Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 6, 2019

2019 MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) shortlist

Once again living up to its name, the MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) sponsored by @BooksellersAU. has nominated three books for its shortlist, and I’ve only read one of them.

Thanks to Twitter, I can tell you what the judges said about their choices:

First up, we have BRONTIDE by Sue McPherson, published by @MagabalaBooks , a YA novel told via interviews with four high school boys in a small Queensland town, that swept our judges away and made them cry.


I haven’t read that one, but in 2012 I did a Giveaway for another YA novel by Sue McPherson — Grace Beside Me, also published by Magabala Books.  The give away was won by @WellReadJen, and her review is at Goodreads. So Sue McPherson is on my radar.

Secondly, we have ANTIDOTE TO A CURSE by James Cristina, published by @transitlounge2 , a fiction novel set in 1990s inner Melbourne which blends the Bosnian war, an impending AIDS diagnosis, birds and cats, that the judges noted as a ‘quietly ambitious’ book.


I haven’t read this one but you can read a review of it by Cameron Woodhead at the SMH.

And finally, we have SONGWOMAN by Ilka Tampke, published by @text_publishing, the sequel to SKIN; a historical fiction novel with a gripping plot that includes politicking, bloody battles and romances, noted as a ‘riveting read’ by the judges.


Songwoman is the one I’ve read, and it certainly wasn’t under-rated by me! It’s the sequel to Skin, which I also liked.  A blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Skin was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and longlisted for the 2016 Voss.  Songwoman deserves similar acclaim: it is, as I said in my review, likewise solidly grounded in the mud and dirt and ruthlessness of Albion (i.e. Britain) in 47AD when the Romans were consolidating their rule and stamping out the last vestiges of resistance in Wales. It has a brave and feisty central character, always tricky to depict convincingly in stories set in the patriarchal past, but Tempke pulls it off with her mystic character Ailia.  This is how I concluded my review:

The novel ripples with the ancient beliefs of an ancient era in collision with a modernising force of great power.  The Catuvellaunians sacrifice to the Mothers, including a rather grisly human sacrifice, and they believe in augury and visions and totems.  Some, like the little girl Malacca, are ostracised as outsiders to the tribe, and as Ailia discerns for herself, warfare becomes an end in itself. And the descriptions of the Welsh mountains are beautiful, but the stink of first century life is vivid too.

It’s an absorbing story with twists and turns and moral dilemmas to untangle.  Ailia, still only a young woman, is on a journey of self-discovery and must regain her confidence in herself and also deftly manage the distrust of those within her tribe who are not even sure of her status and role.  She’ll be back in Book #3, with, I predict, Malacca by her side…

I hope so!

The judges for MUBA are:

You can find out more about them on the Small Press Network website. 



  1. I think Magabala books do a wonderful job. I’ve asked and asked to be put on their mailing list for new releases but with no result. And my local indi bookshop (Crow Books, Vic Pk) doesn’t do WA or Australian displays so they’re no help either.


    • Maybe they don’t have one. They used to send me children’s books for me to review on my LisaHillSchoolStuff blog, but I never got advance notice or press releases to choose from, they just sent them to me.


  2. None of these have much appeal to be honest but in spite of that it seems like a great idea for an award. Too many times the same names roll around repeatedly.


    • It’s a curious award, one you’d really rather not be in contention for, but it brings publicity which what writers really need. For every book we review on our blogs, whether we like them or not, there’s a reader out there who thinks, that’s the book for me, and they buy it, or they borrow it (which here in Australia makes money for the author too through the PLR (Public Lending Right), or they put it on their wishlist so that someone buys it for their birthday. And if the writer is lucky, that reader will gossip about that book, with friends or family or colleagues, and that word-of-mouth will make more people want to read the book.
      But important as they are, it’s not always the sales. When my books for teachers of Indonesian became ‘bestsellers’ in their little niche, at a conference for teachers of Indonesian someone once said to me, “Are you THE Lisa Hill?” the affirmation was wonderful. That glow has stayed with me for decades.
      I suspect that for the writers of these books, that affirmation that these judges think the books deserve more attention than they’ve had, is a wonderful feeling, whether they win it or not.


      • Good point about not wanting to be in contention for this award. I cannot imagine how it must feel to write something and then watch it sink while other books, bestsellers perhaps, get attention. It must be very painful.


        • I expect it is, but it goes with the territory. If you write serious books with significant ideas (the kind of books we like to read) it’s niche territory: they’re unlikely to be bestsellers. It’s like music: composers can spend years constructing a beautiful symphony while five-minute forgettable jingles and pop make millions.
          You can’t change the territory, you can only make choices about what you want to write.
          (Though there are some writers like Graham Greene and John Banville who do both, writing commercial fiction to subsidise the other stuff they want to do.)


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