2012 is the National Year of Reading, which seems like a pretty good reason (not that we need one) to celebrate Australian writers. The Australian Women Writers Challenge was created by Elizabeth Lhuede in response to the gender bias debates of 2011, to participate in the National Year of Reading and to raise awareness for the totally awesome Stella Prize. The goal of the challenge is to read and review books written by Australian women writers throughout 2012, and I've been meaning to participate all year. My list of book by Grouse Aussie Ladies is growing steadily, so I thought I'd do a bit of a summary, now we're halfway through the year. So here's what I've been reading:
Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall I was a very big fan of Leanne's This is Shyness, so I had high hopes for this sequel. And they weren't disappointed. Sinking back into the dark, elusive suburb of Shyness was a little like sinking back into a dream. Except this time, six months later, Shyness is different. Or maybe it isn't, maybe it's Wolfboy and Wildgirl that are different. Shyness pulls you in and wraps you up in a darkness that is both dangerous and utterly compelling.
Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan Okay, so this one's only half Australian, as SRB is Irish. Team Human tells the now-familiar girl-meets-vampire-falls-in-love story, except this time it's from the POV of the girl's best friend. Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, but she doesn't associate with them. Vampires are weird. Then her best friend Cathy falls in love with one of them, and everything is all soulful declarations and longing gazes. Mel is disgusted, and vows to rescue Cathy from an eternity of pretentious speeches and bad poetry. Funny and refreshing, Team Human manages to poke fun at the bit-lit establishment at the same time as delivering a solid, genuine story with a powerful emotional punch.
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan We all know how much I love Margo Lanagan. This latest novel is not quite as harrowing as Tender Morsels, but no less beautiful. It's about the inhabitants of Rollrock Island, a remote fishing community that becomes strange, when the young witch Misskaella learns how to draw a human from the body of a seal. For a price, she will lure a beautiful woman from the ocean. The men of Rollrock are bewitched, and abandon their true wives for these strange, lithe creatures. Generations pass on Rollrock, and the links between land and sea tangle together like seaweed on the beach.
The Truth About Love by Stephanie Laurens I met Stephanie at the Wheeler Centre a couple of years ago, and have terribly only just got round to reading one of her books. A name unknown to most readers outside of the romance genre, Stephanie holds the grand title of being Australia's highest-selling author. The Truth About Love is part of her Cynster series, set in the Regency era. When eligible bachelor Gerrard Debbington lands the opportunity to paint the fantastic but seldom-seen gardens at Hellebore Hall, he jumps at the opportunity. He just doesn't expect to fall in love while he's there. I'm a big fan of the lightness and humour of other Regency writers like Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas, so I found this one a little too gothic for my tastes, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable read.
Only Ever Always by Penni Russon
Claire's world is broken when her uncle Charlie is in a car accident. Clara's world has always been broken - a filthy, corrupt world of gutter kings and wild dogs. These two girls are linked, by music boxes, keys and dreams. Their two worlds start to collide and intermingle, and nothing will ever be the same. Grief, melancholy, survival and identity elevate Only Ever Always to something strange and extraordinary. Like Margo Lanagan and Ursula Dubosarsky, Penni Russon's writing requires a level of focus and commitment from the reader, a commitment that brings ample reward.
Pan's Whisper by Sue Lawson
Shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award. This is the story of Pan, a damaged, broken teen running away from her memories. Pan is taken away from her mother and sister by a social worker, and dumped into a foster home smack bang in the middle of wholesome, middle-class Legoland. As Pan struggles to settle in to her new life, she's haunted by frightening little glimpses of the past. Packed with angst, tragedy and "issues", Pan's Whisper is told with a lightness of touch that rescues it from being a gratuitous "problem novel".
Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson
Obviously I'm a little biased on this one, what with it being written by my mum and all. But I love the Dragonkeeper series, and am totally excited that it's back. Set 400 years after the conclusion of Dragon Moon, Ping is long gone, but Kai is just an adolescent dragon. His wings still haven't grown yet, and he's full of bouncy energy, stubbornness and occasional sulky tantrums. Tao is a young Buddhist monk, living an ascetic life high up in the mountains. When their paths cross, both Kai and Tao must confront some uncomfortable truths about their families, their pasts, and their future paths.
What books by Australian women have you been reading?