You know it's that time of year when things start to appear in dozens, but this is actually something I started in January. I wanted to read more books by Australian authors, and I wanted to read more middle-grade and YA, and nothing provides more of a kick-up-the-bum than a real, official 'challenge'.
So I was happy to find that Booklovers Book Review had just that ... a Kangaroo reader if I manage 12 Aussie authors this year. So much good stuff out there that I've got 2 kangaroos and am working on a 3rd :)
Besides a whopping pile of great literature, I also love the fact that I got to know the incredible humans behind the stories. Out of the 12 authors listed below, I was fortunate to have met 6 of them, at masterclasses and retreats, author talks and events like Romancing the Stars.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice wakes up after bumping her head and doesn't recognise the life she owns. In fact, she has no memory of the past 10 years. Believing she is newly pregnant with the love of her life, putting one shy foot in front of the other at work and other aspects of life, she is surprised to find herself a supermum to three children and heading for a bitter divorce. As she navigates this new life, she keeps stumbling upon a mystery that everyone seems to be skirting around. With a great cast of supporting characters and an invitation for all of us to think back to years past and explore how much life can change, this is a fantastic read which cemented my admiration of Liane as a master contemporary fiction writer.
The Harper Effect by Taryn Bashford
Harper could be a teen tennis sensation - if only she didn't choke at every game. Her coach dumps her, her crush goes out with her sister, her new coach pairs her with an angry, arrogant male tennis player and Harper is struggling to stay positive. In her debut YA novel, Taryn explores the physical, mental and emotional game that athletes bring to get to the top. It's a story about ambition, self-belief, and love. And wait til you get to the part where you discover the reason for the title...
Night Swimming by Steph Bowe
Kirby is a 17-year-old girl who lives in a small town with her stern mum and demented granddad. While her stage-loving best friend Clancy Lee dreams of a future in the big city, Kirby is happy with her simple life, walking her pet goat around town and learning carpentry. But life doesn't stay simple for long - crop circles appear, Kirby comes across her real dad's name in the paper, and a new girl moves into town. Iris is their age, and the most beautiful girl either of them have ever met. Steph runs a narrative through this kaleidoscope of characters and elements that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
The Elephant by Peter Carnavas
Lovers of Peter's work as a picture book author and illustrator will be swept away by the impact of this moving tale. Olive wishes the big grey elephant that follows her dad around would go away. It weighs him down, drains him of colour, and makes him sad. But it's not easy to fix such a big thing when you're just a little girl.
Peter tackles the subject of depression from the point of view of a child in a manner that's courageous and inspiring, as most little kids are.
Turtle Trackers by Samantha Wheeler
Isaac has no time to be a regular 10-year-old kid. Even though he lives on the coast, close to where the turtles lay their eggs, he's busy helping his mum run a caravan park, especially now that Dad is gone. Samantha writes fabulous environmental stories starring Australian animals and their champions - a young protagonist whose life is by no means perfect, but has his or her heart in the right place. The result is an engaging narrative with a steady flow of important facts to feed a young reader's curiosity, plus a whole lot of charm squeezed in.
The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
Bani Adam is a student at Punchbowl Boys in greater Sydney's south-west where the Lebs are the majority. The place heaves with testosterone, angst, racism and sectarianism, and Bani is a sole romantic, daydreaming about absconding with his English teacher. I like that it is neither an apology nor a demonization of Muslim youth, simply a window into a life where you're always a minority even when you're in the majority, looking for purity but surrounded by hopelessness. Michael's writing is punchy, honest and his flow is excellent, lyrical and profane in turns. A stand out book for me this year.
The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley
This is the fascinating story of the age of discovery told from the point of view of Elizabeth Gould, the wife of John Gould, one of London's most famous natural historians. From the very first line, I was transported to the year 1828 by Melissa's mesmerising description and language. The Goulds travelled to Australia, leaving half of their brood behind in London, to hunt and name countless wild birds never before seen by their European counterparts. As so often happens in history, Elizabeth's name is obscured in the shadow of her husband's, until now.
I enjoyed learning about the painstaking methodology involved in her illustrations, all the while cheering her on for being such a pioneer and raging against her lost glory. Thank you, Melissa, for bringing her story to life. We leave the book richer with the knowledge of dozens of exotic birds and the spectacular woman who drew them.
The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela
It's very likely that we all know someone like India Wimple - shy, loyal and incredibly smart. She never misses a word when the Wimple family watch the Spelling Bee on the telly, so it only seems natural that she should compete. For India, it isn't that easy - her family are poor and can hardly afford to travel with the Bee, and her brother's health isn't crash hot, making her feel guilty for even thinking she could win. This middle grade novel is a warm, fuzzy package of feels for anyone who loves underdogs and spelling bees. (Isn't that everyone?)
The Love That I Have by James Moloney
Margot is a young girl who finds work in the mailroom of a concentration camp in 1944 Berlin. She is taught that those interned are the enemy, yet their letters, which she secretly reads, are full of human emotions. One prisoner writes to his girlfriend who is also named Margot. The letters are beautiful, and Margot finds herself writing back. But this is a war where there are not many happy endings. When James told us about his upcoming book at a literary event, he confessed that this is the best book he's ever written. It's a big proclamation from someone whose work in children and young adult fiction is so celebrated, but after reading it I have to admit that the book is excellent.
The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper
Three women return to a hiking spot, many years after an event occurred which tainted their lives and ruined their friendship. Carrying their packs as well as the baggage from their past, they forge through the terrain, reliving their events in their own way, in attempt at redemption that will either make or break them. Sally writes with a keen eye for detail and masterfully weaves the past and all its emotions into the physical struggle of their present hike. It's a book that brings us back to the raw essence of nature, both its beauty and dangers, and I'm willing to bet that many readers have laced up their hiking boots by the end of this book, revived by an energy and passion for the outdoors.
Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett
A beautiful debut novel about three brothers who are bound to sea - it is their livelihood, their best memories, their fear and their escape. After their mother’s death, they are at the mercy of a father who runs a thin line between being stern and being dangerous. I love any book that brings me close to the ocean, and I adore this one in particular for being at times so gentle, and at other times heart-wrenching. Reading Favel's beautifully crafted work is much like being the seahorse on the book's cover, happily tumbling in the shallows, then being swept away into the deep.
Breath by Tim Winton
You can hardly have a list of Australian authors without including Tim Winton. His writing style is beautiful to the point of being disarming, whether on the subject of natural beauty or human vice. Pikelet and Loonie are two boys who grow up in a small mill town. Venturing out towards the sea a few miles away, they stumble upon this thing called surfing and fall headlong into the pull of the waves. By a miracle, they're taken under the wing of a surfer named Sando who teaches them to overcome fear and all other things material, to embrace the sea and understand what it means to live and breathe at the pinnacle of nature in its wildest for.