On Australian Women Writers. You are amazing.

You may have read that Jody’s going through a bit of a reading slump at the moment. Fortunately, while she is struggling, I’m devouring some of the best books I’ve read this year. Say goodbye to slump days, and hello long train and plane trips to nowhere, I say! Isn’t it just the best feeling when you have a long stretch of time to fill ahead of you and the book you’re reading makes it go by in a flash?

What really impressed me about the books I’ve been inhaling is they’re all Australian… and they’re all written by women. I know we’ve waxed lyrical many times about the quality of literature in this country but it continues to amaze me. This year I’ve really grown into a passionate advocate of Australian writing, with good reason.

So, with that in mind I signed up Jody and I to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, whereby we challenge ourselves to read a certain amount of works written by Australian women. Child’s play I say. Why didn’t we do this months ago, Jody says? We’ve already read SO many without even noticing! Out of all of the beautiful, astonishing, incredible books we’ve blogged about this year, by my (rough) calculations, at least half have been by Australian women. Helen Garner, Peggy Frew, Cath Crowley, Emily Maguire, Anita Heiss, Fiona Wright, Liane Moriarty, Sofie Laguna, Inga Simpson – the list goes on and on and on. And that’s only the tip, there are so many more we’ve read but not had time to review.

Is it Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world that makes for such diversity and quality among our female writers? Is it our education system? Is it the passion we have for our culture? Is it courage? It takes great courage to pick up the proverbial pen and write in a country that has such richness in landscape and story, and yet has an “ingrained, unconscious bias” against female writers.

I do know this: I am so proud of the literature produced by women in this country. I know some argue it could be more diverse. I know some argue it could better reflect the society we live in. But if you ask me, it’s getting there – you just need to know where to look. And apologies to those blokes out there, but I look to women.

I look to women because I feel their empathy. I look to women because I feel their passion. I look to women because they, and their characters, are vibrant and fierce and funny and kind. I look to women because I think we need a louder voice in this country and I know that voice can be found in literature. In the delicate, curious, exploration of our past, in the ardent advocacy of a different, more all-encompassing future. When they write, I listen. What they write, I learn from. So please, from one reader, from many readers – write more, and know that we are listening.

Amanda x

 

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My TBR pile and hitting a reading slump

Well, it’s about time I contributed some content to our blog. I’m sure Amanda is starting to think she’s all alone with no one to help. My problem is I haven’t read anything in a few weeks. I’m really struggling to get excited by a new book and it’s starting to bother me – a lot.

I have books on my shelf I’ve been waiting to read. Some of them I even bought as soon as they were released, but now for some reason they’re just not grabbing me. So, to help me get reading again I decided to share with everyone a selection of books on my TBR pile. There are some great new releases and some old favourites just waiting to be read, and I have no idea why I don’t want to right now. Is anyone else suffering reader’s block?

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

I loved the cover of this book so much I had to have it. And when I saw it’s set in Tudor England I was ecstatic because that is one of my favourite time periods. It tells the story of Arbella Stuart, niece to Mary Queen of Queen of Scots and presumed successor to Elizabeth I. She’s been in isolation for most of her life but as we all know, those close to the crown are never safe! I always find it interesting when someone whose life is so strictly controlled suddenly goes against the grain. I am hoping that’s what happens anyway!

The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

I have been watching this book pop up again and again on social media and the premise is fascinating. It’s set in the late 1920s in Paris and it’s about James Joyce’s daughter Lucia. From what I understand, this is a fiction based on the few details known about Lucia’s life, who almost disappeared from history. Despite her talent and ambition she leads a tumultuous life, one that sounds entirely gripping.

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Obviously I was going through a bit of an historical fiction phase with these ones! This novel is set in America during the 18th Century, in particular the period when Thomas Jefferson is the American Minister to France. The protagonists are his 15 year old daughter, Patsy, and Sally Hemings, a slave girl of the same age. It’s been compared to Gone with the Wind, which is a big call but in my mind that makes it a must read.

Thunderlord by Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah J. Ross

The Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley is one of my all time favourite series. Seriously. I’m always trying to get Amanda to pick these up. I own and have read every book in the series and I’ve enjoyed every one. What makes Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books stand out from others is the depth and nuance of the characters and the way she makes the world of Darkover and the people come to life. Thunderlord is a brand-new novel in the Darkover universe, written by collaborator Deborah J. Ross. Read it! Please! Then you can tell me how good it is and I will be inspired to pick it up!

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

I’ve read A Suitable Boy twice in the space of 15 years and thought it was about time to read it again. For a while there I was sure it was going to be the one to get me out of my slump. Some people might find this book a challenge at over 1300 pages but I promise you it really doesn’t seem that long when you are reading it. It’s truly an epic family saga at it’s best – a love story – a story of newly independent India and how Lata’s destiny is intertwined with that of her country.

Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington

What do you know…another history book! Australian this time. I’m really going around the world here. Caroline Overington is one of my favourite Australian authors and I’ve read every book she’s written. I was also lucky enough to meet her at an author talk we held at the library. The Last Woman Hanged was a book Caroline spoke passionately about writing and one I know I will enjoy. It’s the story of Louisa Collins, who went through four trials in the 1880’s before being found guilty of killing both her husbands with arsenic. I will never tire of Australian history!

Elianne by Judy Nunn

I’ve read The Ghan and Beneath the Southern Cross by Judy Nunn and I enjoyed both. They’re light reads often with a bit of a serious undertone and this one is set on a sugar cane plantation in Queensland.

I have to admit this is only a small selection of the books at the top of my TBR pile. Surely I should be able to find one here to get me back reading again. If anyone has any suggestions to help me pick up a book again, I’m keen to hear them!

Jody

It’s a wrap! June reads and mini-reviews

It feels like it’s been a big reading month, and we’ve been struggling to keep up with writing reviews for them all, so we thought we’d try a June wrap-up! The full book reviews should come later, but here’s a snapshot of what we’ve read this month:

Jody

The Wife’s Tale by Christine Wells: A really enjoyable dual timeline read. One of those rare books that manages to have you totally absorbed in both storylines and leaves you aching to know how the main characters’ stories will end. I loved this book and since finishing it have been on the lookout for something similar; but nothing seems to live up to the standard!

I went a little Nicole Trope crazy this month. I read three of her books, Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence and Hush, Little Bird and I liked every one. Although all of the books dealt with some confronting subject matters – which at times made me question why am I reading them – I couldn’t stop. I found the characters grabbed hold of me and I just had to find out how their stories ended. While these books may not be light, I enjoyed reading them and stepping outside my comfort zone.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: Yes I admit this isn’t the first time I’ve read this book. But you know what – I don’t care. I’m laughing, cringing and enjoying it even more the second time round. Hopefully this should satisfy my never ending need for Liane Moriarty books before Truly Madly Guilty is released in the next few weeks. My name is Jody and I am Liane Moriarty crazy!

Amanda

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: I loved Chris Cleave’s Gold when it came out a couple of years ago and while this book deals with an entirely different subject, it’s just as much of a page-turner. It’s a fascinating glimpse into life in London during World War II, seen through the eyes of the female protagonist, Mary.

Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton: A long-form romance recently nominated for a RUBY award (congratulations Annie!). There’s a depth to it I wasn’t expecting, particularly in dealing with current issues around environment and mining.

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith: There’s been stacks of excitement around this book and I enjoyed it, although for me it didn’t really live up to the hype. I’m sure it will be nominated for various awards though. I just felt like there could have been a deeper exploration of the characters and the setting.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch: The second in the Peter Grant series which I started reading earlier this year. While the books are considered a kind of criminal fantasy, they’re really funny and entertaining. A great holiday read!

The Dry by Jane Harper: A crime novel set in rural Australia? I’m sold. What seems to be a fairly straight-forward murder-suicide turns out to be so much more. A gripping read for those who loved all those mega-popular, fast-paced crime novels like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon: Winner of the 2016 Australian Vogel Prize. Set in Russia during the Freeze and then later, throughout Gorbachev’s promise of openness. I wasn’t familiar with this period of history, which made it a little hard to follow at times. A book about memory, and grief and the impact it has on our lives over generations. Full of beautiful, powerful imagery.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: A young adult fantasy book so different to anything else I’d read this month. I picked it up for exactly that reason, needing a break from the seriousness of what I’d been reading. Sarah J. Maas has an incredible talent for drawing you into the story and keeping you there even if you feel a little like ‘oh, another strong, female character battling against the odds’ – where have I seen that before? *eye roll*

I think we’ve probably forgotten some, but it’s definitely been a great month for reading. If only there were just more hours in the day and we didn’t need to sleep… or work!

Happy reading!

Jody & Amanda

On holiday reading and suitcase book-squishing

I am lucky enough to be leaving this morning for a little holiday. We’re heading to Western Australia for few days, to see the beaches, rest, relax and explore the other side of this country. I am excited, more than anything, to have some time for some dedicated reading! I do always find it difficult to relax when I’m in a new place though and not rush off exploring every corner and jam-packing our days full of tours, walks and drives to little towns. There’s just so much to see!

Anyway, my husband’s incredulous look when I was squishing books into our suitcase was met with a bit of a hopeful shrug. We can only hope right? Hope that we don’t go over the luggage weight limit at least!

I thought you might be interested in the books I’m taking with me, so here you go:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker: This is a beautiful-looking book for children aged nine and over, with illustrations by Jon Klassen. I picked it up at the Sydney Writers Festival local schools day, where I was lucky to hear Jon talk about his experiences as an illustrator. I read the first chapter and was completely hooked!

Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton: I’ve been wanting to read this book since we interviewed Annie Seaton recently. It’s a bit outside my comfort zone, but my mum read and loved it and we have pretty similar reading tastes, so it’s definitely getting squished in there! It should be a nice, light, holiday read.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: A few years ago I read Gold by Chris Cleave and despite it being about sport (which isn’t entirely my thing), I loved it. The competition between the two female cyclists was a glimpse into a world that was completely foreign to me. I haven’t read too much about this new title, but I have to give it a go after that!

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon: This book won the Australian Vogel Literary Award for 2016. The blurb indicates a fascinating story as well, about Gorbachev and Russian history which, to be honest, I haven’t read a great deal about. This is going straight to the top of the pile.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch: I really enjoyed the first book in this series – you can see my review here – and I have a feeling the second will be the perfect holiday read!

Do you think that is enough? I’m thinking maybe I can just squeeze in one more…maybe the next Elena Ferrante, or one of the others piled up next to my bed that I haven’t quite got to yet. I suppose they have bookshops in WA though; does anyone know any great ones?

Amanda x

 

On long weekend reads and optimism

We’re just at the start of a long weekend here in Australia and, as always, the most important thing to have sorted for such an event is our TBR pile. We’ve been scouring the bookshops for weeks to get ready for four days off work and some serious reading time (you need to be optimistic about these things!).

We always have many, many, books lined up for these mini-breaks because we just don’t know what we will be in the mood for. Do you find this? It’s like going to the supermarket the day before they close for public holidays. You have to stock up just to make sure that you have plenty to pick from! That could just be us though…we’re probably a bit odd. But maybe you feel the same? It’s always nice to feel we’re among friends.

So, we know we won’t get through all of these, but this is what we’ve got ready to go this long weekend:

Jody

The Midnight Watch – David Dyer: When I found out this book was about the Titanic, I  wanted to read it straight away. I know we all know what happened to the Titanic, but I have never read about about it (or watched the movie) so I am really looking forward to this one.

Wild Light – Robyn Mundy: I picked this one up simply because it is a new book by an Australian author and I love to support as many Australian authors as I can.

The Light on the Water – Olga Lorenzo: I can’t actually remember where I came across this book all I knew is that after reading the blurb I really wanted to read it.

The Edge of Lost – Kristina McMorris: I loved the cover on this one! Then I read the recommendation on the front cover and I was even more intrigued.

The Life of Elves – Muriel Barbery: This one is by the same author who wrote ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ which I haven’t read but I know was very popular. So I decided to pick it up and give it a go.

 Amanda

The Mitford Girls – Mary S. Lovell: I’ve been listening to ‘Chat 10, Looks 3’ with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales and they recommend this book. It’s a little outside my comfort zone, but I’m ready to give it a try!

Small Acts of Disappearance – Fiona Wright: Essays on hunger which sound fascinating, albeit a bit confronting. One from the Stella Prize Short List, although I first saw it on Kate Forsyth’s blog and have been meaning to dip into it for ages!

The Lyre Thief – Jennifer Fallon: My wonderful mum bought this one for me from her local bookshop, and I’m always keen for a new fantasy series. Hopefully it’s as good as it sounds.

The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante: I enjoyed My Brilliant Friend and I’ve heard the second title title in the series is even better so fingers crossed.

Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn: I actually never read Hearn’s well-known Tales of the Otori series, but I have loved her other fiction titles so I picked this one up out of curiosity. Maybe I will love it so much I will have to go back and read the others!

What do you have on your TBR pile at the moment? Any recommendations?

 Jody & Amanda x

On SR and David Bowie

I was talking to my husband on the phone recently when he said to me, “Listen to this: David Bowie was once asked, ‘what is your idea of perfect happiness?’ and he replied simply, ‘reading.’” He was reading this article from Huff Post.

Bowie’s death is a tragedy, but he left an incredible legacy and with that simple response he managed to give Jody and I an answer to the question that had been plaguing us for days. What would we call this blog that we so wanted to start? We knew we wanted it to involve books and reading, we didn’t want to it be too obscure because we try, as much as possible, to tell it how it is.

Bowie will continue to inspire others largely with his writing, with his words. You can’t deny the power of the written word, from the smallest sentence on Twitter, to a 900-page tome. This hasn’t changed over the years. The way in which we read may have changed, but our desire to read, to learn from other experiences, to be inspired, educated, entertained. It will always remain.

So, in that moment I stopped, my brain sung out ‘yes!’ That’s what it is. Reading is an act of perfect happiness and a great deal of that comes from its simplicity. Picking up that book and reading those words, to be transported to an entirely different world.

So. Simply Reading was born. And with it we hope, great challenges, great fun and most of all, great reads.

Amanda x