Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 wrap-up - and on to 2016

Back in April of last year, I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  Even though I'm not Australian, I'd seen so many interesting historical novels written by women from Australia that it seemed like a worthwhile challenge to pursue.  I had chosen the Miles level: reading six titles, and reviewing four of them.

After I glanced through everything I'd read and reviewed during 2015, I was amazed to discover that I'd completed the challenge and then some.  What a nice surprise!

The four five! books previously reviewed here that fit the criteria are:

Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord (which I absent-mindedly forgot to count at the time) - Biblical fiction about King David
Karen Brooks, The Brewer's Tale - medieval fiction about a female brewer
Kim Kelly, The Blue Mile - cross-class romance during the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Josephine Pennicott, Currawong Manor - gothic/art mystery set in the Blue Mountains in 1945 and the present
Anna Romer, Lyrebird Hill - dual-period mystery set in rural New South Wales

plus I'd read three others which I hadn't reviewed yet.  So here's a bit of info on each.

Kimberley Freeman, Ember Island.  I read this some time ago and didn't take notes so will do my best with a recap.  In the 1890s, Tilly Kirkland flees England in desperation and takes a post as governess to Eleanor (Nell) Holt, the daughter of the prison superintendent on Ember Island, a remote isle in Moreton Bay.  Paralleling her story is that of Nina, a bestselling novelist from Sydney who hopes to break the logjam of writers' block by staying at her late great-grandmother Eleanor's house on the island while getting it repaired.  Nina comes across Nell's childhood diaries and also gets close to Joe, her neighbor.  I didn't expect Nina's story to lead where it did; congrats to Freeman for creating such a daring plot twist for her heroine.  And, hey, Nina writes medieval mysteries, and how many times do you find historical novelists as protagonists?

Di Morrissey, The Valley.  This is a contemporary saga with significant historical segments set in a small artsy town in Australia's Manning Valley. Danni, a city woman, moves there to take up a new painting career and quickly makes a place for herself, almost like she belongs there.  To be fair, it's the town where her grandmother grew up, and she and her mother find themselves researching some hidden family history.  Their story is interspersed with that of Isabella Mary Kelly, a legendary (and real-life) cattle rancher who had a hard time of it as an ambitious female settler in the 1840s. A good part of the novel is taken up by Danni's explorations of the area and mingling with the local residents, and although it doesn't advance the plot hardly at all, I didn't mind because I came to feel at home there myself.

Kate Morton, The Lake House.  This gets my vote for "most unputdownable," and because it came out around my birthday, I considered it a gift to myself!  In the present day, Sadie Sparrow, a detective with the London police on leave after getting too personally involved in a case, comes upon an abandoned, overgrown mansion when visiting her granddad in Cornwall.  The old estate, known once as Loeanneth ("Lake House"), was the scene of an unsolved crime in the '30s; Theo, the beloved toddler son of the Edevane family, disappeared after the family's summer party and was never found. As you can expect from Morton, this is a massively complex and multi-layered mystery, and the characterizations, particularly that of the mother, Eleanor Edevane, were superb.  Maybe because I read so many of these "family secret" novels, I figured out the central mystery and the final twist once a crucial bit of information was revealed partway through.  It seemed the only logical answer, and I knew I was right when I found the story leading in an entirely different direction.  So, perhaps not Morton's best (The Distant Hours holds that spot for me), but still very good.

So there we have it: eight novels by Australian women writers read in 2015.  And maybe now I can count eight books reviewed in all? 

This post will also serve as my sign-up post for the 2016 challenge, in which I'll declare the same goal: the Miles level, with four titles to be reviewed and at least six of them read. 


  1. Congratulations on the successful completion of the AWW Challenge. Pleased you've signed up again. I didn't get around to reading The Lake House last year so it is on my 2016 list. Good luck with this year's challenge.

    1. Thanks - I'm looking forward to participating again and have some upcoming books in mind already. Also, I never got to The Anchoress or The Wild Girl, so I hope to read them soon.

  2. Thanks for sharing this list. I think our birthdays are almost the same day, if I remember correctly, and I had to laugh because I also considered Kate Morton's The Lake House a present to myself! It's also on my top 5 list of historical fiction I read in 2015 on my blog too.

    1. Yes, I remember that too about our birthdays being very close together. Guess we both have good taste in birthday gifts! :) Kate Morton sets the standard for her style of novel, as far as I'm concerned.