Maria Katsonis is the child of Greek migrant parents. She spent her whole life being a high achiever, for herself and to make up for her parent's sacrifice in coming to Australia. At 39 she decides on a public service career and is accepted into a prestigious Masters program at Harvard University. Fast forward five years later and she is diagnosed with clinical depression and is a psychiatric patient.
Maria's story is particularly poignant as it shows everyone is vulnerable to being a victim of a mental illness. All that it takes is that the pressure of life is turned up too high, a few too many of life's curve balls, and the floodgates crumble.
i was humbled by Maria's honesty in writing about her life, her illness, and her acceptance of this new identity as a sufferer of a chronic mental illness. One in five people will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime and we need more people with Maria's bravery to share their stories and demystify this condition.
Ramona Koval always suspected that the man who raised her was not her biological father. At 45 years of age she embarks on a journey to find out the true story of her parentage, a journey that would take over a decade and many twists and turns.
Her parents are both survivors of the Holocaust. Ramona's mother died before she could share her story, and before she formulated the questions for her identity, and her relationship with her father was always fraught.
This memoir has been likened to a detective novel and I have to agree. Ramona shares her many false starts and searches for leads, and is very honest about her emotional reactions. Her acerbic wit made me laugh out loud a few times. This is a memoir about the way that the past shapes future generations, that to know who we are we need to know what came before. In her own words:
"We need our stories: they are the way we learn about the world, and the way we pass on what we learn to those who come after us. We are always looking for a plausible story, one that might fit the meagre facts, as they do in courts of law--never really able to know the whole truth but finding the most likely explanation, the most convincing thread."
This memoir shows how life is a mystery, that no matter how hard we want to search for the truth, sometimes we just have to accept that life doesn't give us a neatly packaged ending and the most important thing is for each of us to understand our own story. For Ramona to understand her parents, it means to understand what they were hewn from: the way that their survival from the Holocaust made them who they are, and how this has in turn shaped Ramona's story.
I was seeking the latest book by my Sultana’s Dream editor Hanifa Deen’s when I found On the Trail of Taslima. This is a biography of Taslima Nasreen, a former medical doctor and protest writer who shot to fame in 1993 when her book was banned and a warrant issued for her arrest in her homeland of Bangladesh.
Taslima Nasreen is a woman not of her place and time. Bold and fearless she found her voice writing about the injustice women in Bangladesh faced. The way they are silenced by tradition and religious expectations. Falling foul of community standards and culture, she stumbles into a legal nightmare when participating in an interview that quotes her saying the Quran should be revised. Despite her clarification that she was misquoted and was actually referring to Hadiths, sayings and acts by prophet Mohammed used to understand the Quran, the damage is done. Religious Mullahs with their own agendas use her misstep to bring a case of blasphemy against her.
After tense negotiations and facing the possibility of extensive time in jail Taslima becomes a writer in asylum in Sweden and her new life as the poster child against Muslim fundamentalism for the West begins. Hailed as the next Salman Rushdie by the ‘Dragon Slayers,’ the human rights fighters that rescued her, they find that Taslima the woman falls short of Taslima the myth.
Deen writes the book like a detective novel subtly piecing together the pieces of the puzzle about who Taslima actually is-a writer, human rights activist, unconventional woman, professional victim, or opportunist. As she charts Taslima’s rise to prominence and uncovers the power plays behind her leaving Bangladesh, she also pinpoints the gullibility of the media in being too quick to chase the next story to undertake fact checking, and the eagerness of the West to embrace an opportunity that confirms their own prejudices.
I got caught up in this book and couldn’t put it down. As a writer it was also fascinating to think about some of the observations and questions Deen posed as she tried to peel back Taslima. Can a writer actually survive being in exile when their voice and soul is shaped by place? As a writer should we be governed by the ethos of freedom of speech, or censor ourselves? And the one I grappled with the most, if your writing has the opportunity to change the world in some way, do you put everything on the line, including your life?
On the Trail of Taslima is a complex tale and one that says much about our expectations of writers as well as women.
For more information or to order a copy go to Hanifa's website.
Tor is a friend from my writing group. The Light Heart of the Stone is a fantasy novel, set in the world of the Stone Body, a continent on which plants and animals need human companions in order to thrive.
For more than one thousand years, the Companionaris and the Indidjinies have lived side-by-side. The colonising Companionaris control the talent for growing plants and breeding animals. The colonised Indidjinies own the land.
In order to achieve a balance a high price is paid by the Indidjiny who must give up their offspring with talent and indenture themselves to the Companionaris in order to live on the land. This is a very Australian fantasy novel that parallels Australian history and the story of Colonial invasion and Indigenous loss into another world. It has magic, romance and stories that echo the dreamtime fables. This is a great read and a well crafted world.
For more info go here.
Just found this review of The Good Daughter by a Year 8 student that's made my day:The Good Daughter
by Amra Pajalic
Review by Alana Orsulic
Sabiha (Sammie) is fifteen and having a bit of an identity crisis. Her grandfather is back in her life and suddenly her mother expects Sammie to be a model Bosnian daughter, complete with attending metjef (Islamic classes). Meanwhile, her charismatic cousin Adnan - who's extremely popular with the girls at Sammie's school - seems to be able to get away with anything. Also, Sammie has fallen out with her old friend Kathleen. She starts hanging around with nerds Jesse and Brian, sure that something more will develop between her and Brian, despite the warnings of Dina, another Bosnian-Muslim girl at school. But Dina has secrets of her own, and Sammie realises that maybe they can help each other...
This is a wonderful high-school based story set in the suburbs of Melbourne and filled with crushes, friendship troubles, teen identity crises and power struggles with parents and peers. There is also a focus on growing up with more than one culture. In short, it contains everything I love to read about. I absolutely loved this book.
I found it very easy to relate to Sammie. She is a fantastic character - strong-willed but not superhuman. All she wants is to get on with her life; all she gets is pressure at home and at school. Sammie hasn't had a conventional upbringing as it is, and when the definition of 'good daughter' changes for her almost overnight, it's not easy to deal with. This gives an original twist to the exploration of mixed culture in coming-of-age fiction. Dina and Adnan's stories tie in with Sammie's and complement her cross-cultural issues. Jesse and Brian are also wonderful, well-rounded characters. It's fascinating to see Sammie's friendships change and develop, and I adored the way some of Sammie's new relationships were based on books and reading.
I love Sherlock Holmes and when I heard about this series which is a young adult imagining of this character, I had to read it.
His name is James Mycroft and he is the boy next door with a troubled past and a brilliant mind. His Watson is Rachel Watts, a country girl at heart who is making a new life in Melbourne after her family's farm is repossessed.
This book has it all: romance, danger and twists. I loved everything about it from the humorous references to Sherlock Holmes's world, the character development-Rachel and James were really interesting and well developed, and the murder mystery element was riveting.
As I was reading this book I was admiring not only Marney's writing and the action on the page, but also that she came up with the idea. Sherlock Holmes as a character has been reinterpreted so many times and I love that now there is a young adult version.
The other character that must be mentioned is Melbourne. Marney makes my home city come to life in all its multicultural glory and I loved seeing it shine on the page.
Best of all the second in the series is being published June 2014 so not too long to wait.
Hannah Kent made international headlines when her novel Burial Rites was sold in a bidding war. It is a recreation of the true life story of the Agnes who is accussed of murdering of her former master and who was the last person executed in Iceland in 1830, .
Sometimes reading a book that has been hyped can be dissapointing. The hype just can't meet expectations, but in this instance I found that the build up was well deserved.
A friend said that this novel had a 'noir' feel to it and I have to agree. One of the fascinating things was the structure. Because Kent is basing this book on real events we already know Anges' fate so there is the challenge of how to develop conflict and tension.
Kent sets the story a few months before Anges' execution when she lives with a family in the area she grew up. We slowly find out about her life and about that fateful night when her master died. There are also primary documents inserted within the manuscript that provide a fascinating insight into her case.
This book is a successful murder mystery novel and has such a great atmosphere. It's also a great historical fiction novel that gives insight into Iceland in the 1800s. Kent has a lyrical turn of phrase and I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel. I highly recommend this novel.
Cate Kennedy's memoir has been on my to read list for ages.
I haven't read a travel journal or travel memoir before so this was a new one for me. Cate brings us into her world working as a volunteer in Mexico for three years.
Usually you think a memoir as someone telling you about themselves, yet in this memoir Cate focuses her lens on Mexico and she becomes the conduit through which we learn about this amazing country and its generous people.
She shares how her experiences shaped and influenced her and what we have to learn from countries and people that we view as impoverished. In the end we have to wonder which people are the truly impoverished. Whilst we might have the material goods, there is a lot we lack such a generosity of spirit.
While I was completing my pilgrimage of Cate I found out she co-edited an anthology and had to read that. In this anthology midwives share their tales of birth. The stories shared are from war zone, third world countries, and hospitals in the suburbs.
This is a really valuable book for any woman, but especially those looking for resources as they prepare for their own birth.
By reading about other women's experiences you can prepare for your own, and most importantly learn about the reality of birth. That there are no guarantees, that you cannot predict anything, and you just have to surrender and hope for the best.
This is Cate's latest short story collection with most of the stories featured having been been published previously.
I love reading short stories by dipping into them over time and that's what I did with this collection.
My favourite is probably Seventy-Two Derwents told from the point of view of a child. There is such a sense of menace and tension in this story and I was entranced by the ending.
The second book in the Montmaray Journals trilogy sees Sophie and her ragtag family living in London in the lead up to World War II.
There is intrigue, high society, coming out and potential love interests.
Cooper examines the political events leading to World War II and captures a snapshot of the times.
The third book in the Montmaray Journals trilogy is set during World War II. I absolutely love reading books set during World War I and II (does that make me weird).
This was probably my favourite book of the series. Cooper has meticulously brought to life the reality of living in London during the Nazi bombings.
I can see this book being a real gem in the classroom and getting students to learn about history by living it through Sophie's eyes.
I've loved this whole series and it has been an absolute pleasure reading all of the books, as attested by the fact that I inhaled all three books in a couple of months.
The Fine Colour of Rust by Paddy O'Reilly writing as P.A. O'Reilly was a real gem. I absolutely loved the dry humour and observations of the main character Loretta Baskovic.
This was a story with real heart and some laugh out loud moments. Paddy beautifully captured the quirky characters of a small country town with authenticity.
Even though this is a light-hearted read, there is real depth to the story she tells and Loretta's journey.
I heard about this book on the Tuesday Book Club when Toni Jordan said that she was very proud to be known as Kate Richards tutor. I immediately added this to my reading list and I am so glad.
This is such a beautiful and heartfelt insight into Kate's real life battle with mental illness. A sufferer since she was 16 this book spans the three year period in her late twenties/early thirties when she learns to accept and manage her illness.
She provides a poignant insight into the realities of a mentally ill person, the fact that they are at the mercy of sometimes indifferent and even cruel medical professionals, the vulnerability of not being able to trust your own mind, and the brave battle she undertakes to try and manage a regular life. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Madness: A Memoir will provide some much needed insight into what it means to be mentally ill and create empathy for these sufferers.
This book has been on my radar for a while. It's the story of Krissy's exploration of sexual desire.
Kneen is a great writer who tells her story of sexual exploration and acceptance with great honesty and forthrightness. There are moments of great eroticism as she lays out her sexual adventures and revelations.
Kneen has also written a book of erotic short stories and I'll be following this up.
I read Rebecca James' debut novel Beautiful Malice and absolutely loved it. I've had her follow up novel Sweet Damage sitting on my shelf for a while because it required a special reading day. I was determined I would read it from cover to cover, and I did, and it was fabulous.
James excels at writing thrillers that are surprising and chilling. Best of all she excels at red herrings so there is this absolutely fabulous moment when you reach the climax and just sigh with satisfaction. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
I read a review of this memoir and was intrigued. A young bride in the 1950s is escaping from her abusive husband. She's sitting on the train with her one year old son on her lap when her husband appears like a horrible nightmare. He snatches the boy and threatens to kill her and him if she ever tries to find her son.
And so this family memoir of loss, grief, and longing begins. It's the story of a mother who is always grieving and searching, a son who is lost without a maternal presence, and a family that grows up in the shadow of this. It's a memoir about a time in Australian history when children were stolen, when women had no agency and when motherhood was viewed as a personal burden. Reading this memoir made me so angry and sad at the way society failed mothers and children, and so grateful to be born in this time. Cannot recommend this highly enough.
This is a digital short story collection published by Scribe Publishing. All stories were previously published in journals. I love short story collections and how they are little gems that give you that hit.
Really loved this collection and probably my two favourite stories are The Chamber about a woman who finds a gun and the way it changes her, and The Tower about the carelessness of youth and how we can be haunted for a lifetime by our bad decisions.
Mundell is a beautiful writer who is so precise and lyrical in her language and each story is so sharp and brilliant that images remain with the reader for a long time to come.
I hope more Australian publishers take up this type of publishing and we see many more such short story collections.
Simmone Howell is a friend and I was excited when she announced a while ago that her new novel Girl Defective was to be published. I’d read half of it early on and couldn’t wait for it to be published so I could read the rest.
This novel is a thing of beauty. Girl Defective is so weird, deep, gritty and beautiful. It’s everything you want a young adult novel to be and as a writer it’s the sort of book that makes me sigh and wish to write something so amazing.
Since being published Simmone has sold it into the US for a 6 figure sum, which is absolutely amazing. It’s especially lovely to hear because Girl Defective is seeped into the landscape of St Kilda and it’s heartening that Australian literature is making it onto the international scene.
Here’s a link to an interview she did that’s awesome. So if you love weird, deep, gritty and beautiful young adult novels, pick up a copy of Girl Defective. You won’t be disappointed.
This has been on my radar since meeting Kirstyn McDermott at an author event we were both doing at La Trobe university. One of the things she spoke about during her speech really struck a chord. She said that the scariest stuff happens in suburbia, and I agree.
Madigan Mine is a supernatural thriller. Alex Bishop is reunited with his first love Madigan Sargood and after she commits suicide he is haunted. McDermott creates a tense atmosphere as Alex and Madigan’s love affair is revealed. There is a creeping sense of dread and suspense as McDermott takes the reader through twists and turns. I loved not knowing where it was going and constantly being surprised as I turned each page.
As I was getting ready for bed one night while reading the book I stood in the darkness and felt a bit creeped out and fearful as I remembered flashes of Madigan Mine. Really liked being taken out of my comfort zone
Really enjoyed reading it and very excited to know that she has a new novel titled Perfections that’s out now.
I am an author, reader and teacher.
Sign up and receive a free short story Suicide Watch from my book The Cuckoo's Song featuring some of my previously published and prize-winning stories. Suicide Watch features Sabiha, my protagonist from The Good Daughter, from a scene cut from the novel.