Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 – the final tally

imageTime to wrap up what I read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge during 2016.

This year I read 35 books and reviewed 12 – up on my reading tally and down on my reviewing from previous years. Although I kept reading in the latter part of the year, I didn’t find the time or energy to review. This was especially true if I left too much of a gap between finishing and putting fingers to keyboard. I tried to make the effort when a publisher sent me a review copy. Of the books I read but didn’t review, the majority were bought or borrowed from the library – or, in the case of My Sister Rosa, won in a competition. (Thanks, Newtown Review of Books!) Some books were chosen simply to help me fill the AWW Challenge Bingo cards. Others were selected as part of my research into 19th- and early 20th-century Australian life, something I’ve become interested in since helping my 93-year-old aunt with her memoirs and researching our family tree.

In terms of categories, my reading lived up to my blog title, “Devoted Eclectic”. Books read included psychological suspense, classics, literary, historical and speculative fiction, YA, “women’s fiction”, romance and nonfiction. Books reviewed tended to be what I think of as “intense human drama”, stories that got my heart and mind churning. Of these, the one that has stuck in my mind most is Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway. I’m hoping it gets to the Stella Prize long list – if not further! A book I wished I’d made the effort to review is In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones. A very moving debut.

So, here are the books, including hot links to reviews (the first twelve). The remainder includes some books I reviewed on Goodreads but, as they only contained a few lines, I haven’t bothered giving links. (Though every little review helps the authors’ visibility, I’m told. I must update the rest!)

  1. That Devil’s Madness by Dominique Wilson
  2. The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo
  3. Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla
  4. I For Isobel by Amy Witting
  5. Out of the Ice by Ann Turner
  6. Dying in the First Person by Nike Sulway
  7. Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly
  8. A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
  9. Hired By the Brooding Billionaire by Kandy Shepherd
  10. Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp
  11. Our Eva by Anna Jacobs
  12. Rebellious Daughters eds Maria Katsonis and Lee Koffman
  13. Crown Prince’s Chosen Bride by Kandy Shepherd.
  14. All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld (audio book)
  15. Defying Doomsday eds Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench
  16. Like I Can Love by Kim Lock
  17. The Group Settler’s Wife, a novella by Anna Jacob
  18. A Pennyworth of Sunshine by Anna Jacob
  19. Intensive Care by Nikki Edwards
  20. Desperate Deception by DB Tait
  21. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
  22. Wild Lavender by Belinda Alexandra
  23. Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
  24. In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones
  25. Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven
  26. Hopscotch by Jane Messer
  27. The Time of the Peacock by Mina Abdullah and Ray Mathew
  28. The Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
  29. Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill
  30. Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright
  31. The Safest Place in London by Maggie Joel
  32. Greek Tycoon’s Mistletoe Propoal by Kandy Shepherd
  33. A Match Made in Mistletoe, a novella by Anna Campbell
  34. Millionaire Under the Mistletoe, a novella by Kandy Shepherd
  35. Festive Deception, a novella by DB Tait

How did you go with the challenge? Are you going to participate next year? You can sign up for #aww2017 here. And a reminder that we now have a new Facebook group for AWW challenge participants, and another for authors’ and publishers’ news. Hope to see you there!

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Reblogged: Thank you for 2014! What’s new for 2015

AWW 2015 badge

AWW 2015 badge

Reblogged from the new Australian Women Writers website.

In 2014, the Australian Women Writers challenge attracted 1578 reviews of books by Australian women (and there may be more to come). That’s a fantastic achievement and I want to thank you all – readers, bloggers, writers and the AWW team volunteers.

As you probably know, the AWW challenge was established at the end of 2011 in response to discussions about gender bias in the reviewing of books by women. (If you’re new to the challenge, you can read more here.) Although I ran the challenge for the first year, it has always been a team effort, with the real work being done by the many book bloggers – mostly women and a few men – who for the past three years have been reading and reviewing books by Australian women. We have posted our reviews on blogs, Goodreads and other platforms; chatted about them on Twitter and Facebook; talked about the challenge at festivals; seen it mentioned on writers’ centre websites and in mainstream media; and we’ve encouraged others to join us – both as participants and as volunteers to help run the challenge websites. Behind the scenes, the AWW team has been posting regular round-ups of the reviews linked to the challenge, updating the database with images of book covers, and checking links entered in the “Link Your Review” form.

In my case, as well as contributing to the above tasks, I’ve tried to read posts by challenge participants, responding sometimes with a “like”, sometimes with a comment. Via Twitter, I’ve broadcast reviews of participants who tweet including “@auswomenwriters” or the challenge hashtag, and I’ve kept an eye on the AWW Facebook page. As much work as this involves, I know there are many reviews I haven’t read or responded to, and I feel I’ve done comparatively little to show challenge participants how much their efforts are appreciated. At least one person I know, an early member of the challenge, didn’t sign up this year after noticing their “likes” and “comments” on their reviews on Goodreads had dropped off.

This signals to me the importance of continuing to invite others to help build a community of readers, and show participants just how much their reviews are contributing to something bigger. This year saw the #readwomen2014 campaign on Twitter, a global movement with similar aims to the AWW challenge. It was a great success, but ongoing work is still needed. Both VIDA and the Stella Award published counts of reviews in literary journals during 2013. The counts demonstrate that the number of reviews of books by women continues to lag behind the number of reviews of books by men. We won’t know the count for 2014 until next year – and hopefully there’ll be an improvement. But whatever it is, we can be confident that we’re doing our bit to help raise the profile of this important issue.

Why is it important?

Let’s not even go down the track of discussing the gender pay gap, statistics on violence towards women, the decreasing number of female CEOs and parliamentary ministers, or how the lack of acknowledgement of women’s achievements generally may help to perpetuate entrenched injustices. Let’s focus on the writers. The AustLit account on Twitter recently noted that its database has entries for 38 500 individual Australian women writers. (There are probably more, but some women aren’t identified as they published using initials.) But how many of those have you heard of? How many have you read? This morning, I was trawling through Librivox and Project Gutenberg Australia for free audio and ebooks of out-of-copyright books by Australian women. Just a quick glance at the lists makes it obvious how few books there are by women in comparison to books by men. If we want the voices of Australian women of the twenty-first century to go down in history, the work starts now, with us. Without records, without evidence books by Australian women are being read and appreciated, historians of the future may think they weren’t good enough to be remembered, when clearly this isn’t true.

The AWW Challenge will continue in 2015, with the aim of continuing to promote and support books by Australian women. Until now, we’ve had two websites, one for the blog and one for the review lists (or three, if you count the AWW Challenge Goodreads page). The new site is a work in progress, but it will have a searchable database, making it easier for readers to find participants’ reviews. My hope is readers – librarians, teachers, bloggers, writers and researchers – will follow the links and show appreciation by “liking” or commenting on the reviews of the books they discover. This will help consolidate and grow the AWW reading community. I’d also encourage people to subscribe to the AWW blog via email (see side bar) and discuss their reading on social media using the challenge hashtag: #aww2015. If you have any other ideas how we can raise the profile of Australian women writers, or if you’d like to volunteer to help behind the scenes or contribute to the AWW blog, please let me know.

So, who’s in for 2015? You can sign up here.

On not writing reviews

Twice in the past month I’ve heard writers criticise reviewers for not writing proper reviews. “Some reviewers take a book and use it as a launching pad to write whatever they want,” one complained over lunch.

I kept my mouth shut.

A day or so later, someone emailed me with a list of questions about the current state of on- and off-line reviewing. As I thought about what to answer, I realised one of the aspects I enjoy most about writing reviews online is the freedom to write what I want about a book. I like to write reflections, discussions, musings – and I like to read them, too. I like it when a reviewer gets personal, when s/he admits to feeling provoked, challenged, crushed and remade by a book. Or awed. Or speechless. Or bored.

But are such pieces reviews?

This question has been bugging me, and might account for why I’ve been reading far more than I’ve been posting reviews lately (or writing). The truth is, I’m not sure I want to write “reviews”. Instead, I want to share my experience. I want to give you a glimpse of how I’ve allowed some books to nest inside me, to brood until something cracks, until I feel a stab that tells me: yes, this book has life; this book will take flight in words, inspired-by-this-author musings – or fall, silent.

Whether others catch a glimpse of those words once they’re out and away, whether my impressions flash bright and beautiful, flicker in the shadows or hide invisible, doesn’t matter. The book lives on because it’s helped make me who I am.

So forgive my silence while words brood.

In the meantime, here are some of the books nesting inside me (a few have been there a while):

Do you have books with wings?

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

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