Waiting on Wednesday: The Divers' Game

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked The Divers' Game by Jesse Ball.

From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power. The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavour.

The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives. The Divers’ Gameis a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse. What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture?

Brilliantly constructed and achingly tender, The Divers’ Game shatters the notion of common decency as the binding agent between individuals, forcing us to consider whether compassion is intrinsic to the human experience.

With his signature empathy and ingenuity, Jesse Ball’s latest work solidifies his reputation as one of contemporary fiction’s most mesmerising talents.

I've always enjoyed short stories, novels, and even TV dramas that are just that little bit off-kilter, and make you think. I'm looking forward to seeing if this latest novel from Jesse Ball can achieve that!

Releasing 1st October 2019 from Text Publishing

Author Interview: Beau & Bett by Kathryn Berla

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Beau & Bett by Kathryn Berla
Released: 25th June 2019
Published by: Amberjack Publishing
Genre: YA Fairytale Retelling
Source: Publisher
Pages: 256
After Beau LeFrancois's mother wrecks Bett Diaz’s luxury SUV, his family faces an impossibly large bill—with no car insurance to help pay it.

To pay off the debt, Beau spends his weekends working at the Diaz Ranch. Beau’s prepared to work, but he’s definitely not prepared for the infamous temper of Bett Diaz, also known as "The Beast" at school. As Beau learns the secrets behind Bett’s tough exterior, he finds himself falling for her . . . until he catches Bett in a lie.

A contemporary twist on a classic fairy tale, Beau and Bett is a timely story of family, friendship, and the power of speaking out and standing up for yourself.
Author Interview with Kathryn Berla

When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author and publish a novel?

I began seriously writing about seven years ago. It started first with a blog which was more just a series of essays that only my friends and family read. After a while, I decided to try my hand at writing a full-length novel. But ever since I was a young girl, I enjoyed expressing myself through the written word.

What makes Beau and Bett unique compared to other re-tellings of Beauty and the Beast?

I think what makes Beau & Bett unique is that it’s a contemporary story with no attempt to infuse it with fantasy or magic in any way. Also, I was influenced more by versions of the original French fairy tale and the amazing 1946 Jean Cocteau film than the Disney version. Because it’s a dark story with dark themes, I wanted to explore those themes and add a counterbalance to the belief some have that the original intent of this fairy tale was to get young girls comfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage. Last but not least, I think the gender reversal separates Beau & Bett from other retellings.

When you're not writing, what are some recent reads you'd recommend lately?

I just checked my Goodreads account and the last five books I’ve given 5 stars to in the past 4 to 5 months are: DISAPEARING EARTH; I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP (the 5 stars had something to do with its historical significance); THERE YOU ARE (I read this on NetGalley because it’s not out until October; DAISY JONES AND THE SIX (for its pure entertainment value—listened as an audiobook and it made my daily walks go by so much more quickly); and THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (pure genius).

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote from the book you'd like to share?

I don’t know if it’s a favourite but I’m fond of it because of my bittersweet feelings about autumn in California:

“In California where I live, sometimes the hottest days are the ones right before the weather turns cold—Indian summer, they call it, although I’m not sure why. This was one of those days: a heat so ferocious you knew it would expend itself by night, giving way to a shiver-inducing darkness; the air so still, it could annihilate any breeze dumb enough to take it on; and the quiet . . . that’s what always got to me, the quiet that made you feel sad for something you were about to lose. That’s the kind of day it was, and it hung heavy like the wet shirt I’d had on when I climbed out of the pool.” 

If there's one piece of advice you'd give to other aspiring authors out there, what would it be?

Since I consider myself first and foremost a reader and second a writer, my advice would be to read as much as you can and never stop. It’s the best school in the world for an aspiring author, in my opinion. Better than an MFA. And it goes without saying, aim high in your reading choices.

Audiobook Review: Beautiful by Juliet Marillier

Monday, 29 July 2019

Beautiful by Juliet Marillier
Released: 2019
Published by: Audible
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Length: 7h 18mins
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Find it on Audible 
With the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon as her inspiration, Juliet Marillier weaves a magical story of a young princess' search for her true self.

Hulde is a queen's daughter and lives in a palace. But her life is lonely. Growing up atop the glass mountain, she knows only her violent and autocratic mother and a household of terrified servants. Then a white bear named Rune comes to visit, and Hulde learns what kindness is. But the queen has a plan for Hulde. When she turns 16, she will wed the most beautiful man in all the world. Hulde has never met her intended husband, and her mother refuses to explain the arrangement.

Hulde becomes desperate to find out more, and seeks the help of a magic mirror. Perhaps someone is coming to her rescue. On her wedding day, Hulde's existence is turned upside down. For the first time she leaves the glass mountain behind, setting out to be as brave as the heroines in her beloved storybook. The journey will test Hulde to the limit. Can she overcome her fears and take control of her own life?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I'm so glad to have finally ventured into audiobooks, and Beautiful has been a wonderful place to start. This three-part novel is inspired by a Norwegian fairytale, and takes a new turn to become about the unassuming princess who would one day reach out of the confines of her mother's rule and become a Queen of her own.

A fantasy novella such as this was rich in detail and narrated beautifully, which made it easy to listen to. The three sections were each distinct and represented different aspects of Hulde's character development, which was explored in detail throughout. While I did miss the feeling of being able to quickly flip back a page if I feel I missed an important detail, the vivid descriptions of the landscape and adventures which the protagonist encounters on her journey did make this something relaxing to listen to. There is something at once comforting and classic about a novel which has been spun from the strands of a fairytale, and Marillier has injected this story with just the right sense of magic to keep you wanting more as the tale progresses.


Beautiful was my first experience listening to an audiobook, and has definitely made me want to read more from Juliet Marillier!

Review: Greek to Me by Mary Norris - a joyful exploration of Greek language and culture

Friday, 26 July 2019

Greek to Me by Mary Norris
Released: 2nd April 2019
Published by: Text Publishing
Genre: Travel memoir
Source: Publisher
Pages: 240
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Comma Queen returns with a buoyant book about language, love, and the wine-dark sea.

In her New York Times bestseller Between You & Me, Mary Norris delighted readers with her irreverent tales of pencils and punctuation in The New Yorker’s celebrated copy department. In Greek to Me, she delivers another wise and funny paean to the art of self-expression, this time filtered through her greatest passion: all things Greek. Greek to Me is a charming account of Norris’s lifelong love affair with words and her solo adventures in the land of olive trees and ouzo.

Along the way, Norris explains how the alphabet originated in Greece, makes the case for Athena as a feminist icon, goes searching for the fabled Baths of Aphrodite, and reveals the surprising ways Greek helped form English. Filled with Norris’s memorable encounters with Greek words, Greek gods, Greek wine—and more than a few Greek men—Greek to Me is the Comma Queen’s fresh take on Greece and the exotic yet strangely familiar language that so deeply influences our own.
Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The study of any language - Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Taino - opens the mind, gives you a window onto another culture, and reminds you that there is a larger world out there and different ways of saying things, hearing things, seeing things. It always distresses me to hear someone say, "I'm no good at foreign languages", or demand "English for me, dear." In learning a foreign language, you have to humble yourself, admit your ignorance, be willing to look stupid. We learn a language by making mistakes. 

For those of us who aren't basking in the Mediterranean glow, out there sailing across the glittering Aegean or taking the short trip across to Cyprus - reading Greek to Me definitely comes close to transporting you there. A passion for language, history and the desire to travel to places which form part of my own heritage are what drew me to this book, and Mary Norris wrote in a way which makes this memoir an absolute joy to read!

That all this speculation on shades of gray and blue and green and yellow and silver, with qualities as various as the moods of the sky and the sea, springs from a single ancient compound adjective, γλαυκῶπις, describing a goddess who has our welfare at heart, seems to me proof of the vitality of words, their adaptability and strength and resilience. Good words never die. They keep on growing. 

As a copy editor for the New Yorker, Mary Norris certainly knows her way around words - and it shows. But far from being a lengthy, convoluted treatise on all-things-Greek, her personal anecdotes from her experiences learning both the modern and ancient versions of the language and travelling to its shores are thoroughly entertaining. It did help that I have some grasp of Greek already and was able to recognise some of the words she mentions throughout, but even readers without any previous exposure will pick things up quickly. Something funny which I know has confused a few non-Greek speakers I've come across is how the words for 'yes' (Ναί) and 'no' (όχι) sound the opposite to what you think they'd be in most of Europe, and English too. There are also many connections to be found between Greek and English, such as the Greek word for newspapers (Εφημερίδες) being related to the English "ephemera": things that last but a day.

One night I dreamed that I was handling shards, pieces of ancient poetry with writing on them. The dream came back to me as I passed a church on the way to rehearsal, and I realized that ancient Greek is like the Bible (from Βίβλος): records of the past that preserve the things that humans most need to know.

There is a mini history, mythological, geography or cultural lesson to be found on every line, which both enchant and inspire. From glimpses into The Odyssey and Iliad to describing the effortless beauty of Cyprus, this book offers a brief but holistic view into the rich ties between time and place which have made me even more keen to visit. I also have a few more books added to my list thanks to her recommendations of Lawrence Durrell's Corfu Trilogy and a biography on Patrick Lee Fermor who played a significant role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during the Second World War.

I knew a lot of Greek, but I wouldn't say I spoke modern Greek or call myself a classicist, either. I was more in love with the language than it was with me. My mind was like a riverbed and had silted up: it had its own archaeological strata from which an occasional find emerged. I had not mastered the language, ancient or modern, but I got glimpses of its genius, its patterns the way it husbanded the alphabet, stretching those twenty-four letters to record everything one could ever want to say. 


Greek to Me is both educational and entertaining, a book which highlights the joys of solo travel and fully immersing yourself into a place saturated with beauty and a vibrant culture. It's given me the opportunity to reflect on my own heritage and learn more about the places my ancestors originate from, where I hope to go on my own Mediterranean journey one day.

My Bookish Top 20 Releasing in 2019 (July - December)

Sunday, 21 July 2019

So far this year has been a great one for discovering some new poetry, non-fiction, and memorable novels by Australian debut authors. I'm still working on getting through the books listed in my first release countdown covering January-June, but there's no denying that 2019 still has a whole heap more promising reads in store! Read on for some of my top picks...


I'm always up for a mind-bending short story collection, and Episodes by Christopher Priest looks to deliver exactly that. A Constant Hum is also a collection of stories, focusing on the aftermath of bushfires and those affected. Other fiction highlights I want to try include YA contemporary The Astrid Notes, and Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth which has been re-released as a movie tie-in. See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill has been described by Helen Garner as "A shattering book: clear-headed and meticulous, driving always at the truth" - and with an endorsement like that you can't miss it. The biggest surprise here though is seeing that John Marsden (author of the YA dystopian 'Tomorrow' series) is coming out with a non-fiction release - The Art of Growing Up which goes over his experiences and advice on writing, education and how we can find happiness in today's world.


Books-about-books are always something I'll put to the top of the list, so Storytime by Jane Sullivan definitely caught my eye. For fans of suspense, JP Delaney brought out quite the impressive and twisted thriller with The Girl Before, and The Perfect Wife promises even more surprises.


Malcolm Gladwell has already established himself as a prolific writer with many works on how to achieve personal and career-driven success such as Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I'm definitely keen on reading more about sociology, and Talking to Strangers has a really interesting premise which asks questions like "How do we make sense of the unfamiliar? Why are we so bad at judging someone, reading a face, or detecting a lie? Why do we so often fail to 'get' other people?" I've loved all of Alain de Botton's books I've read so far, so it's definitely time to start tucking in to the 'School of Life' series, with this one on An Emotional Education. Not to be out-done by these non-fiction heavyweights, Margaret Atwood is finally coming out with a sequel to The Handmaids Tale - and after a successful run so far with the TV adaptation, here's hoping that The Testaments lives up to the hype! Historical fiction is also a favourite genre of mine, and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett has already received some glowing praise. 


I remember doing a big essay on the French Revolution back in high school which I really enjoyed researching, so a novel like Ribbons of Scarlet which covers that period of time is intriguing (plus it took six authors to write!). Leigh Bardugo is known for her YA fantasy, but this time she's geared her writing for an adult audience with Ninth House. Jojo Moyes writes books that sure do know how to tug at the heartstrings, and The Giver of Stars could be her best yet.


Speaking of historical fiction, here's two more...Delayed Rays of a Star is a fictional account of three prominent female figures in the lead-up to WWII - Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl. What I can already tell may be the title that has the biggest impact for me this year will be the ninth and final book in the Matilda Saga by Jackie French, Clancy of the Overflow. It's sad to see my favourite series come to a close, and is certainly the end of an era! 


Sara Shepard gained popularity when 'Pretty Little Liars' was brought to the small screen, but she's been writing plenty since then and is set to turn heads with another YA mystery called Reputation. Young women taking their own spin on 'polite society' in the Victorian era has potential to make for a quick-witted plot in Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen. Finally, Colleen Hoover hasn't quite been able to impress me just yet with something I loved as much as her 'Slammed' series, but Regretting You might be able to change things up - we'll see!

Over to you - what books are you most looking forward to in 2019?

{Extract} The Sunday Story Club: Real life tales of love, loss, trauma and resilience

Saturday, 6 July 2019

My favourite part of this book is that every chapter in The Sunday Story Club brought new insights into people's experiences - reminiscing on past mistakes and struggles, and looking into the deeper questions of who we really are and what's brought us to the present moment. Today I'm sharing an excerpt from one of my favourite chapters in the book called "Being known", starting off as a woman reflects on a chance encounter in Paris which prompts a reflection on her upbringing and how we come to be able to truly express ourselves without judgement.

The Sunday Story Club by Doris Brett & Kerry Cue
Released: 25th June 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Non fiction/memoirs
Source: Publisher
Pages: 272
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cry. But the salons have given me the opportunity to look back and think about my life . . . I don't talk to anyone about these feelings outside of the salon.'

A book club without books. A key to the stories we all carry within us - wrenching, redemptive, extraordinary, laced with unexpected and hard-won wisdom. These are the stories that women tell each other when they gather for a deep and structured conversation - once a month in a suburban living room - about the things that really matter. They discover that life can be a heartbeat away from chaos; that bad things happen to good people; that good people do outrageous things; that the desire for transformation is enduringly human - painful and yet possible. A mother tells of the heartbreaking loss of control when her daughter develops anorexia. A sister reveals the high psychological cost of being hated by a sibling over the course of her life.

Husbands leave wives; wives take lovers; friendships shatter; finances collapse; children defy parents; wrong choices turn out to be right ones; agency is lost and re-claimed.

Profound, layered and clear-sighted, this collection of real-life stories reveals the emotional untidiness that lies below the shiny surface of modern life and reminds us of the power of real conversation to enlighten, heal and transform.

As a child and teenager, I had been quiet and rule abiding at home. I was never offered emotional or spiritual guidance by my parents. They never asked about my emotional life. I felt loved, but to them parenting meant providing the basics: food, shelter, clothing, schooling. I don’t think they knew how to do anything else. All my parents saw at home was the quiet girl who kept to herself and didn’t cause trouble. Outside the home, however, was a different matter.

I brought myself up, and my primers were Enid Blyton books – The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Five Find-Outers and Dog. I devoured her books and her fictional protagonists became my role models. They were brave and adventurous. They went where they weren’t supposed to go. They took risks. They got grubby and tore their clothes. They defied authority. And they weren’t afraid. These were my real role models. I became a rule breaker and a risk taker. I wasn’t quiet. And I didn’t conform. My friends were always in the fringe groups; I could never understand people who kowtowed to the in-group in order to be accepted.

My Paris experience, then, was for the adventurer in me – the part that had responded to the derring-do antics of my childhood literary models. I didn’t tell anyone about what I had done. Not because I was ashamed or embarrassed – I was neither of those – but simply because in my family we didn’t share our experiences, not even with each other. I grew up in a house of secrets.

My mother sailed on the last ship from Poland before the war. She was sixteen years old. The rest of her family had remained in Poland, and all of them were murdered. My father was sent by his family to England to escape the Nazis. The British interned him and sent him to Australia on a ship called the HMT Dunera, which would later become notorious for the mistreatment of the detainees, including the young Jewish refugees who were sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Hay, New South Wales. Like my mother, my father was the only one of his family to escape Europe. He too was the sole survivor of his family. Neither of my parents talked about their war and pre-war experiences in any detail, but my older siblings and I grew up knowing that they both had suffered intense pain and loss and had witnessed almost unbearable cruelty.

I was much younger than my older siblings; I almost felt like an only child. At the dinner table, my brothers and sisters talked. They were older and louder than I was. If I chimed in, I was either ignored or told to be quiet. I became used to being the listener, the observer. Perhaps because of this, I also became the keeper of secrets. When my mother was 42, she unexpectedly fell pregnant. In those days, women of that age didn’t have children – they were considered too old. My mother was deeply embarrassed by her pregnancy. She refused to tell anyone and disguised her condition in loose clothing. She didn’t drive and would walk to her doctor’s appointments in the evening. She wanted someone to walk with her and I filled that role, which was how I came to learn of her condition. I was ten years old and, for nearly seven months, I kept that secret from everyone, including my family and my closest friends. About three weeks before the expected birth date, my mother called the family into the living room and announced that she was pregnant. That was the first they knew of it. Despite their remoteness, my parents had clear favourites among their children. My father loved the firstborn, a girl, because he had lost a sister in the Dachau concentration camp. The next child was a boy – the only son – and he and my mother were close. Then came a sister who was also close to Mum. And finally there was me, and I was a daddy’s girl.

And yet despite these connections, I’m not sure that my parents really knew any of their children. They knew what they looked like, of course, and what they achieved in school and so on, but they didn’t know who they were inside. 

They didn’t know what they thought, felt, feared, loved or hoped for. Emotional issues were never mentioned, let alone discussed. There was a matter-of-factness to everything and no curiosity as to why someone might feel or think one thing or another. We were brought up to adopt that same matter-of-factness, a kind of businesslike approach to life: ‘It happened, it’s over, move on.’ Everything was external and nothing was internal.

I never thought about my life – my inner life, that is – until I was in my sixties and I went to my first salon. My family’s attitude is, of course, the opposite of the salon approach, where we think about our inner lives, explore them, unearth our stories. When I went to my first salon, I was startled by the idea of meditating on the patterns and discoveries of one’s own life. It was as strange to me as if the sun had turned purple. And I loved it. The salon gave me permission to explore myself for the first time in a safe environment. When I told various stories about my life, I got feedback and a different perspective. I was quite stunned by some of the reactions.

There are things I’ve done that seemed very ordinary to me, but to some people they were amazing, brave and even, some said, inspiring. I was astonished when they said that. Hearing those responses helped me to grow and see different parts of myself and recognise the strengths I have. Listening to other people’s stories has also helped me grow. Hearing how they have responded to their own life experiences has helped me to sort out my own issues, given me a different appreciation of how my mind works. 

And it has been fascinating to see how people with different backgrounds, belief systems and philosophies approach the same topic. Sometimes, when you’re listening to other people’s stories about how they have dealt with various obstacles and difficulties in their lives, you think: Wow, that was impressive. And then you realise that you’ve also managed to deal with something like that. You can recognise parts of yourself in other people’s experiences and it allows you to see yourself from a different perspective. It’s a process that brings your strengths to the foreground – it frees you up. And everyone is open about their mistakes. There’s a recognition within the group that we’re all human; we don’t judge each other. I learned more about myself – who I was and who I had been – in the first three salons than I had learned in my whole life.

When I got engaged, my mother said to me, ‘You’re getting married and I don’t even know you.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She wasn’t wistful. She didn’t say it regretfully. It was just a statement of fact. And I responded equally matter-of-factly – she was right; she didn’t know me.

I look back on that moment now and it strikes me that at least she was aware that she didn’t know me. That must mean something. And yet she wasn’t saying it with any emotion or sense of enquiry. It wasn’t intended as an invitation for me to open myself up to her. I think she was simply recognising the fact.

I was telling a friend of mine about this and she said to me: ‘If you had been like that stranger in Paris and handed your mother a photo of yourself, what would it have looked like?’ The question stopped me in my tracks. What would my photo have looked like? And then, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that maybe we’re really all going around like the man in Paris – handing out photos of ourselves that don’t reflect what we look like on the outside, saying, ‘Look, this is me, this is the real me,’ and hoping someone will finally recognise us.

This is an excerpt from The Sunday Story Club by Doris Brett and Kerry Cue, published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $32.99 and is available from all good bookstores. Any 'quoted' sections represent emphasis added by me. 

#LoveOzYA Cover Reveal & Author Interview: My Father's Shadow by Jannali Jones

Saturday, 29 June 2019

My Father's Shadow by Jannali Jones
Released: 1st August 2019
Published by: Magabala Books
Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
Source: Publisher
Pages: 232
Kaya is completing her Higher School Certificate when she is woken in the middle of the night by her mother. They are to pack immediately and go to their holiday home in the Blue Mountains.

Her father is ‘not coming back’. He has been involved in a court case to give evidence against some dangerous criminals. Months later, they are still in hiding and the mysteries are multiplying. Kaya is not sure who to trust: her mother’s new friend, the policeman or her new friend, Eric, from the local store. She is also recovering from memory loss caused by PTSD after a chilling encounter with the criminals.

She is seeing a psychologist in an attempt to recall the evidence she might have to give in a forthcoming trial. Her best friend, Jenna, has gone overseas and Kaya is trying to make sense of what is really happening. Jannali Jones has crafted a thrilling story which stays on the edge right to the end.
I'm always excited to see books being released by debut Australian authors. Today I have Jannali Jones, winner of the 2015 'black&write!' Indigenous Writing Fellowship stopping by to talk about her first YA novel - watch out for more news on a giveaway soon...

Hi Jannali, congratulations on having this book published! Please tell us a little about it and how you came up with the storyline?

Thank you! I'm so excited to be able to share my writing with the world.

My Father's Shadow is a mystery/thriller about a teenage girl, Kaya, who is forced to flee her home when she learns that her dad - a whistleblower - has been murdered. She finds herself living in a tiny community in the mountains with her mum, isolated by her mum's strict, anti-social rules in a bid to keep her anonymous and safe from the men who came after her father.

The initial idea for the book came from an image I had of a girl sitting in the passenger seat of a car that was driving dangerously along windy mountain roads at night. All the while the driver, her mother, crying uncontrollably. That sense of fear, of dread, of something being so horribly wrong to put those characters into that situation, I found really intriguing. That's an image we see in the prologue, and the story grew from there.

You were the 2015 winner of the Black&white! Fellowship which saw your first novel published. What were your dreams as a child and how much of it involved becoming a published author?

From very early on I wanted to write books. I was inspired by all the reading I did - I was a real bookworm! I was quite sick when I was young and my mum used to read to me while I sat on the bed with my ventolin mask on. From grade 1 or 2, all the way through high school and law school I always wrote in my spare time.

Of course I wanted to be other things at different points - a policewoman, a doctor. The astronaut idea stuck for quite some time. When I was older I dreamed of being an actress, then a film composer or professional flautist. I would have loved to play the flute professionally but in the end I felt that I had more of a natural ability with writing whereas other things like music were much more of a struggle.

My Father’s Shadow is set in the NSW Blue Mountains. What is your connection with the mountains that made you so beautifully and vividly describe its surrounds in the book, and why did you feel it the perfect setting for Kaya and her Mum’s hidden life?

I grew up in Adelaide and we lived in the foothills across the road from Cleland, a national park. I loved living there - having all my friends a short walk down the road, a real community feel with neighbourhood bonfires and Christmas parties, browsing through the little mobile library that parked nearby our house, having fires in our combustion heater on cold nights, seeing kangaroos, echidnas, and koalas right in our backyard. It was a great place to be as a child. The Adelaide Hills are much smaller, but whenever I've visited the Blue Mountains it's always reminded me of my old home.

The mountains are a very important feature in the book and I wrote them to be almost a silent character. The moods of the mountains shape or reflect the action of the book. They also form the metaphorical walls of the prison Kaya and her mum have built for themselves. The setting always seemed right because of the isolated feeling of the northern side of the mountains (as opposed to the southern side where you get Katoomba, Leura and many of the tourist destinations). It made sense that people not wanting to be found might be hiding somewhere in amongst the national parks. It is so beautiful and yet so dangerous. That's the double-edge Kaya and her mum are living on.  

As an author of YA, how important do you think it is to shine a light on the struggles we all went through as teenagers? Kaya is going through both trauma and PTSD while she is struggling for her HSC. Was that storyline difficult to write and what you do feel readers will get out of it?

I had a terrible time as a teenager at school and I legitimately believed I was alone in my suffering. It wasn't until I got a bit older that I realised being a teenager actually sucks for most people, and it's a period of life that you just have to get through. It's like life's hazing you - externally and internally. Most of the books I read as a teen had really strong female characters who took challenges in their stride. On the one hand I think that presents great role models and can be inspirational, but on the other hand I felt isolated and weak as I grappled with depression, self-esteem and sexuality. I think being able to see characters reflect a similar identity or similar issues is very important and helps to boost confidence.

I live with (thankfully mild) trauma due to some events I went through as a child. Parts of Kaya's struggles mirror my own, and that wasn't difficult to write as I could draw on my experience, but Kaya is in a much worse position than me. I researched PTSD and decided to pepper it throughout the story rather than having it be the main focal point. My experience with trauma (and of course it is different for different people) is that it doesn't define you, but it is always there, just waiting for the chance to emerge. Yet Kaya is a survivor and I think her weakness actually shows her strength.

You are very passionate about preserving your Indigenous culture through storytelling. What else can we look forward to from you?

I want Aboriginal Australian culture to be more accessible to the mainstream, and I would love to help do this through mixing different literary genres. Currently I am working on a magic realism YA novel set in the Northern Territory. There's also a crime fiction novel cooking away in the background. Watch this space!

About the author

Jannali Jones is a Krowathunkoolong woman of the Gunai nation. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. Jannali was a winner of the 2015 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship and an inaugural recipient of Magabala's Australian Indigenous Creative Scholarship. Her stories have been published in literary journals in Australia and overseas, including Overland, Southerly, the Review of Australian Fiction and Westerly. When not writing, Jannali enjoys spending time with family, video gaming, going to the movies and reading. 

{Guest Post} The 'coming of age' narrative in YA fantasy by Helen Scheuerer

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Readers are probably familiar with the 'coming of age' themes that tend to come up in YA contemporary novels. But the ideas around growing up and all the changes and challenges with come with it are also explored in other genres. To discuss more about how it comes up in the realm of fantasy I've brought in an expert! Author Helen Scheuerer has stopped by on the blog today to talk about how this idea features in her series The Oremere Chronicles...

On the ‘Coming of Age’ Narrative In YA Fantasy 

When Eugenia and I first discussed the concept of this guest post, I was eager to write about ‘coming of age’ as a theme in fantasy novels. I felt that my trilogy The Oremere Chronicles explored this idea in depth. However, as I sat down to draft this post, I realised just how difficult it is to sum up the importance of such a theme.

Exploring this type of narrative got me thinking of numerous ‘coming of age’ classics in fantasy, as well as my own books. Why do these novels matter to us? How can we relate to the journeys of characters in non-existent, magical lands? Below is my attempt at delving into those questions...

Despite the fact that YA fantasy narratives take place in fantastical, magic-oriented worlds, now more than ever, they reflect the experiences of our young people today. The genre lends itself well to ‘coming of age’ theme, because just like in contemporary times, characters in these books challenge political systems, power hierarchies and social constructs, as well as the more ordinary aspects of life: navigating relationships, families and changing friendship dynamics.

The most powerful of these novels always depict the inner journey of a character, rife with turmoil, as he or she grows up, which is why ‘coming of age’ is such a prominent theme throughout the fantasy genre.

In fact, the fantasy genre as a whole suits the ‘coming of age’ narrative; with characters often embarking on a large-scale physical adventures that trigger their inner journey (think: Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Celaena from Throne of Glass and Lira from To Kill A Kingdom). As a young adult author myself, it’s a theme that has certainly woven its way into my books. I find it’s something that’s come quite naturally rather than as a result of a conscious decision on my part as creator.

For example, the 19-year-old protagonist in my series, The Oremere Chronicles, Bleak, is a great example of this… In her hometown, Angove, she’s in a bit of a rut. Self-medicating with alcohol to overcome grief, she rarely thinks of anyone but herself. However, a journey is forced upon her and it’s over the course of this quest that she’s made to look inward at who she is, and define her place in the world. It’s a classic ‘coming of age’ scenario.

Most YA fantasy books focus on a character similar age to their target reader (17-19 usually) and there’s a good reason for this. It’s the age where we tend to question ourselves and our surroundings the most, which leads to numerous types of inner conflict.

But being a young adult is also a test of how you interact with the broader world around you. Often it’s these external things that can trigger a ‘coming of age’ journey. Tragedy, loss, meeting new people, experiencing a new place and perhaps generally learning about the cruelty of the world, can all lead to the inner growth of a person/character.

The fantasy genre offers up these instances by the truckload. In my books in particular (Heart of Mist, Reign of Mist and the upcoming War of Mist), we journey with Bleak as she learns how to deal with figures of authority and systems of power, questions her heritage, as well as the difference between right and wrong. All notions that further the development of any character. It just so happens, she’s growing up at the same time.

I also made sure not to limit my characters to a certain age bracket, because as we know, the world isn’t made up of just young adults. But it’s how our young adult characters interact with those older and younger around them that provide our protagonists with room to grow, as well as offer our readers a reflection of their own real life experiences.

Regardless of the target readers or the theme itself, coming of age stories aren’t just for young adults. This is shown in the wide-reach of YA books - they transcend our years, with adult readers ranging from mid-twenties right up into their eighties. In fact, I’ve had an email from a 76 year old saying how much she related to my books.

Perhaps we ‘come of age’ numerous times in our lives, which is another reason why the theme is so popular across all genres of literature.

I’d love to know what your favourite fantasy ‘coming of age’ stories are. Feel free to share them in the comments below!

WAR OF MIST, the epic conclusion to Helen Scheuerer’s The Oremere Chronicles is slated for release July 25. You can add it on Goodreads here 

The Oremere Chronicles

About the author

You can learn more about Helen on her website

Helen Scheuerer is a YA fantasy author from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel, Heart of Mist, was the bestselling first instalment in her trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.

After writing literary fiction for a number of years, she was inspired to return to her childhood love of fantasy by reading the work of Sabaa Tahir, V.E. Schwab and Sarah J. Maas.

Helen holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts, majoring in Creative Writing, and a Master of Publishing. She is also the Founding Editor of Writer’s Edit (www.writersedit.com), one of the world’s largest online learning platforms for emerging writers.

She is now a full-time author living amidst the mountains in New Zealand.

Review & Author Interview: Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel - A 5-star Australian coming-of-age novel

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel
Released: 28th May 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Contemporary fiction/coming-of-age
Source: Publisher
Pages: 301
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can split myself in two... something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can't stand each other. 

Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn't be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles.

She is riding the second wave of the women's movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her 'true essence'. And then there's Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing.

He's trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart. Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that's created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most.
I've always thought that the best books are ones where you can turn the last page and think "this moved me" or "I really learnt something from reading this". Suzanne Daniel's outstanding debut did both for me. It's a triumph for not only bringing such heart to a story which captures the complex links in familial ties, but one girl's coming-of-age as she seeks to reconcile where she fits into it all. Written from Allegra's distinct voice, there's a good balance here of both childhood innocence with some heavier themes of dealing with the absence of a parent, the state of women's liberation in Australia in the 1970s, women who are victims of violence and a glimpse into the migrant experience at that time.

'It's a funny thing, Allegra', says Sister, offering me another Shortbread Cream. People think respect comes from success, fame or fortune, when in fact the most admired quality at the end of the day is kindness. Because kindness, dear - kindness - is the best indicator of a person's wellbeing. Yes, indeed, kind people are those who truly take pleasure in their time on earth.'

Both of Allegra's grandmothers love her immensely, and her father too, though all of these adults in her life have been affected by the turmoil of her mother not being there with them. Joy and Matilde with their contrasting personalities and approaches to life made this a colourful read, with Rick becoming a more steady force as the story goes on. Though there's definitely a theme of female empowerment, and not just in an overtly feminist tone, there was also a look into positive male role models and how men grieve too when hit by life's tragedies.

'Can you smell the air coming in off the salt water?' says Rick, inhaling slowly. I follow his lead and breathe in the air. 'You know what I reckon, Al...the cure for everything is salt water. Yep, think about it: sweat, tears, and the sea. They're all made up of salt water. The first two can pump out your pain and the last one - the sea - well, it washes it away,'

In all it's the idea that self-knowledge is a continuous process which made this book really stand out for me, and it's definitely become a firm favourite on my shelves. This is an altogether impressive debut from Suzanne Daniel, she is definitely a local author to watch!

For more insights about Allegra in Three Parts, read on for my interview with Suzanne Daniel!

Thank you so much for stopping by on the blog Suzanne. and congratulations on releasing your first novel! What were some of the biggest challenges and best moments in your journey to having Allegra in Three Parts published?

Thank you for having me!

For a number of years writing my novel was a private thing, something of a hobby I was fitting around work and family. This gave me creative freedom but it also meant I wasn’t accountable to anyone else, or to a time frame. And without either of these, there was always something more pressing to do. I had to work hard to improve my self discipline, make myself go to the desk and spend time on something that was never urgent. If the writing was flowing well, I became totally absorbed and it took on a momentum of it’s own. I was loathed to stop and couldn’t wait to get back to it. When it wasn’t, I’d wander off to make another cup of tea, end up cleaning a cupboard or making a phone call. After a while I made myself push through the less inspired writing episodes by setting a daily word count and I wouldn’t allow myself to rise form the desk until I hit it. This became my magic formula.

I started to write the book in the third person but that wasn’t capturing Allegra on every level. I wanted her story to be visceral but I’d been told that trying to write in the first person was too ambitious for a first time novelist. I fiddled, tested and tweaked, and finally I found Allegra’s voice. Once I did, she kind of led me and we were away.

A quote from Simone de Beauvoir "Self knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it", opens this novel beautifully and sets the tone for the rest of the story. How did the state of feminism in Australia in the 1970s first come into the picture for the socio-cultural setting of Allegra in Three Parts?

I'm fascinated by this period in history and what was happening for women during the second wave of the women’s movement. Not just the street marches and the mobilising actions of the ‘sisterhood’, but for women out in the suburbs, some staying in marriages they were disillusioned with, others leaving them to carve out a new identity. Many women ended up leading double lives: feminist uni student by day, then a second shift as homemaker, wife and mother. Conversations were starting to change among women and between women and men. 

Women were opening up to one another in a new way, starting to understand through sharing their private thoughts, responses and feelings, that it wasn’t ‘just me’ but that what they were experiencing was almost universal. The personal did become political. And of course you have to fully understand yourself before you know what will make you content in the long term. Hence I chose the Simone de Beauvoir quote to open the novel. I also liked it because it sets the scene for Allegra’s ultimate coming of age. 

'Adult fiction' written from a child's perspective as the main character has made for some interesting reads. How did you find the experience of writing about some confronting issues such as domestic violence, racism and the absence of a parent through eleven-year-old Allegra's eyes?

I remember myself and know from raising three children, that a child’s development and understanding isn’t linear. An eleven-year-old can swing from almost adult insight, to breathtaking naivety many times in one day. Once I placed Allegra in the various confronting situations dealing with domestic violence, racism and an absent mother, I dug deep to put myself inside her head and her heart. I did a lot of research on the effects of conflict on a child as well as ‘cred testing’ Allegra’s responses with my youngest daughter, Francesca (who was about 14 when I started writing the novel) and my cousin’s daughter, Molly when she was actually eleven.
The complexities of finding true friendships and navigating how the 'social hierarchy' works as a young adolescent also seemed to underscore Allegra's development in the story. Do you think much has changed around these issues in today's age compared to when the book is set?

Thankfully I think things have improved somewhat in that adults and educators are now much more aware of the damaging effects that bullying has on a young person. In the 1970s, when this book is set, sadly bullying was often seen as just ‘kids being kids’ and so many children suffered dreadfully at the hands of bullies. And of course scratch beneath the surface and the bullies were usually suffering in some way themselves too. I know from being on the Board of a large senior school that a lot of effort and resources are now dedicated to combating bullying and creative strategies are put into place. Even so, humans are still programmed similarly and navigating the 'social hierarchy’ remains a challenge for children and adolescents today. And of course they are dealing with things that weren’t around in the 1970s like social media.
A key strength of this book and what makes it so memorable for me is how well-developed all the characters are, especially Allegra's grandmothers Matilde and Joy. What did you find significant about having these two women feature in the story?

I wanted to show love delivered in different ways to a child within one family so Matilde and Joy, being neighbours but so polarised, gave me a great opportunity to do that. They have very different backgrounds, aspirations and world views but both love Allegra wholeheartedly. I wanted my readers to see these grandmothers in all their humanity, magnificent one minute, flawed the next. And even though readers' allegiances might swing back and forth between Matilde and Joy, ultimately I hoped by the end of the novel they would at least understand both of them and certainly care about them too. To me a well-developed character is someone I care about and I really worked hard to make that happen, so thank you for finding my characters this way.

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote that struck a chord with you wen writing this book?

So not to spoil things for those yet to read Allegra In Three Parts I’ll nominate the strudel making scene, the I AM WOMAN scene, the glass house scene, the tent scenes and the final pages. I could go on…

About the author

Suzanne Daniel is a journalist and communications consultant who has also worked for ABC TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the United Nations, BBC (London) and in crisis management and social services. For the past twenty years she has served on community, philanthropic and public company boards. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and family. Allegra in Three Parts is her first novel.

Review & Author Interview: One by Jennifer L. Cahill - Contemporary fiction with a loving dose of reality

Friday, 31 May 2019

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill
Released: 21st June 2018
Published by: Clink Street Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Author
Pages: 356
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
One? is the first book in a contemporary fiction trilogy, looking at finding 'the one' in the modern world and how relationship models are shifting in the most innovative period in living history.

The story starts in 2005, and spans ten years following the characters from the challenges of their twenties into their thirties. It's London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi. Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love.

At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future.

One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4.
 Jennifer L. Cahill has written a story which could resonate with any twenty-something as they navigate this important decade where we seem to be told that 'everything in life is supposed to come together'; from finding your feet in a full-time job to entering a serious relationship. Though at first glance 'One?' sounds like a romance novel, I was so glad to find that it was so much more. It's refreshing to find a contemporary read which is both fun and real enough to be able to see some of yourself in the characters - whether it is high-flying Penelope with more to her than meets the eye, or Zara who is facing the challenges of moving to a new city and making long-lasting friendships. Though set predominately in London, I was intrigued by the hint of some Australian influence later on in the book (though we'll see how that comes along in the next one!).

Jennifer has kindly stopped by on the blog to answer some of my questions about the book and her writing process...

One is set in the early 2000s, a time where Facebook messenger was non-existent and Tinder still years away. What made you decide to set the story at that time?

I wrote the story at that time, with a view to capturing the essence of the place and time, and the technological changes. Little did I know that our lives were about to be taken over by all of these apps etc. It would be challenging to write the same story now, based back then. Even re-reading it I was surprised at how life has changed so much in just over ten years. I guess I could sense the changes happening at the time, but obviously I had no idea how big they were going to be. Nobody could have predicted how huge Facebook, Twitter etc. were going to be, and of course how the iPhone has changed the way we connect. My day job is very technology/innovation/future focused, so I think that point of view or mindset permeates everything that I do. I also think there is tremendous value in looking back and tracking the journey from less technology, to a more technological existence. We are so busy dealing with constant change, that we don’t take the time to look at the broader themes/effects on relationships/careers/daily life. I’m particularly looking at how the role of women has shifted because technology is levelling the playing field and more women are working than ever before, and the impact that this is having on relationship models in the modern world.

It was great to see the characters in the book go into more than just their love lives, but also what life is like after university and navigating career changes, alongside moving out of home. What do you think some of the biggest questions young people are asking themselves in their early twenties?

I think that people in their twenties must be asking themselves questions around what their career might be. New careers and University courses keep popping up all over the place, so I think the choice is probably a bit ovrwhelming. I think that people in their early twenties now have only ever lived in a world of constant change, and I think that makes them well prepared for the road ahead. There is tremendous pressure on them to succeed, but there are also more opportunities and less limits than ever before. If you are good at what you do, you can really succeed particularly as a developer, or a YouTuber/Influencer. In the past nobody would have given you your own channel to potentially reach millions for free.

From a relationship point of view, I’m looking at how the relationship models are shifting and changing to fit into the modern world. So I’m wondering if this is something that twenty somethings are thinking about. I also think the constant ’selfie pressure’ is an absolute nightmare for people at that age. Navigating relationships is hard enough without the constant pressure to look amazing for selfies, and the fact that these can be posted online. I also think this kind of thing does put a lot of pressure on finding ’the one’, surely we don’t all have to look like super models 24/7 to find love do we? Dating apps can sometimes add a transactional flavour to dating. I’m hoping that people in their twenties are questioning this, rather than just accepting that this is the way it is, and that this is the way it will always be.

The environment and sustainability are front and centre at the moment, so I definitely think that this is something that people in their twenties now are justifiably concerned about, and questioning the impact the way we live is having on their future.

Without giving too much away, is there a favourite moment or quote from the book which you'd like to share?

This is my favourite quote that doesn’t give anything away. I think this little nugget distils the story into one sentence. ‘I always think, that if I’m going to meet him, I’m definitely going to meet him in London. It’s one of the most exciting cities in the world..’ ‘One?’ p.40. Here Penelope is musing about finding ’the one’.
As a debut novelist, what were some of the biggest challenges and exciting milestones when writing One?

One of the most exciting things about writing ‘One?' was the ‘aha moment’ when I realised that I’m a writer. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have a career as a change specialist and I wish someone had told me sooner that I was a writer. We don’t have any writers in the family, if we had, they definitely would have spotted it sooner. It was the moment that I finally knew what I was supposed to be when I grew up. The minute I started writing life turned into an adventure, all of a sudden everything around me became potential inspiration, and that is a very exciting way to live.

The main challenges are finding the time to do it, you need to take a good chunk of time off work to get the book into production. That is something that writers need to budget for both in terms of time and money. Another challenge is managing your sensitivity, or ‘walking the sensitivity tightrope’ as I call it (see the video below), so that you don’t get blocked. On one hand you need to be sensitive to be a writer, it’s part of the job, but then you also need to have the courage to be able to deal with the media, critics, and you have to put yourself out there on Twitter, YouTube, live Radio etc.

I loved the vivid settings across London (and even Paris in some parts!) which captured the bustle of city living and all the chance meetings which come with it. Were any of the places the characters visited or experiences they had inspired by your own life?

As a contemporary fiction writer I try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. London, and Clapham in particular, were definitely my main inspiration to write. I just thought that London, although a challenging city, is ultimately one of the most amazing cities in the world. I also couldn’t believe that when I arrived in Clapham I was surrounded by like-minded people, from all over the world, all in their first or second jobs, and pretty much everyone was in their twenties. It’s also particularly amazing in the summer with lots of festivals, open air cinemas and events on Clapham Common. There seems to be no need to leave Clapham at the weekends if you live there. I do feel that London is as much a character in the books as the actual characters. It’s a key catalyst for the changes that they go through, and it’s a key connector as the most amazing people are drawn to live and work in London. It was also important for me to include Paris and New York, as these places are so easily accessible from London. I have personal experience of all of the places that I write about. It’s usually the place, and actually the house that starts the book off, and the story takes off from there.

What's the best piece of advice you'd pass on to other twenty-somethings who, like the characters in One, are in that in-between phase of embracing the independence and opportunities which adulthood bring?

I have three main pieces of advice for people who are in that in-between phase:

I would tell them to have faith in their own abilities and to ‘run their own race’. We live in a world where people are constantly comparing themselves to each other, selfies, instagram, facebook etc. and these online versions are not always telling the whole story. You are better off owning and celebrating your uniqueness as you only have one life to live.

I also think that self awareness is really important. There are personality tests like Myers Briggs that can be very insightful, and can put you on the right career path. Some of the most interesting people don’t fit into a regular mould, and as the world is changing, new careers are popping up all over the place. They need to be open to these possibilities, and the concept that maybe their career hasn’t been invented yet.

I would also advise people at that age to see every relationship as a learning experience, rather than ask themselves ‘is this the one?’. In that in-between phase, it’s better to ask yourself ‘What is this person teaching me?' Or ‘What am I learning about myself?’. When ’the one’ comes along, they’ll know all about it, so I would advise them not to worry about it too much at that age.

Since One was released, could you give us a glimpse into any other writing projects you're currently working on?

Absolutely. ’Two?’is almost finished. Thankfully I wrote that at the time (mid to late 2000s) so I don’t have to travel back in time too much. That will be coming out in early 2020. I’m also working on ’Three’ simultaneously, but my priority is to get ’Two’ finished. I have another couple of projects going, but my main focus is completing the trilogy, as I don’t want people to have to wait too long to find out what happens.

About the author

I write contemporary fiction and try to capture the essence of a place and time in my books. Above all, my aim is to make you laugh, and hopefully learn a little, as you recognise yourself, your friends and your exes in my books. I love hearing from my readers, and you can contact me via my website, or @JLCAuthor on Twitter.