Recommended Aboriginal reads


Hi everyone, please enjoy this post by Dr Anita Heiss from her wonderful blog.

Anita Heiss

For those listening to the yarn I had with Dom Knight  on ABC Sydney this morning, here’s the titles I mentioned…

Books I’d planned on mentioning:

Dom mentioned my novel Tiddas  And finally, there was some discussion on my book Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.

For other ideas of where to find some deadly Aboriginal literature, head to my Black Book Challenge

Happy reading!

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Review: Caraval


Scarlett has wanted to take her sister, Tella, to the amazing Caraval performance since they were children. Now her father has arranged her marriage, Scarlett believes this opportunity is behind her. Legend, the mastermind behind Caraval, has other ideas and sends tickets to Scarlett with an invitation. Scarlett is reluctant to go – her wedding is very soon, and it may be her only opportunity to save herself and Tella from their cruel father. With the help of a sailor, Tella gets Scarlett to the performance, only to be kidnapped shortly after arriving. Scarlett must find and save Tella within the 5 days of the performance, but how is she to do that when nothing is what it seems?

I wanted to love this book. I really did. 

But I didn’t. Possibly the comparisons to The Night Circus elevated my expectations way to high.

My main issue with the book was the main character. I found Scarlett just plain annoying. We spend a  lot of time inside her head, and it’s pretty whiny in there. Scarlett wants to look after Tella, but struggles to take any risks at all to do so. She wants to be saved. She wants to be looked after. Scarlett eventually (and very suddenly) finds her ability to kick arse, but this appears to be entirely linked to her intimate encounter with the love interest.Thank goodness he managed to dislodge the stick up her butt while he was down there.

The other big issue for me (which other reviewers have noted) was the lack of laws in the fantasy world. This can be good up to a point,but after that point it’s just plain confusing.

This book did a lot of stuff well. The presentation is absolutely stunning. It would look gorgeous on your shelf. The world building was also fun, grand and sweeping if you can suspend your disbelief to deal with some of the inconsistencies.

I know I’m in the minority with this review, most people seem to love it. If you like gorgeous costumes, rich fantasy worlds and damsels in distress, then this book is for you.

2.5 out of 5 .

Review – Dreadnought by April Daniels


Danny is a girl in a boy’s body, until she ends up at the scene of a vicious superhero fight and, as a result, inherits the power of Dreadnought. Danny’s body changes as well, and finally she is the girl she always knew she was. This, of course, comes with its own set of challenges – an unsupportive mother and downright abusive father, her best friend thinks he should automatically have first dibs on dating her, and she has no real choice but to be out.

On top of that, she has to figure out how to use her powers, the politics of the superhero realm to ponder, a new bunch of people to judge her and a homocidal maniac trying to take over the world.

I am not a superhero fan by any stretch of the imagination, but if more superhero stories were like Dreadnought, I would be. Danny’s voice is both unique and authentic, and her struggles are both recognisable and understandable.

One of Danny’s toughest lessons is to be her own advocate and to learn not to rely on her family for reassurance or support. While most YA contains an element of this (the teen goes off on their own just to discover their moral compass is just where their family put it and they return to the fold wiser and more experienced) Danny, at the tender age of fifteen, has to find within herself the strength and courage to value her identity, her body and her very existence after her family has refused at the most fundamental level to accept her for who she is. This is an important difference. In life and literature, most teens head out into the world to make their own mistakes mostly knowing they will have their parents love and support when they return. Danny, and teens like her, do not. Danny knows her parents’ moral code is flawed, and she isn’t entirely convinced by the superheroes either. Unlike most teens, Danny actually does have to figure things out on her own. 

This is such a wonderful debut. The writing is punchy, the action sequences are great, and I think this book would translate wonderfully to the screen.

Thank you April Daniels for this wonderful book! I can’t wait till the next instalment!

5 out of 5 reasons why I have been ruined for all other superhero narratives. 

Avid Reader’s Big Breakfast with Dr Anita Heiss


I’ve mentioned Avid Reader multiple times on the blog – it’s my favourite indie bookstore in Brisbane. This morning, a number of us braved the heat and humidity for the very special opportunity of hearing Dr Anita Heiss speak about her latest release: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.

Dr Heiss is a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and writes all manner of books, articles and poetry. She lectures on Indigenous Literature is a Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, is an Advocate for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and is an Ambassador of Worowa Aboriginal College. She is also an Adjunct Professor with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS.

The talk was hosted by Fiona from Avid Reader, who always asks wonderful questions.

With regards to creating a new story, Dr Heiss said that she had written a lot of books about Country, but none about Cowra. She was nervous about telling the story of her family both because everyone would think it was about them, and because of responsibility that she feels for getting it right. She had been struggling for a plot and flew to Hawaii, and ended up visiting Pearl Habour. While there, she became very conscious of the many Japanese tourists in Pearl Harbour, and the way they reacted to the rhetoric around the Pearl Harbour memorial, written by the US victors. While the Japanese tourists appeared very calm, Dr Heiss wondered what they were thinking.

The Aussie view of history is also a particular one – in writings about Cowra it has never been acknowledged that 4.5 miles from Cowra there was another camp with prisoners in worse conditions. (The Japanese POWs were kept in conditions in line with the Geneva convention. The Aboriginal people in the local mission were not.) Dr Heiss wanted to write a story acknowledging the other encampment, and romance would be the tool to link the two, and to draw an audience.

Dr Heiss also talked about the lengths of the reconciliation effort in Cowra – with the Japanese, not the Aboriginal people.

Research is very important to Dr Heiss, and she described sourcing stories from the Cowra community as well as checking her facts with author Graham Apthorpe (author of A Town at War: Stories from Cowra in WWII) and her meetings with an Extraordinary Professor in Japan who teaches about the Cowra breakout. Dr Heiss obtained feedback from many sources on her drafts to ensure she was telling the story accurately.  She loosely based  Mary on her mother, and Banjo on her grandfather, and was aware that she needed to acknowledge the community Elders of the Coe, Williams and Murray families. Dr Heiss would have liked Mary to fall pregnant in the story, but her mum objected that she wouldn’t have even kissed him during this amount of time. This was backed up by Dr Heiss’ Japanese expert, who confirmed that at that time a Japanese man would not have been that familiar with a Western woman. Dr Heiss explained that as war is an extraordinary time, she felt comfortable with Hiroshi’s familiarity with Mary as long as he was aware it was an extraordinary situation.

When asked why she had chosen fiction, Dr Heiss responded that she wanted to compliment the work that already existed, and draw a wider audience. She wants people to realise that Australian history can’t be discussed without also discussing the Aboriginal people.

We learned a little about Dr Heiss’ background – her Austrian father couldn’t speak English when he met her mother, but they shared strong family values and work ethic, as well as  great love for each other. Dr Heiss  said that their relationship had made her a romantic, which meant that she could believe in the relationship between Mary and Hiroshi and see the bigger picture.

Dr Heiss is hopeful that the book will be picked up for the school curriculum. From my own point of view, it would be a great tool in an English classroom. I mentioned in my review that the book provides a clear but accessible understanding of the laws of the time and the impact on the people. 

Dr Anita Heiss has a new book due out in May (yay!).

You can read my review of Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms here.

Alexis Wright Essay – What Happens When You Tell Somebody Else’s Story


Hey everyone,

Please check out this wonderful essay by Alexis Wright from the current edition of Meanjin. Wright talks about the importance of the Aboriginal people’s ability to tell their own stories, and the damage inflicted when white people take over the narrative.

(Meanjin is a quarterly publication, well worth the subscription price).

Review: Beyond the Orchard


Lucy Briar has returned to Melbourne after five years abroad in England. She has received a mysterious letter from her grandfather which has drawn her back to her home town. It contains a promise from her grandfather that he will be able to ‘explain everything’ and Lucy hopes that finally the nightmares that have haunted her from her childhood will be put to rest. However Lucy receives the news of her grandfathers death shortly after her return. This coincides with her father breaking a hip, so it is up to her to go and sort through the old family home of Bitterwood and all its secrets.

This is an ambitious novel sweeping across the tragic lives of three generations of the Briar family, and to me it felt a little squished inside its mere 460 ish pages. The story is told from multiple third person points of view, and also includes one of Lucy’s father’s fairy tale retellings. The story is well told, the sections referring to the 1920s and 1930s were particularly  atmospheric. 

The narrative tool of the multiple points of view was the sticking point for me. Five narrators were too many for a book of this size, and a couple of them added nothing to the story that wasn’t also dealt with by other methods. 

The ending was also a little too neat for my tastes, especially given the tragedies that had touched each of the three generations of the family. 

If you enjoy some sweeping family drama then this one is for you.

3 out of 5 buried family secrets.

Diversathon Wrap up!


Hi folks!

Diverseathon is well and truly over but I’ve been laid low with headaches. So, better late than never, here is my wrap up post!!

Binti:Home was so good. I had forgotten how much I loved the characters and the world building and the way Okorafor combined that with the linking to the very clay of Binti’s home. I think this is out today in the US, so have at it people!

I have seen some scathing reviews of this book, but I absolutely loved it. There is no plot to speak of, and the narrative meanders all over the place. If you like complicated, flawed characters, and lots of social commentary and observations, this is the book for you. This is my first Zadie Smith and I’m looking forward to picking up more of her work.

I really enjoyed Woodson’s memoir in verse that is Brown Girl Dreaming. I do tend to struggle with poetry, and I would love to read more about Woodson’s life and experiences.

Ellen van Neerven is an Australian Indigenous author. This collection of stories experiments with traditional story telling and adds elements of magical realism. I really enjoyed this collection of stories – Water was by far my favourite, with it’s exploration of an alternate future with plant people.

I also started Fledgling by Octavia Butler. Butler plus vampires can only equal awesome.

How was your Diverseathon? Did it go according to plan? Did you discover any new authors that you want to tell the world about? Are you planning to keep up your diverse reading? Let me know!