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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" RSS Feed (ACT, Australia)
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My Island Homicide
My Island Homicide
Price: $9.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I wanted to cry, but it wouldn’t look good – the new boss crying on her first day of work, April Fools’ Day, no less.’, September 28, 2014
Thea Dari-Jones, forty and single, takes over as the Officer in Charge of the Thursday Island Police Station on April Fools’ Day. She’s dreaming of a relaxed lifestyle: after all, her research has shown that there is not a lot of crime on the island. Thea has ties to Thursday Island (TI): her mother was a local, and she’s keen to know more about the island and its people.
But there are tensions on TI, some fuelled by alcohol and others by beliefs in maydh (black magic) which have some islanders claiming that others have committed crimes against them. There’s a cultural minefield for Thea to negotiate, and that’s before Thea is made aware that a local woman has gone missing.

‘Not even a small idyllic island was immune to violent crime.’

The missing woman is found, murdered, and then Thea has to try to find out who the murderer is. A suspect is identified - can it be as simple as it looks on the surface?

‘Apart from the unsolved murder hanging over my head, the policing life I originally imagined on TI began to materialise over the next month or so.’

Meanwhile, Thea is settling into life on TI and when she meets Jonah, a local fisherman, her life seems complete. Or is it? And how will Thea’s mother find TI when she comes to visit for a month?

This novel starts as a crime novel, but by mid-way through the focus is more on Thea and her personal life than on her professional responsibilities. Usually, that would be enough to diminish my interest in the story, but I was already hooked. There are some fascinating characters on Ms Titasey’s Thursday Island, and some great cultural and culinary observations (especially if you like curry).

I hope that Ms Titasey writes another novel about Thea and Thursday Island.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 29, 2014 8:07 AM PDT

A Married Woman
A Married Woman

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Astha was brought up properly, as befits a woman, with large supplements of fear.’, September 27, 2014
This review is from: A Married Woman (Kindle Edition)
Astha is an obedient middle-class girl growing up in Delhi during the 1970s. Her father wants her educated; her mother wants her to be settled into a safe, arranged marriage. While Astha’s family is not wealthy, they have hopes for the future. While Astha meets some males herself, and has a little more experience that her mother realises, she eventually agrees to an arranged marriage. Hemant seems kind enough.

‘She was a bride, and her grip of Hemant’s hand grew more certain, and the blush on her face more conscious.’
Astha has two children, and a job at a primary school, and for a while seems perfectly happy. She also paints. If the physical nature of her marriage has changed, this is not initially of great concern. Both Astha and Hemant are busy.

‘Life was shaping up nicely, with her mind and heart gainfully employed.’

But then Astha becomes involved in a theatre troupe run by Aijaz, a politically active man. This leads Astha to become more politically and socially aware, and she also begins to see her painting as something more than a genteel hobby.

‘Somewhere along the way Hemant’s attitude to Astha changed.’

As a consequence of growing community unrest, Aijaz and his theatre troupe are burned alive in their van one night. Astha joins the crowds in protest. Some months later she meets Aijaz’s widow Pipee, and they are drawn together. Fondness becomes love, friendship becomes complicated.

‘Why was it, thought Astha wearily, that love always had to be balanced by its opposite?’

Astha’s story unfolds slowly throughout this novel, details of her daily life serve to add depth to her development as a woman, to her frustrations and choices. By the end of the novel, Astha is a complex and complicated character, neither free of convention nor entirely entrapped within it. By trying to put the needs of others first, by being unable to celebrate her own achievements, Astha seems unable to completely take control of her own destiny.

‘She wanted to say yes, I have done it, I have sold my first painting, I have achieved something, let us celebrate, but the number of ‘I’s’ involved ensured that the words refused to leave her mind.’

This novel has stayed with me. Ms Kapur has managed to incorporate the stresses and tensions between the ties of tradition and the possibilities afforded by a more progressive life. The choices are not oversimplified: a progressive western education does not make it easy to move beyond the traditional, nor does visiting America. Life is more than culture, geography and history. Life is full of compromises. A thought provoking novel: well worth reading.

‘A trip abroad would be nice, no matter whom one loved and whom one left behind.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2014 4:25 AM PDT

Mustang Shuffle
Mustang Shuffle
Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘John Yee died because of a practical joke,’, September 27, 2014
This review is from: Mustang Shuffle (Kindle Edition)
Poor John Yee. Having been the victim of Glenn Gillman’s practical jokes in the past, he decided it was time to return the favour. Who would have thought it would be fatal?

‘It is ironic that a man who didn’t understand the concept of humour was murdered playing a practical joke.’

But Glenn Gillman himself has run into a spot of bother with his practical jokes. It may be that the restaurant manager died accidently, but that could be a little hard to explain when his body goes missing. Especially if it’s in the boot of your car and the car is stolen.

‘He sighed. The only way he was going to get a car was if he stole one’.

So, who stole Glenn’s car, and when will the body be discovered? In the meantime, Glenn heads out of town with his girlfriend, Charity, while Carl Hamilton (a man with some serious issues of his own) has hired someone to get rid of a few people for him.

‘I am a man to be reckoned with!’

Jeff Norburn’s debut novel is full of black, bleak humour and fascinating, flawed characters. And just how will the different story lines come together? Will the car thief outwit the contract killer? Will Glenn’s girlfriend understand what he’s done? And will Glenn ever get his Mustang back?

I enjoyed this novel, with its laugh-out-loud moments, its humour and its action-packed twists and turns. And, while weakly resisting some seriously bad puns of my own about the meat of the story, and beefs with authority, there’s a deeper message here about taking responsibility – if you survive. No bull.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2014 4:23 AM PDT

Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch
Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch
Price: $10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘The writing of this book was not always a labor of love.’, September 10, 2014
This is a book about the friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr David Gurewitsch, her personal physician and friend, during the last fifteen years of Mrs Roosevelt’s life. This account is written by David’s wife Edna and draws on both the diaries David kept and the hundreds of letters that he and Mrs Roosevelt exchanged over the years of their friendship. In 1962, in one of her letters to Dr Gurewitsch, Mrs Roosevelt had written: ‘Above all others you are the one to whom my heart is tied.’ Theirs was an intense relationship: they often travelled and entertained together and, after his marriage to Edna in February 1958, the three of them bought and lived in a town house in Manhattan which they divided into two separate apartments.

Mrs Gurewitch provides a unique perspective on their private friendship: she has her own memories of each of them as well as their voluminous correspondence and Dr Gurewitsch’s diaries. She writes that:

‘As a physician, David had private recognition, but he craved public approval. Mrs Roosevelt had public recognition, but she craved intimacy. Each satisfied the other’s hunger for acceptance. It was a fair exchange.’

She writes as well that:

‘Despite the closeness of their bond, evidenced in her extremely caring letters to him, David and Mrs Roosevelt were never lovers. Indeed, the tragedy of this superior woman was that she never had the absolute, intimate love of a man.’

The Eleanor Roosevelt who appears through the pages of this book is a kind and generous woman, interested in others, but also lonely and vulnerable, sometimes jealous and sometimes apparently overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy. And yet, despite these insecurities, Mrs Roosevelt was able to make an enormous contribution to the USA (and the world). A woman born in the late nineteenth century, living through times when few women had any significant role in public life, Mrs Roosevelt seems to have met many challenges of the 20th century with courage and dignity.

‘The profound contrast between Mrs Roosevelt’s dependence upon receiving love and her considerable awareness of the power of her capabilities – the bottomless neediness that coexisted with her enormous strength – never ceases to amaze me.’

While this book was primarily about David Gurewitsch and Eleanor Roosevelt, I find myself wondering about the impact of their close friendship on Edna Gurewitsch’s life as David’s wife. It is often true that while two is company, three is a crowd.

I enjoyed reading this book: it offered me a different and human perspective of Eleanor Roosevelt. Edna Gurewitsch writes: ‘She was one of the few people in this world in which greatness and modesty coexisted’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2014 2:20 PM PDT

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.39
204 used & new from $4.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘This book is a history of cancer.’, September 3, 2014
People in the past tended to die of other diseases (and in poorer countries, still do), but as our longevity increases so does the incidence of cancer. As we extend our lives, Mukherjee writes, ‘we inevitably unleash malignant growth’. But what is cancer, how can we understand and treat it?

In this book, which I first read a couple of years ago, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes of the first documented appearances of cancer thousands of years ago, of the Persian Queen Atossa (550-475 BCE) who has surgery for a bleeding lump in her breast (as recorded by Herodotus in ‘The Histories’), of primitive radiation and chemotherapy treatments in the nineteenth century, of the new treatments available to patients now.

In addition to discussing treatments (and some of us will remember those who had endured the Halsted radical mastectomy for breast cancer) Dr Mukherjee examines the aetiology and pathology of cancer, and some of those who’ve been involved in the quest for understanding and answers. Our co-existence with cancer over the past five thousand years or so has not been passive: physicians, surgeons and scientists have all sought to understand and hoped to conquer the disease. Dr Mukherjee recounts discoveries and setbacks, deaths and victories. Understanding the journey brings the reader in contact with both the best and worst of humanity: dedicated and obsessive; ingenious and resilient; hubristic and inflexible; arrogant and detached.

‘Cancer, we have discovered, is stitched into our genome.’

Although the topic of cancer is uncomfortable and difficult, Dr Mukherjee has presented a very readable history of the disease and of progress in combatting it. Some of this progress is too late for family and friends who’ve already succumbed to death as a consequence of cancer, but is helping many people now and will (presumably) help more in the future. There’s hope in this book: that a better understanding of disease processes will lead to better health outcomes.

If there is a war against cancer, what will be our measure of victory? What constitutes a cure?

‘This war on cancer may best be ‘won’ by redefining victory.’

Both my parents and a number of friends have died of cancer in the past four years, and other friends are fighting their own battles. I’ve revisited this book recently, to remind myself that there has been great progress, and there is hope.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 3:03 PM PDT

When The Sky Was Protected (Grace Bryant, Federal Air Marshal Book 1)
When The Sky Was Protected (Grace Bryant, Federal Air Marshal Book 1)
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘They both knew what they had to do. It was their duty after all to protect the national security of their country.’, September 1, 2014
On 10 January 2008, Grace Bryant is waiting to board Alaska Airlines Flight 874 to Washington from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This is to be Grace’s last flight as a Federal Air Marshal: she’s been promoted to Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Office, and will take over her new role after this flight. While she’s waiting she sees on the national news that President Bush has met with the Israeli Prime Minister and hopes to draft an agreement that will finally end the violence in Israel. Amongst the other passengers, Grace notices three Middle Eastern men. Two other Federal Air Marshals are also travelling on the flight: Grace’s long-time friend and colleague Justin Cole and a new team member: Andrew Cole. The flight is full.

Ninety minutes into the flight, Grace learns that Israel is not going along with President Bush’s plan, and that violence has broken out in Gaza and on the West Bank. At the same time as Grace is learning this, one of the Middle Eastern passengers she noticed earlier has moved near the cockpit door and stabs a flight attendant who tells him to return to his seat. A man who tries to help the attendant is shot. Grace is able to alert the pilot.

How many terrorists are there, and what arms do they have? Can the Air Marshals prevail? Grace is at the rear of the plane, some distance from her seat and from her weapon.

‘Grace couldn’t come up with the correct plan because she wasn’t sure what his motivation was. What did he want out of this?’

Grace survives the attack, but there are many questions to be answered before she can move on with her life. The trauma of the experience is part of it, but knowing who and trying to understand why is important to Grace, even if it causes other disruptions in her life.

The novel moves between different aspects in the lead up to the attack, during the attack, and afterwards. The shifts are clearly signalled and although it is disconcerting at times to move from one aspect to another, it is not confusing. There are a couple of twists in the tale, and while some procedural aspects seemed unlikely to me, it didn’t stop me enjoying the story.

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of the novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 3:02 PM PDT

The Swan Book
The Swan Book
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘This is the quest to regain sovereignty over my own brain.’, September 1, 2014
This review is from: The Swan Book (Kindle Edition)
This novel is set in Australia in the future: around the time of the third centenary, in a world fundamentally altered by climate change, and where – following an Army Intervention - Aboriginals are living in a fenced camp alongside a stinking swamp containing the refuse of war. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia Ethylene. Oblivia is the victim of gang rape, who lives on a hulk in a swamp surrounded by rusting boats and thousands of black swans. Oblivia is plucked from this displaced community to be married to Warren Finch, soon to be the first Aboriginal president Australia, and confined to a tower in lawless, flooded southern city.

‘Swans mate for life: that was what she thought.’

And what does the future hold for Oblivia in this novel? Oblivia’s world, with its swans, with its caste of amazing characters such as Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, three genies (Dr Snip Hart, Dr Edgar Mail and Dr Bones Doom) and a talking monkey called Rigoletto. Who defines what is real, and how it impacts on the world? What does it mean to be homeless and dispossessed? In a world drastically turned upside down by climate change, where mass movements of refugees around the world are a consequence of cities drowning, local Aboriginal governments exist alongside high-ranking national Aboriginal politicians.

‘Should angels be eaten, even one, by so many hungry people?’

Oblivia may have been transported to a new world, but she is still part of her old world. The past, present and future are equally important. The swans are an integral part of all aspects of Oblivia’s world. Oblivia may be mute, but her mind is unrestrained. There is both great humour and (at times unexpected) humour in this novel. It is rich in metaphor and full of wonderful storytelling and difficult constructs.

‘A crescent moon moved so low across the swamp that its reflection over rippling water looked like the wings of a magnificent
white swan.'

So, what did I make of this book? There is not one definitive conclusion: ‘The Swan Book’ is one of those novels that has made me work hard in order to try to understand it, and will continue to occupy space in my consciousness. Is it about love? About climate change? About dispossession? About myth, culture and reality? ‘The Swan Book’ defines any attempt at simple categorisation, and it is not meant to be read and put aside. I enjoyed it, and I hated it, I laughed and I cried. And above all, I’m thinking.

‘Her mind was only a lonely mansion for the stories of extinction.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 3:01 PM PDT

Sequence of Self
Sequence of Self
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Did it work that way? Did people set out in one direction and end up going another?’, August 28, 2014
This review is from: Sequence of Self (Kindle Edition)
January Winston is a mother of two, hoping to establish her own business with the help of $250,000 - money that she and her current boyfriend/fiancé George scammed from a previous employer. But January’s life is turned upside down when she is attacked in her own home. Her attacker, Rey Parsons, has already spent time in prison. He’s paranoid and angry, sometimes confused, and doesn’t always remember to take his medication. January doesn’t identify Rey in a police line-up, and he’s released. While both January and George consider seeking revenge, George becomes obsessed by it. And in the meantime, January’s life starts to fall apart. By contrast, Rey gets a job in a telephone company, and becomes successful.

The story moves between January and Rey, and backwards and forwards in time which enables the reader to get some sense of who January and Rey are, and were. Can January find happiness and success, and will it include George? Are January’s parents a help, or a hindrance? Will Rey have to answer for his actions, or can a changed (more productive) life atone for the past?

‘Time did and did not pass. That was the simple fact of it.’

There are no blameless heroes in this story, but it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for both January and Rey. It’s quite an accomplishment for an author to create such flawed characters who are not (at least in my reading) completely beyond redemption. But are they redeemed? It’s difficult to know. The structure of the novel is challenging because of the shifts in time and between the characters breaks the flow of the story. But if you can accommodate these fractures in the story, you may well enjoy this novel. I kept wondering about alternate sequences of self, of different lives for both January and Rey. And despite the fact that I liked neither character very much, they appear to have taken up temporary residence in my mind. At least, I hope it is a temporary residence.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 3:00 PM PDT

The Night Guest
The Night Guest

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger’. That was natural; she was dreaming.’, August 26, 2014
This review is from: The Night Guest (Kindle Edition)
Elderly and widowed, living on her own in an isolated house on a beach on the east coast of Australia, Ruth Field senses a tiger prowling around her house. She rings her son Jeffrey in New Zealand to tell him. This may only be a flight of fancy, or is it a harbinger of greater danger ahead?

The next morning, a woman appears at Ruth’s home: ‘My name is Frida Young, and I’m here to look after you.’ Frida has, she says, been sent by the government as a carer to help Ruth with cleaning and cooking. Jeffrey, on the telephone from New Zealand, is wants to see the paperwork but is delighted about what he considers to be a good use of taxpayer funds.

And so Frida, who arrives each morning with a different hairstyle (and sometimes colour) brings Ruth back from an essentially solitary life, providing help and companionship. Frida looks Fijian to Ruth, and this reminds her of her childhood with her missionary parents in Fiji, and of her first love: Richard. She gets in touch with Richard, and invites him to visit for a weekend. When Richard visits, Ruth discovers that Frida has moved into her spare room: the room that her son Phillip once used. Ruth doesn’t remember inviting Frida to move in, but Frida is adamant that she did.

It’s clear that Ruth’s memory is worsening, and while her memory of the past is clear there are gaps in her memory of the immediate past and holes are developing in the present. Is Frida changing, or is it Ruth’s perception of her? Is Frida protecting her, or exploiting her?

‘There’s some sense in not going back. That way, you preserve it.’

Frida is a larger than life character who works hard to earn Ruth’s trust. But there’s a sense that Frida is not what she seems, and Ruth is very vulnerable.

I could not put this book down. Even though I had a fair idea of what might happen, the ending is heartbreaking. Ms McFarlane does a wonderful job of creating two very different characters: the vulnerable Ruth and the seemingly confident Frida, of reminding us how fragile connections can be. It also reminded me that the elderly are particularly vulnerable when they live alone. This is the kind of discomforting novel which you admire for its writing rather than enjoy for its content. And which may dwell in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2014 9:50 PM PDT

Currawong Manor
Currawong Manor
Price: $10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ‘Fate can be a dangerous mistress.’, August 21, 2014
This review is from: Currawong Manor (Kindle Edition)
A book has been commissioned about Currawong Manor, once the home of Rupert Partridge, a famous artist. Elizabeth Thorrington, a renowned photographer, and Rupert’s granddaughter, has been invited to the house to take photographs of it and of some of the people that used to live there. The book, to be written by true crime writer and former musician Nick Cash, is intended to celebrate Rupert Partridge’s life, and to showcase his talents.

‘But there’s still time to leave, my girl. There’s always a choice of path – and sometimes it’s wise to take the less exciting one.’

But Currawong Manor, in the picturesque (Australian) Blue Mountains, with its own history and secrets, was the place where a great tragedy occurred in the 1940s. In the space of a single day, Rupert‘s wife Doris and their daughter Shalimar died separate tragic deaths. The only member of the family who survived was Elizabeth’s mother. Rupert himself disappeared. Elizabeth meets Dolly Sharp, who was a child living at Currawong Manor in the 1940s, and Ginger, one of her grandfather’s ‘Flowers’ as the three young women who lived with the Partridge family and posed for Rupert’s paintings were known.

Ginger has agreed to be interviewed and photographed, but she does not seem particularly enthusiastic. Elizabeth realises that both Ginger and Dolly know more about the mysteries of Currawong Manor than they seem prepared to share. Elizabeth is keen to find out more about her family’s past and to uncover the truth (or truths) behind the tragedy. Her own mother wants nothing to do with Currawong Manor, and warned Elizabeth against going there. So, what is the truth behind the tragedy? And will Ginger and Dolly tell Elizabeth what they know? What is the truth of Owlbone Woods, and does a gathering of currawongs signal impending death?

‘Are you up for an adventure?’

The story of Currawong Manor and its previous inhabitants unfolds as we move between Elizabeth’s present and Ginger’s past. If you like dark, brooding, atmospheric novels, this is one to savour. Secrets abound, and while some may appear obvious to the reader, others take time to be revealed.

‘Revenge is a lit match in a summer bush- you destroy everything around you as well as yourself.’

I confess that I did not like this novel as much its predecessor, ‘Poet’s Cottage’. The story is well written, the setting well described but at times it was a little too dramatic for me. Perhaps I prefer not to have the loose ends tied up quite so completely.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2014 10:17 AM PDT

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