. I’ve also discovered Tess Gerritsen, finished all the Corinna Chapmans to date, read the biographies of Tina Fey and Simon Pegg (not to mention Gok Wan and Stephen Fry), consumed The Passage (Cronin) and am most recently reading Zone One (Whitehead).