Australian Women Writers Challenge, AWW2021, Book lists

27 books by women: completing the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

For the 6th year in a row, I signed up to do the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2021. My aim was to read 20 books; I ended up reading 27.

Here is a list of all the books I read arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name (click the title to see my full review).

‘Like Mother’ by Cassandra Austin (2021)

Literary fiction meets a fast-paced psychological thriller in this Australian novel about a new mother who misplaces her baby and spends an entire day (in November 1969) trying to find her.

‘New Animal’ by Ella Baxter (2021)

This black comedy about death, grief and bondage follows a 20-something funeral parlour make-up artist whose life is thrown into disarray when her beloved mother dies unexpectedly.

‘After Story’ by Larissa Behrendt (2021)

A charming novel about two Aboriginal Australians — a mother and daughter — embarking on a tour of England’s most revered literary sites.

‘The Husband Poisoner’ by Tanya Bretherton (2021)

This historical true crime book turns a forensic eye toward women who murdered men in post-World War II Sydney using poison as their “weapon” of choice.

‘Mermaid Singing’  and ‘Peel Me a Lotus’ by Charmian Clift (1956/1959)

Published in one volume, these twin memoirs chart Clift’s life on two different Greek Islands with her husband, the novelist and war correspondent George Johnston, as part of a Bohemian set of artists and writers in the 1950s.

‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser (2021)

A story about racism, freedom of movement and the Australian way of life, this novel is split in half —  one half in France in the 1980s; the other half in Australia in a dystopian near-future — and the reader gets to choose which to read first. [This is yet to be reviewed on this blog, but I will add a link when I’m done.]

‘The Night Village’ by Zoe Deleuil (2021)

In this quietly unsettling portrait of new motherhood, a young Australian unexpectedly falls pregnant in London then finds her paranoia kicking in when her boyfriend’s cousin becomes possessive of the baby.

‘My Friend Fox’ by Heidi Everett (2021)

Beautifully written and illustrated memoir explaining what it is like to be a resident on a psyche ward and to live with a complicated mental health condition.

‘Ash Mountain’ by Helen Fitzgerald (2021)

Billed as a “disaster thriller”, this novel revolves around a terrifying bushfire and explores events leading up to the tragedy and what happens on the actual day of the fire.

‘The River Mouth’ by Karen Herbert (2021)

An investigation into the murder of a local teenage boy is reopened when new evidence comes to light in this impressive debut crime novel set in a small coastal town in Western Australia.

‘Bobbin Up’ by Dorothy Hewett (1959)

A richly told collection of interconnected short stories focused on a bunch of diverse female characters who work at a woollen mill in 1950s Sydney.

‘Moral Hazzard’ by Kate Jennings (2002)

This brilliant novella set in the 1990s recounts the story of an Australian woman working in a Wall Street investment bank by day and who looks after her ill husband by night.

‘The Broken Book’ by Susan Johnson (2004)

A complex, multi-layered and compelling story inspired by the life of Charmain Clift, and almost impossible to describe in an 800-word review let alone a single sentence!

‘From Where I Fell’ by Susan Johnson (2021)

An epistolary novel composed of emails between two women on opposite sides of the planet whose correspondence is sometimes fraught but always frank.

‘House of Kwa’ by Mimi Kwa (2021)

An intriguing memoir, one that explores family history, loyalty, patriarchy and tradition, and marries aspects of the historical novel with reportage to tell an epic story spanning four generations.

‘Revenge: Murder in Three Parts’ by S.L. Lim (2020)

A beguiling tale of a Malaysian woman whose parents treat her like a second class citizen on the basis of her gender.

‘The Labyrinth’ by Amanda Lohrey (2020)

A deeply contemplative novel about a woman who builds a labyrinth by the beach as a way to deal with the knowledge that her son committed a brutal murder.

‘A Jealous Tide’ by Anna MacDonald (2020)

In this debut novel, a woman from Melbourne eases her restlessness by walking along the Thames while she is in London working on a research project about Virginia Woolf.

‘The Ruin’ by Dervla McTiernan (2018)

A  compelling police procedural set in Galway, Ireland, in which a jaded Detective Inspector must confront a crime that has haunted him for 20 years.

‘Night Blue’ by Angela O’Keeffe (2021)

Narrated by the Jackson Pollock painting Blue Poles, this highly original novel tells the story of the artwork, which was controversially purchased by the Australian Government in 1973, and the equally controversial artist who created it.

‘The Family Doctor’ by Debra Oswald (2021)

A crime novel about a family GP who decides to take the law into her own hands after dealing with one too many domestic violence victims.

‘The Second Son by Loraine Peck (2021)

An action-packed gangland crime novel set in Sydney’s western suburbs that combines the all-male world of violent crime with the moral and ethical dilemmas this creates for the women who have married into it.

‘Coonardoo’ by Katharine Susannah Prichard (1929)

This notorious Australian classic was the first Australian novel to feature a loving relationship between a white man and an Aboriginal woman — and created a scandal upon publication.

‘One Hundred Days’ by Alice Pung (2021)

A teenage girl living in a high rise flat in Melbourne is smothered by her over-protective mother and forced to stay indoors for 100 days when she falls pregnant.

‘Sheerwater’ by Leah Swann (2020)

A fast-paced eloquently written literary crime novel in which a woman on the run from her abusive husband loses one of her children en route — but did he just wander off or was he kidnapped?

‘The Inland Sea’ by Madeleine Watts (2021)

A coming-of-age story about a troubled young woman working as an emergency call dispatcher at a time of unprecedented ecological disaster.

Have you read any of these books? Or have any piqued your interest?

You can see all my wrap-ups for previous years of the Australian Women Writers Challenge as follows: 2020 here, 2019 here, 2018 here, 2017 here and 2016 here.

In 2022 the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is switching focus to help raise the profile of women writers from the 19th- and 20th-century who may not have achieved prominence in their lifetimes, or whose works have been forgotten and/or overlooked. Visit the official website for more info. 

15 thoughts on “27 books by women: completing the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge”

    1. Well, if it helps The Jealous Tide was published by a UK publisher (I had to order mine online), the Baxter and de Kretser will be published in UK this year, while the Charmian Clift memoirs were reissued in the UK in 2021 as separate volumes with very pretty covers to capitalise on the success of British novelist Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers (which features Clift as a main character).

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  1. I have indeed read some of these… nice to see The Broken Book there, that was my intro to SJ’s novels and I’ve been a fan ever since. I also loved A Jealous Tide, and of course, The Labyrinth, I was soooo pleased when it won the MF!

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    1. Well, you are responsible for me reading A Jealous Tide and The Labyrinth, Lisa! Both were wonderful books… hard to leave them out of my favourite books of the year post. And I also adored The Broken Book, but so hard to summarise what it is about. I just remember the lovely melancholic feeling it induced when I read it and the intertwined storylines.

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      1. Yes, I listened to it as an audio book a while ago, with a view to writing a proper review of it, but it was hopeless. I need to get a print copy of it (or find the one I’m sure is around the house somewhere.)

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  2. Love it Kimbofo. I read almost the same number of books that you did for the challenge, but not one of our books has overlapped. However, I have read three of your books in previous years – Moral hazard, Sheerwater, and Coonardoo. Anyhow,thanks so much for all the years you’ve contributed to the challenge; it’s been really great having you with us. I look forward to more book chats next year – well, this year now!

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  3. I know I’m part of the Challenge going in a different direction, but still I hope that it finds a future somewhere for all its aspects – meeting place, challenge and archive.
    Last night, looking for something to read, I took down Alice Pung, Unpolished Gem, after reading this post. I’m enjoying it.

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    1. It will be interesting to see how the challenge moves forward over the next year. I think it’s great to promote the older and neglected writers from the 19th and 20th centuries and look forward to seeing the impact of that on peoples reading and/or whether you can get important/relevant books brought back into print, but I do feel sorry for contemporary writers, struggling to make a living, who will miss out on the exposure… as I’ve said previously, not everyone’s on Facebook (and if they had any sense they’d get off it 🤣 ). Guess I’ll just have to keep reviewing them on my own blog!

      I haven’t read Unpolished Gem, but I did read her other memoir, Her Father’s Daughter, which was excellent. Review here: https://readingmattersblog.com/2019/04/17/her-fathers-daughter-by-alice-pung/

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