What I’ve Been Reading

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I’m going to try to remedy my lack of posting with some more regular posts summarising what I have been reading. I mightn’t have been writing much, but I’ve been reading a lot – I’ve just ticked off my 100th title for the year so I can at least tell you what I’m powering through. I’ve resisted doing this in the past as I’ve for the most part tried to keep my review posts focussed on one book. But I’m hoping this format will work better for me while I’m still flat out at work and finding less time to post.

The readathon weekend was ‘Stella’ – I managed to get through two titles from the Stella shortlist, the prize winner, and Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA Anthology.


This is artful book by Heather Rose is about the art of Marina Abramovic, and in particular her performance of “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a book about love, courage and sacrifice. Most of the book is told through the eyes of Arky Levin, a film composer who is going through a bit of a slump in both his career and his personal life. Levin’s wife is very ill and living in a facility. She has banned him from seeing her, and he is not fighting the ban, much to the disappointment and anger of their friends and, more importantly, their daughter.  

I enjoyed the book up to a point, but I became more annoyed the more I sat with the ending. Levin spent most of the book being a dick, and by the end he managed to be not quite such a complete dick. The other thing I was disappointed by was the author’s lack of acknowledgement of the dreadfully racist things that Marina Abramovic has said about the Australian Aboriginal people. It makes me dreadfully disappointed that this book won the Stella award this year. (Thanks to Bookish Bron for the conversation about this one and for reminding me about that last point.)


Georgia Blain’s last novel is beautifully written story of family, love, and how we drive ourselves crazy when we think we can get others to change their true natures when they don’t want to. There’s a lot of sadness in the narrative – with the loss of family due to behaviour, and sickness, and one character’s terminal illness. (make sure you have your tissues ready for the end). The book is made even sadder by Blain’s own death due to a brain tumour in December last year.


I tend to read books pretty quickly, and usually in one sitting. I couldn’t read Maxine Beneba Clarke’s book in one sitting – just the opening left me winded and infinitely sad. The Hate Race is a memoir of racism and it’s effects on Clarke as she grows from childhood into a young woman. This is a difficult read and an excellent description of the effects of racism in the young, and the effects this can have on people throughout their lives. We must do better. This book should be compulsory reading for all Australians.


This anthology is a collection of YA fiction by Aussie writers, and it’s an absolute delight. It made me so happy to read a bunch of stories in the one place that had a cast of diverse characters and great plots. I loved all of the stories in this collection, but a special mention goes to Michael Pryor, whose story about refugees nearly had me in tears. Pryor has essentially written a history lesson about all the shit things Australia has done to refugees over the last 20 years and set it in outer space. I hope lots of our young people read this and learn from our (ongoing) mistakes. 

In the last week I’ve also knocked off James Corden’s memoir May I Have Your Attention Please, which was a great plate cleanser.  I’ve also read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. 


White Tiger was excellent – the writing style was unique and incredibly descriptive. Adiga succeeds in plunging the reader into the sights, sounds and smells of India. I listened to this one as an audiobook, and I was a little perturbed that the narration was by John Lee, using an accent. I enjoy Lee’s narration, he always does a great job. But there are so many talented Indian narrators, why was there a need for an English guy to do it? Please do better Audible. (This has taught me to check the narrator before purchasing a title, which is not something I’ve done before.)

What are you reading at the moment?

Review: Stay With Me

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Yejide and Akin are a married couple living in Nigeria in the 80s. After 4 years of marriage and no baby, Akin’s family become insistent that something is done. That something is a new wife joining the household, and Yejide feels betrayed and desperate.

Told in alternating chapters through the eyes of each party, Stay With Me is colourful, revealing and devestating. Stay with Me follows the relationship between Yejide and Akin through it’s ups and downs over the years, through love, sacrifice and loss.


Oh my goodness, this book! I can’t give too many details of the plot as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I will say that the story of the beginning of a family and the eventual shattering and disintegration of the household is both compelling and devestating. The dual nature of the narrative lends sympathy to both characters. It is heartbreaking to watch them make poor decisions and the way those decisions impact the other.

 As a non African, I found the cultural differences around marriage and the expectation of children being actually enforced by the wider family both surprising and educational. While this does happen to a very minor degree here with hints being dropped and questions being asked nothing this impactful would be endured.What a lot of stress for a young couple to go through! Polygamy was also an interesting concept to see explored, particularly when it didn’t seem to be wanted by either Yejide or Akin. I can’t imagine trying to maintain a healthy relationship which contains a third person that you don’t want to be there.

I enjoyed seeing the 80s political climate of Nigeria through this lense as well and seeing how the changes affected the people on the ground.

This story will take you on a raw and emotional journey. Make sure you have the tissues on standby.

4 out of 5 interfering in-laws.

Review – Binti: Home

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The latest offering in the Binti series from Nnedi Okorafor doesn’t disappoint.

After a year at Oomza University, Binti is ready to return home to visit her family. This comes with its own challenges as Okwu, her Meduse friend, decides to accompany her, becoming the first Meduse to visit Earth in peace after generations of conflict.


Coming back to this world reminded me of how much I love it. I particularly enjoy Okorafor’s wonderful world building and the way she fuses the traditional and the fantastic to make an amazing backdrop to the story.

During the journey home, we learn of the trauma Binti has been suffering after what happened on her voyage to the university. Even just the presence of Okwu can be distressing for her. 

Even once she reaches home, Binti’s journey is difficult for her. She is not the same person as the one who left her close knit family. Not only mustthey get to know the new person she has become, but Binti must also reacclimatise to life in her village and others expectations of her, which are very different to what she has become used to at university.

Binti’s journey not only allows her to remember who she was before she left home, and helps her come to terms with where she she has ended up, but it also takes her on an eye-opening journey into her family’s heritage which she wasn’t anticipating.

I’m very much looking forward to the third Binti instalment due September 2017.

5 out of 5 fabulous family secrets.

Review – Dreadnought by April Daniels

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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

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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.


Diversathon Wrap up!

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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!

Review: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms

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Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is a fictional retelling of the Cowra Breakout – on August 5 1944 approximately 1000 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to break out from the No 12 prison camp. This resulted in hundreds of deaths, both from guns of the Australian soldiers and at the hands of the Japanese prisoners themselves as many killed themselves and others to put an end to the ongoing shame of their situation.


In this book Anita Heiss focuses on a fictional situation – Hiroshi escapes from the camp and hides in the local Aboriginal mission of Erambie. He is discovered by Banjo Williams, who talks his extended family into giving Hiroshima refuge and hiding him from the white mission manager and the rest of the mission’s population. Banjo’s 17 year old daughter is entrusted with taking Hiroshi the little food they can spare. 

Hiroshi and Mary share their cultures and eventually their hearts, but their love is not just dangerous, it’s illegal and there is no chance they will have a happy ending.

Heiss doesn’t disappoint with this sad story of life on the mission during the war, and the falling in love of two people from vastly different backgrounds. It is awful to note that the Aboriginal people on the mission were less well treated than the prisoners of war, who were treated according to the Geneva convention. Think about that for a moment. Also consider that this time is still within living memory.

As the two love birds share more information with each other, we are also treated to and accessible discussion of the Aborigines Protection Act, which rules Aboriginal life and treatment at this point in history. I was not aware of this piece of legislation and the conditions that went with it. There is also a discussion of Aboriginal soldiers who participated in the First World War and their  ill treatment which is another sad reflection on the history of this country.

Apart from the central story, there is a wide cast of characters who I really enjoyed getting to know and add wonderful layers to the story.  Marj the gossip was so delightfully obnoxious I couldn’t help but love her.

Mary was also delightful, and while her story was sad, it wasn’t without hope.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is both a lovely and an important read. 

5 out of 5 reasons to #change the date.

Dr Anita Heiss is currently visiting bookshops around the country to talk about this one. If you are in Brisbane, she will be at Avid Reader on Feb 5.