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Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

MumShirl with the assistance of Roberta B. Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

Colleen Shirly Perry, better known as ‘Mumshirl’ worked for the Aboriginal Medical Service, recieved an MBE and generally did everything she could for aboriginal people.

My review

It feels quite appropriate to be writing this review on Australia Day/Invasion Day/Survival Day, particularly one on which the debate is not only about the nomenclature of the day and what (if anything) we should be celebrating or commemorating, but also about whether someone such as the husband of the Queen of England should receive the top Australian honour, in circumstances where that honour is itself controversial and where the man is known for making ignorant and bigoted comments, including to Australias First Nations people.

I’ve said in other reviews that books have given me access to a new perspective, a different way of telling the story. This is also true of MumShirl’s autobiography. Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Continue Reading »

Want free books? Check out Shellyrae’s post at Book’d Out explaining the 2015 Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop and offering up two books herself.

Non-Australian residents are eligible for many of the giveaways.

Entries close midnight Tuesday 27 February AEST – better get hopping!

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

In Her Blood by Annie Hauxwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

Everyone is hooked on something.

It’s not that easy to kick the money habit. After the world meltdown forces London’s bankers to go cold turkey, people look elsewhere for a quick quid: the old fashioned East End.

So when investigator Catherine Berlin gets an anonymous tip-off about a local loan shark, the case seems straightforward – until her informant is found floating in the Limehouse Basin.

In another part of town, a notorious doctor is murdered in his surgery, and his entire stock of pharmaceutical heroin stolen. An unorthodox copper is assigned to the case, and Berlin finds herself a reluctant collaborator in a murder investigation.

Now Berlin has seven days to find out who killed her informant, why the police are hounding her and, most urgently of all, where to find a new – and legal – supply of the drug she can’t survive without.

My review

To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I would have stopped reading after the first 30 pages. Continue Reading »

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb

In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings. This is contemporary fiction at its finest.

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2013.

In Melbourne’s Western Suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train-lines, a young black mother is working on a collection of stories.

The book is called FOREIGN SOIL. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the war-path through the rebel squats of 1960s’ Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.

The young mother keeps writing, the rejection letters keep arriving…

My review
I am a big short story fan – and Clarke’s stories did not disappoint.

Clarke is a spoken word performer as well as a writer, and it shows in her writing. Many stories read as as if the characters are speaking to you, a style which always seems incredibly fluent to me.

In addition, Clarke’s empathic range is quite astonishing. She is able to write from the perspectives of a remarkable variety of characters in large number of situations, and all of them seem real.

There is no clear theme, but many characters either have a desire to be go and explore the wider world or else some feeling of being an expatriate.

Clarke is not afraid of exploring the issues that these feelings bring up: clashes of culture, racism, classism, the problems that poverty and other lack of privilege give rise to. Her characters are affected by war and violence; they fall in (and out of) love; they express their anger with their social situation; they have chance encounters with strangers that give them a new perspective. Each story is a window into a larger world, leaving you to imagine what the characters do next – which is precisely what I love about short stories.

This book is highly recommended.

This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

Black silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat on a green background (with some faint writing in the top and bottom thirds), with the words in white: 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Maralinga: The Anangu Story by Yalata and Oak Valley Communities
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

Maralinga: The Anangu Story is our story. We have told it for our children, our grandchildren and their children. We have told it for you.

In words and pictures Yalata and Oak Valley community members, with author Christobel Mattingley, describe what happened in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands of South Australia before the bombs and after.

My review

This book sets out in considerable detail what was lost by the Anangu people – and, as a consequence, what we have all lost – as a result, first, of the Europeans’ overuse of water and timber at the Ooldea Soak (which caused devastation of the local environment) and, secondly, the testing of nuclear weapons by the British at Maralinga.

It is often astonishing to me how much survives, despite the atrocities performed. Maralinga contains anecdotes and memories from members of the communities at Yalata and Oak Valley, such as stories about Wanampi (water snake) and how people found water and food, as well as traditional stories, such as the story of Aru and Makuru. Some community members have also provided accounts of being separated from their families.

The book then moves on to describe how the nuclear tests were managed – or, in many respects, mismanaged, particularly in relation to the Anangu community. The mission was closed suddenly and people were dispersed. Many were moved to Yalata, close to the coast. And the weapons were tested when there were still Anangu people living on their traditional lands – within the “Prohibited Zone”, an area enormously affected by the tests. Of course, the effect of the tests extended beyond the Prohibited Zone, and many people became sick. Later, many more became sick when employed to assist with the clean-up.

Despite all of that, the book ends with hope. The Oak Valley community was established on traditional lands in 1985. Oak Valley has grown and prospered. The people there retain their strong links with those who have remained at Yalata. The final substantive page includes quotes from several children stating what they hope to be doing in ten years’ time.

This is a book which all Australians should read. What happened at Maralinga is among the worst wrongs the government and White Australia committed against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and it is a story too easily overlooked. It also serves as a reminder of the other wrongs committed. And the hope voiced at the end of the book is hope for us all.

This is a review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

Blackboard sign with an arrow up and words underneath 'Nice Beer and Food', then an arrow to the left 'I don't know, maybe dragons (wouldn't risk it)'

Sign outside The Oxford Hotel

Saw this outside The Oxford Hotel on Oxford St, Sydney recently. It made me smile.

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