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. 

Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2021, Book review, crime/thriller, Fiction, Fourth Estate, Leah Swann, Publisher, Reading Projects, Setting, Southern Cross Crime Month 2021

‘Sheerwater’ by Leah Swann

Fiction – paperback; Fourth Estate; 308 pages; 2020.

Sheerwater by Leah Swann is one of those rare treats of a novel that marries beautiful prose with wonderfully realised characters and then combines this with a compelling, fast-paced plot and lots of thought-provoking current issues to lend it relevance.

It’s probably best described as a literary crime novel, though it also ticks boxes for suspense and psychological thriller, too.

The third-person narrative spans three tense days and culminates in a shocking, yet totally credible ending, the sort that could have been lifted from today’s news. I came away from it reeling and I have been thinking about it ever since.

An eventful drive

The story is framed around Ava, a young woman, who has quit her job and left her husband. With two young children, Max and Teddy, in tow, she makes a long drive towards the coast, where she plans to begin a new life in a little town called Sheerwater, somewhere off the Great Ocean Road.

But en route Ava witnesses something that will thwart her plans: she sees a light plane go down in a field and decides to stop and help. Imploring her boys to remain in the car with their pet dog, Winks, for company, she attends the accident scene, but when she returns to the car, having done all she could to help the injured, she discovers that her boys are gone. Only the dog remains.

The police are called and an investigation ensues. The boys’ father is number one suspect, but how did he know Ava’s whereabouts? And why is she on the run from him?

Multiple points of view

While the story is largely told from Ava’s point of view, we also get to hear from her husband, Laurence, and her son, Max, in standalone chapters written from their individual perspectives. This is a clever device because it not only lets us see what happens to the boys and gives us some background on Ava’s marriage, it also makes the reader question who is telling the truth? Which perspective is correct?

Max’s voice is particularly well done because we get to see the complexities of the scary adult world through a sensitive nine-year-old boy’s eyes. It is, by turns, warm and tender, heart rending and brave. I can’t be the only reader who didn’t want to step into the pages to give him a protective hug.

The ending, which draws together this trio of narrative threads, is unexpectedly shocking.

Sheerwater is a truly memorable read. It’s devastating but beautiful, too, and I’m hoping this debut author turns her hand to something else soon. If it is half as good as this novel, I will be clamouring to read it.

Sue at Whispering Gums has reviewed this one, too.

About the author¹: Leah Swann is the award-winning author of the short story collection Bearings, shortlisted for the Dobbie Award, and the middle-grade fantasy series Irina: The Trilogy. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in numerous literary magazines, and she works as a journalist and speech-writer. Sheerwater is her debut novel. Leah lives in Melbourne with her family.   (1. Source: Harper Collins website.)

Where to buy: Currently only available in Australia and New Zealand.

This is my 9th book for #SouthernCrossCrime2021 which I am hosting on this blog between 1st March and 31st March. To find out more, including how to take part and to record what you have read, please click here. It is also my 7th book for #AWW2021.