Rebellious Daughters – a review

rebellious-daughtersWhat makes girls and women conform or rebel? What challenges have Australian women faced growing up in ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse families over the past sixty-plus years?

Rebellious Daughters, edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman, is a collection of stories about growing up, parenting and being parented, by seventeen Australian women of diverse ages and backgrounds, including Greek, Jewish, Asian, Anglo and Bosnian. It is book-ended by – I suspect – the two oldest contributors, Marion Halligan and Jane Caro. Halligan’s piece harks back to a time when the contraints on girls growing up were just as much internal as external; when saying the word “brothel” (which happened to rhyme with her “maiden” name) wasn’t the done thing in polite society, and that norm was adopted by the author almost unquestioningly. Caro’s contribution, by contrast, reflects on a time of vastly different mores; when she not only shows no affront when her teenaged daughter swears at her (“If you’re so keen on fucking counselling…why don’t you fucking go?”), she actually takes her daughter’s advice. Elsewhere in the collection, the narratives reflect a huge shift in Australian women’s lives, the result of changing attitudes towards sexuality, contraception and marriage; religion and cultural beliefs; as well as expectations of women regarding motherhood and careers. Along the way, it ranges over themes of obedience and disobedience; mental health and illness; travel and education; pregnancy and mothering; as well as the sometimes fraught choice of whether or not to have children. Weaving through them all is a common theme: how can one, as a woman, grow up to lead a “good” life, without having to be a “good girl”?

For me, there were a number of standout contributions. Some made me laugh, including Lee Kofman’s “Me, My Mother and Sexpo” and Michelle Law’s “Joy Ride”. Others moved me to tears, including Halligan’s “Daughters of Debate” with its “landscape of loss”, and Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones’ “Just Be Kind”. Some use metaphor as a vehicle for carrying complex emotions, such as guilt and love in Leah Kaminsky’s “Pressing the Seams”; while Rochelle Siemienowicz,┬áin “Resisting the Nipple”, takes a more psychoanalytic approach, quoting Jung as a way to help navigate such complexities. Several times I found myself holding my breath at the raw honesty of some of the contributors as they revealed their flaws in relation to the choices they have made, such as when reading Caroline Baum’s account of her estrangement from her parents in her early forties in her piece titled, “Estranged”.

The winner of the 2014 Stella Prize, Clare Wright, is quoted on the cover: “This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that has given me such unadorned pleasure.” “Pleasure” doesn’t quite cover it, for me. After reading Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones’ piece, I took to Twitter, declaring I felt “gutted”. The author got back to me, saying, “Glad you enjoyed it (is enjoyed the right word???!)” I responded, “A new word needs to be invented, embracing mangled, uplifted, saddened and heartened. With just a touch of amused thrown in.” That new word – if it existed – might apply not only to Henry-Jones’ piece, but also to the entire collection. It’s well worth a read.

~

Title: Rebellious Daughters: True Stories from Australia’s Finest Female Writers
Eds: Maria Katsonis & Lee Kofman
Publisher: Ventura Press
Date: 2016
ISBN: 9781925183628

This review forms part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Our Eva by Anna Jacobs

Our Eva JacobsThis saga has been sitting on my To Be Read pile for ages. I picked it up because I’m determined to read more historical fiction, stories about our ancestors and nation-building, having been inspired by tales told to me by my 93-year-old aunt who is writing her memoirs. How do authors bring the past alive? How do they incorporate research without swamping the reader with unnecessary detail? These are the questions on my mind when I read.

Our Eva by Anna Jacobs was first published in 2002, Book 3 in the Kershaw Sisters series, which includes Our Lizzie, Our Polly and Our Mary Ann. The family hails from Lancashire, where Jacobs herself comes from, although when she wrote Our Eva she was living in Mandurah in Western Australia. When I mentioned to Anna on Facebook that I was finally reading one of her novels, she quipped, “Only seventy-four more to go.” She celebrated her 75th publication in May of this year! Surely one of Australia’s most prolific authors – if she counts as Australian. Some of her books do include an Australian setting, I’ve discovered. Coincidently, when I asked a local librarian the other day to help me find any fiction which deals with bounty migrants from England to Australia in the 1840s, one of the strands of my own family background, she recommended Jacobs’ book, The Group Settler’s Wife. I looks like I might have to go on a Jacobs reading binge. It won’t be a hardship.

Our Eva has all the hallmarks of a rattling good yarn, as my elderly aunt might put it. I remember hearing Jacobs speak at a writers conference years ago, giving advice about plotting: “Put your heroine up a tree and throw rocks at her.” Our Eva exemplifies that in every respect. Eva Kershaw is the less-attractive sister among the Kershaw girls, happy to live a quiet life with her guardian Alice at the end of the Great War, with the expectation that she will eventually inherit Alice’s estate and be well-provided for. When Alice is dying, the unexpected arrival back from the war of her estranged and possibly ne’er-do-well nephew Gus puts an idea into her head. Instead of leaving her estate to her unmarried ward unencumbered, she changes her will. You can guess at some of the mayhem that ensues when she dies and Eva discovers her plan.

With a spin on the marriage-of-convenience trope and insights into village life in Lancashire in the 1920s, Our Eva romps over 500 pages. The prose is simple, the characterisation more than two-dimensional, the twists enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

I’m looking forward to my next Anna Jacobs yarn.

~

Author: Anna Jacobs
Title: Our Eva
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton, 2002
ISBN: 0340821329

I’m submitting this book as part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 – even though I’m not sure it qualifies. What do you think?

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Hired By the Brooding Billionaire by Kandy Shepherd

hired by brooding billionaireOne thing you can be certain of when you pick up a romance novel written by Kandy Shepherd, you’re in for a well-written, light-hearted read. It’s no accident Shepherd subtitles her website: “fun, feel-good fiction!” Her scenarios are fun; the inevitable happy ending is fun. Yet there are often surprising elements in the writing that adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

In Hired By the Brooding Billionaire, Shepherd rewrites the familiar and favourite trope of Beauty and the Beast. The “Beast” is Declan Grant, a man who has hidden himself away after the death of his beloved wife. He’s inordinately rich – hence the “billionaire” of the title – having made his fortune from a computer game. Despite his wealth, Declan doesn’t find life easy; he has shut himself away inside his Sydney-Eastern Suburbs mansion, rarely seeing daylight, and letting the garden his wife had once cherished grow unkempt.

Into his life walks Shelley Fairhill, not your usual “beauty”, but an amazon-like landscape gardener. The two meet when Shelley approaches Declan for work, wanting to bring his garden back to its former glory. She recognises it as having been designed by “probably Australia’s most famous landscape designer” of the 1920s, Enid Wilson, a woman Shelley wrote her dissertation on at uni. (It’s pretty clear Wilson is based on the real-life Australian landscape designer, Edna Walling, and this is the kind of gently feminist reference I’ve come to expect from Shepherd’s writing.) Despite his need for solitude, Declan is persuaded to let Shelley loose on the garden, and becomes increasingly attracted to her as a muse: he needs a model for his next female-starring computer game.

Shelley is passionate about her work and becomes equally passionate about her employer – this is a romance, after all; but more than Declan’s tragic past throws doubt on their chances for a “happy ever after”. For one thing, Shelley has a desire to work in the most famous gardens in England, and she’s not going to let a man stand in her way.

Don’t get me wrong: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire isn’t a feminist romance. In many ways, it’s a typical Mills and Boon novel: traditional, warm and sweet. But it does portray Shelley as strong-minded and independent; she doesn’t have to rely on a man for her success or happiness, though her “happy ever after” with Declan is welcome when it comes.

~

Author: Kandy Shepherd
Title: Hired By the Brooding Billionaire
Publisher: Mills and Boon
Year: 2015
ISBN13: 9780373743506

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016.

Disclaimer: Kandy Shepherd is not only a fellow Blue Mountains romance writer, she is also a friend and critique partner.

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