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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" RSS Feed (ACT, Australia)
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Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings: Book One
Shadow of the Raven: Sons of Kings: Book One
Price: $3.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘Being the son of a king could be so boring at times, Eadwulf decided …’, July 24, 2014
During the ninth century Danish raiders wreak havoc on much of Western Europe. The Danes (also known to us as Vikings) are fierce, pagan warriors whose moral codes and barbaric rites do not recognise the Christian laws of those they attack. Their need to plunder is driven by the demands of their gods, and they show no mercy. By the middle of the ninth century, Danish raids on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have increased, and some raiding parties are spending winter on coastal islands at the mouth of the Thames where the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex border each other. Until now, the kingdoms have been rivals and often enemies and their lack of co-operation makes it easier for the Danes. King Beorhtwulf of Mercia and King Aethelwulf of Wessex take the first steps towards unity in 849. This novel is about the early years of their sons: King Beorhtwulf’s fictional son Eadwulf, and King Aethelwulf’s son Alfred (later known as ‘The Great’). The Danes will not be their only enemies.

‘You are destined to become a great warrior… Remember who you are…’

I enjoy historical fiction set in this period and I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The lives, lifestyles and intrigues of the characters are well drawn, and the world they inhabit is vibrant and alive. While Eadwulf and Alfred are the major characters, I also liked a number of others, including the Danes Bjorn and Freydis. And this is a novel in which the secondary characters play important roles, especially in setting the day to day reality of life.

‘Let me hear from your own lips why you’ve betrayed your own brother, your own people.’

One of the raiding parties tears apart Eadwulf’s family and, in this first volume of what will be a trilogy, it’s Eadwulf’s story and struggle to be reunited with his family and, yes, to seek revenge that particularly held my attention. How will the turbulent events of their childhoods shape the men that Eadwulf and Alfred are to become? For those who (like me) are fans of Bernard Cornwell’s ‘The Saxon Stories’ (featuring Uhtred of Bebbanburg), this series starts earlier.

‘He was in no particular hurry, now. The first object of his revenge had been dealt with, and he’d ride on the elation of that success for some time yet.’

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of this novel for review purposes. I’m glad I did. I am looking forward to the second book in this trilogy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2014 7:09 PM PDT

All the Birds, Singing
All the Birds, Singing

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘I tell him the in-between bits of my life, the bits that are available.’, July 23, 2014
The novel opens with Jake Whyte living alone with her sheep on an unnamed isolated island off the British coast. She has isolated herself from her past in Australia, and as the story unfolds we get some understanding of what, and why. Jake’s present life, on the island, unfolds as a straightforward narrative and is interspersed with scenes from her life in Australia, which proceed from nearest to the present to distant past.

In the present, Jake is trying to protect her sheep. She and her dog, Dog, had fifty sheep but something (or someone) is killing some of them. Jake doesn’t know whether it is the local kids, or a fox or some other creature from the woods. A man named Lloyd turns up on her doorstep, and despite thinking he may have something to do with the slaughter of her sheep, Jake lets him stay. Lloyd has his own mysteries.

‘If you have wheels, I realise, you are free.’

We meet Jake in Australia working as a shearer in the outback where the men around her consider her ‘a bloody good bloke’. Jake has a boyfriend, and for a while things seem okay. But Jake’s past intrudes, and she moves on. The reader has to be patient: we only know what Jake shares with us, and while the story is largely black and bleak, I’m not convinced it is complete. It’s hard to read but so well written I found it impossible to put down.

‘We’re not dependent on this. It’s a life choice.’

I found this novel challenging to read, both because of its content and its presentation. I found I had to really concentrate in order to make sense of Jake’s earlier life, to try to appreciate how she became who she is. I finished the book wondering how Jake’s life could have been different (and wishing it was) as well as wondering about her future. I admired the writing, and became entangled in the story despite myself. This is not a novel to read for any pleasure in the story (although there is plenty of pleasure to be had in the novelist’s crafting of it), it’s a novel to experience and endure, perhaps as a reminder that choices and opportunities are sometimes only words.

‘.., but the light outside was bright and all the birds were singing.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2014 6:25 AM PDT

Survivor's Game
Survivor's Game
by David Karmi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.00
23 used & new from $17.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Being an optimist helped me to endure and overcome the unbearable suffering of the Holocaust.’, July 21, 2014
This review is from: Survivor's Game (Paperback)
In 1928, David Karmi was born into a Jewish family in the (then) Romanian town of Halmi. David was the youngest of nine siblings. When he was six, his family relocated to the (then) Hungarian city of Satu Mare. During this time, Hungary became increasingly hostile to its Jewish population, and once Hitler rose to power in Germany this hostility became official policy. Even though David’s father, Gabriel, had served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, the family was expelled to Poland. After unsuccessfully seeking to stay with relatives, the Karmis return to Satu Mare at great risk – only to find themselves dispossessed of their home and belongings. The family is again deported – to Auschwitz – where David, aged 12, is separated from his family.

‘The deportation of the Jews from Hungary was performed with lethal precision. Over 600,000 people were loaded onto the trains to Auschwitz in a matter of only a couple of months. Most of them died.’

David survives Auschwitz, as well as a concentration camp in the Warsaw ghetto, and Dachau, before being liberated by the Americans at the Landsberg concentration camp. In this book he writes of his experiences and how he survived. David Karmi’s memoir is an extraordinary story of courage, planning, resourcefulness and occasional serendipity. David Karmi’s story does not end with his liberation: he writes of his experiences in Palestine and then in America.

‘You had to believe that you would get through it in the end, and that there would be another life waiting for you in a place where the world had not gone insane.’

What makes this account remarkable? Most of us currently alive in the world were born after World War II. Our knowledge of the events of that War is indirect and for many of us, our relatives who were directly involved never spoke of their experiences. David Karmi’s account is a first person account from the perspective of a child who experienced great loss and terrible hardship but somehow never gave up hope. As an old man, Hans, told him in Auschwitz:

‘Those who do not remain strong become smoke.’

David remained strong.

‘I feel today as I felt when I was liberated. I still have no animosity toward anyone.’

Many of us would find David’s lack of animosity both refreshing and surprising. His story is well worth reading, and sharing. It is important that we remember the lessons of the past, and try to learn from them.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2014 3:46 AM PDT

No Trace: A Brock and Kolla Mystery
No Trace: A Brock and Kolla Mystery
by Barry Maitland
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.57
116 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I think that if anyone’ll find Trace, it’ll be you.’, July 15, 2014
Six year old Tracey Rudd goes missing from home, the London flat and studio she shares with her father Gabriel Rudd in Northcote Square. Rudd is a contemporary and controversial artist well known for his love of the grotesque and ability to attract publicity. Rudd’s most famous work was based on his wife’s suicide five years ago. Tracey is the third little girl abducted in this area recently, and her disappearance attracts a lot of attention from the press. Perfect, really, for Gabriel Rudd to try to reinvigorate his fading career, using Tracey’s disappearance as inspiration.

Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla have little to go on. There are no witnesses, and they can find no clues at the crime scene. Northcote Square, with its collection of eccentrics and bohemians, becomes a bizarre tourist attraction. And then, there’s a murder, closely followed by a second. Are they connected to the kidnappings? Who is doing the murdering and why? Will the girls be found alive? There’s a fine cast of characters peopling the pages, and few of them are above suspicion. While, for me, Gabriel Rudd is truly unlikeable, I would have liked to have seen a little more of Dave the badger.

I enjoyed this novel, especially the character of Kathy Kolla, and I was kept guessing until close to the end about who had done what to whom. The ending? You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it works for you. Barry Maitland’s novels were recommended to me some time ago, but this is the first one I’ve read. I’ll definitely be looking to read some more.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2014 10:11 PM PDT

Patriarch Run
Patriarch Run
Price: $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘No amount of precaution can alter the fact that life is precarious.', July 15, 2014
This review is from: Patriarch Run (Kindle Edition)
‘ When the inevitable happens, you can accept the damage or look for someone to blame.’

The novel opens at the scene of a bombing, where a man bereft of memory is trying to escape. We then move to West Texas where a boy named Billy is looking for his family’s herd of bison. We learn the connections between these people: between Billy and his mother Rachel, and Jack who, with little memory of his past, manages to elude capture from those seeking him.

But why is Jack being sought? What has he done? And why is he drawn back to Rachel and Billy (his wife and son) whom he abandoned years earlier?

It’s the unfolding of the story that provides us with the answers to these questions. Jack is being hunted because he has stolen a device from the Chinese at the behest of the United States government, and this device has the capacity to destroy the world. Does Jack want to use it, or does he want to prevent it from being used?

‘Eighty years ago you couldn’t have brought about the end of the world by simply turning out the lights. You’re right about that. But times have changed.’

This is a beautifully written and moving story. Each of the three main characters – Billy, Jack and Rachel is three dimensional, and we discover with each of them what is happening and its impact on them. Each is heroic. Each chooses (or will choose) a course of action that is difficult. They are united, these three, by a love of country and nature and by a sense of obligation towards the future. They are divided by what they perceive as the best course of action. As a reader, with no knowledge initially of where the story was going and how it might end, I could not stop reading. As pieces of information became available, to increase my understanding of what was happening, I wondered about alternatives – and could not stop reading. And, because I’m sure I’ve more to glean, I think I’ll be rereading.

‘I realize that it is difficult to imagine a reality more threatening than the one I am now presenting.’

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2014 3:42 AM PDT

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2)
The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2)

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘My fees are negotiable’, said Strike, ‘if I like the client.’, July 14, 2014
This is Robert Galbraith’s second mystery novel to feature private investigator, Cormoran Strike and his capable assistant Robin Ellacott. This novel is set a year or so later than ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, and business has clearly improved for Strike after his successful resolution of the Lula Landry case. Strike has a steady stream of work: mostly divorce cases, with an occasional piece of work for a tabloid journalist. And then, just as one client is being particularly aggravating, Strike is approached by Leonora Quine with a plea to locate her husband – Owen Quine. Owen Quine, a notorious writer who has struggled for years to create the success of his first novel, has gone missing before. Leonora needs him home, and thinks that locating him should be a straightforward task for Strike.

It soon become clear to Strike that there is a lot more to Quine’s disappearance. Quine’s just completed the manuscript for his latest novel ‘Bombyx Mori’ which is considered unpublishable by his agent Elizabeth Tassel and other members of the London literary community. The manuscript portrays many of the significant people in Quine’s life in an unfavourable and unpleasant way, and could ruin lives if it was published.

So, in short, there are a number of people who might want to see Quine silenced. And when he is found murdered in a particularly brutal and bizarre way, Strike is keen to help the police find the murderer. Alas, while the police do not want his help (he already showed them up in the Landry case), Strike is certain that they have the wrong suspect.

I really enjoyed this novel: as much for the further development of the characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott as the actual mystery they were working on. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story. At the end I thought I should have realised earlier who the murderer was (there are clues, gentle reader) but I’m glad that I didn’t. Cormoran Strike, with Robin Ellacott’s assistance, solved the case. I couldn’t put this novel down and I’m looking forward to the next novel already.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2014 11:24 PM PDT

Black Hole Butterfly
Black Hole Butterfly
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Remember? He would have to separate fact from fiction, that is, if there was any difference.', July 13, 2014
‘He would have to start at the beginning.’

Meet Detective Rook Black. He’s trying to solve crime in a New York City where reality is a black market commodity traded by Jack the Butterfly. It’s a world in which Shakespeare’s works are critical, and both synthetic sex and crocodile wrestling are important. It’s a world in which nothing is as it seems, and no-one is who you think they might be – at least not for very long. It’s a world in which science has rendered the impossible possible, the improbable likely, and the bizarre commonplace.

‘The ink inside the book of tragedies began overwriting in spasms, spitting out across the open pages, metamorphosing into butterflies – and telling the story of Rook’s life.’

And in this world, layer upon layer of data provides the information (or not) to understand Rook Black’s story. It’s complicated, multi-faceted, entertaining and alarming. There’s Rook Black the detective, and Rook Black the man: how many realities can he have? There are murders, and modifications of both body and mind, lots of double-crossing and espionage and sometimes it is confusing.

‘Reality was whatever anyone could get away with, sell or buy.’

This is a gloomy future world (early on some elements brought ‘Blade Runner’ to mind) but by the end of the novel Rook’s world felt more familiar if not fully understandable. Actually, I’m not sure that I do want to fully understand it. For me, much of the pleasure in reading this novel is in accepting both the world Salem creates and the story she unfolds within it. Anything is possible in well-crafted fiction, and the recognisable parts of this world simply make the unrecognisable parts seem (gulp) possible.

‘Rook’s reality was the only reality they knew. They were only as real as he was or as real as he wanted to be.’

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2014 11:29 PM PDT

Bad Elephant Far Stream
Bad Elephant Far Stream
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘She was born in the year Grandmother led them to the place beyond the far stream’, July 5, 2014
At some time in the 1860s, in the forests of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a baby elephant known by her family as Far Stream is playing with her siblings. Her grandmother senses danger, but the herd is trapped, by men using fire. Far Stream and her sister Red Moon, together with another family of elephants, are chained and sent on a long voyage. Some months later, they land in America, Far Stream is separated from her sister, and led away to join the Adam Forepaugh Circus in Pennsylvania. Initially called Baby Annie and subjected to intense training, Far Stream becomes part of a troupe of performing elephants travelling around North America. As she grows, her name is changed, but her journey becomes more tolerable when she is reunited with her sister Red Moon. Together, in their consciousness, they are able to escape the rigours of circus life for safer, warmer places where the food is plentiful and they can frolic in the water.

‘She had been Rosalind at Council Bluffs, Ophelia at St Paul, Hamlet at Fargo. It didn’t matter.’

But as Far Stream grows and confinement becomes unbearable, she is less tractable and becomes feared. How long will she be able to tolerate her mistreatment? What happens to Far Stream that causes her to become Topsy, the subject of Thomas Edison’s 1903 film: ‘The Electrocution of an Elephant? (Yes, a video is available on Youtube for those who wish to see it.)

We know, from the prologue, how this story will end. What we glean, from reading the story, is one perspective of why. This is Samuel Hawley’s imaginative and sensitive telling of the story of Topsy. As Topsy, or Annie, or Rosalind, or Hamlet, the elephant is a badly treated and ultimately doomed creature. As Far Stream, she is a sentient creature trying to make sense of an appalling set of circumstances, trying to fit in and to do what is required of her when (and while) she can. As Far Stream, she can try to endure and escape, as Topsy she must comply or be punished.

The story of life in the circus through the eyes of Far Stream involves long hours of training, tiring journeys and a lot of hardship. It is brilliantly told and unbearably sad. It’s well worth reading.

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2014 4:01 AM PDT

Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin
Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘You’ll watch, boy, and you’ll learn your lesson.’, July 5, 2014
In ‘Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, George Harris is a young slave who has been loaned out by his owner Mr Harris to work for another man, Mr Wilson. George’s wife, Eliza and their young son Harry are owned by the Shelbys, and George hopes that one day he can escape to Canada and earn enough money to buy his family’s freedom.

‘So that they might be a family again one day, in a place where they were free to live without worrying about whether someone might send them away for no reason.’

But when Mr Harris decides that George can no longer work for Mr Wilson, George has to rethink his planning. And when the Shelbys, who’ve fallen into financial troubles, offer up Harry and Uncle Tom to the slave trader Haley, Eliza takes Harry and flees north. Once George finds out, he runs after them, hoping to find them before the slave hunters do. Uncle Tom may seem to have accepted his fate, but Eliza and George have not.

The novel moves quickly, and it’s difficult not to get caught up in the tension as George and Eliza seek safety. There are a few places were the language – to my ear – is too modern for the period (I really can’t imagine Eliza saying: ‘.. I have faith that your smarts will get us safely to Canada.’) but mostly the story reads well. There are some heartbreaking scenes as well, including the treatment of George’s puppy Carlo, which serve to underline how effectively cruelty and power dehumanise.

In his introduction to this book, Carl Waters explains how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ provided the starting point for what will be a four book series told from the point of view of the slaves. It’s an interesting and thoughtful introduction, and while I’d have to read all four books to see how well Mr Waters achieves his objective, ‘Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is a great start. I recommend it.

‘What sort of country was this, that would award that sort of power to one man and not another?’

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2014 12:06 AM PDT

Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files
Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files
Price: $14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ASIO’s ability to influence people’s lives without them even being aware of its actions should be a concern for all Australians, July 1, 2014
In 1970 or 1971, my father was horrified when I told him I intended to march in a Vietnam moratorium rally. He advised me to reconsider (I didn’t) on the basis that ASIO would photograph all protestors, and I’d never be able to work for government as a consequence. Was his concern justified, or was he being paranoid? As it happens, I went on to work for over thirty years for the government with appropriate levels of security clearance. But my father’s concern was not unfounded and was a consequence of the fact that members of his family were active in the Communist Party from the 1920s onwards. And ASIO was keenly interested in members of the Communist Party: I see 15 volumes of security and intelligence files listed against my late great-uncle’s name between 1950 and 1978 alone.

‘It is rather scary to realise that those who took different views from the government on issues of human rights, and on the independence and democracy of other countries or colonies, were regarded with suspicion as possibly subversive.’

This book, edited by Meredith Burgmann, covers the period from the early 1950s to the 1990s, when the New South Wales Special Branch was closed down by the Carr Labor Government. ASIO’s main focus for much of this period was on the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Given that ASIO’s main role ‘ is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia's national security.’, this focus is not surprising. It was suspected that CPA members might have strong links to the USSR, and could be spying for the KGB. AS the Petrov Affair in 1954 showed, there were Russian spies in Australia seeking access to UK and US intelligence shared with Australia.

In twenty-six chapters, the experiences of twenty-eight different people targeted by ASIO are shared. Some were members of the CPA, or had some involvement (however fleeting or nebulous) with a member of the CPA. But any movement for political or social change, anything that questioned the status quo seems to have also been viewed with suspicion: including anti-Vietnam movements and entities like Save Our Sons and the Moratorium marches; Aboriginal land rights and Indigenous equality platforms; feminist groups like WEL and women’s liberation; the Sydney Libertarians; the Worker Student Alliance; gay rights; and women’s refuges.

‘The young students, Christians, mothers, and unionists of the anti-Vietnam movement, land rights campaigns, gay rights action and so on, were never a danger to the government.’

From reading the various personal accounts in this book, it’s clear that ASIO’s ability to collect data was not equalled by its capacity to extract and analyse information. Quantity over quality.

I found this book interesting, both as a reflection of the intelligence gathering processes described and as an insight into the lives of those being scrutinised so closely. I found David McKnight’s chapter ‘How to Read Your ASIO File’ particularly helpful, and am tempted to spend more time on the National Archives site seeing just how many members of my own extended family might have security and intelligence related-files. No, actually, this form of voyeurism does not appeal. Any inaccuracy would irritate.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the purpose and operations of a secret national security organisation. These records are historical (files are closed for thirty years, so records more recent than 1984 are not yet available). We may find some of what is described in the past as faintly ridiculous and some of the points of focus as amusing, but what level of surveillance is acceptable in a free, democratic society? If anything, security concerns have increased and, I assume, that surveillance in its various forms has as well. Surveillance may be, as many in the book have noted, ‘boring’ but surely to some degree it is necessary. Who is being watched these days? And has the definition of ‘subversive’ changed?

‘In the parallel world of spydom the distorting mirror is, it seems, the only reality.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2014 1:56 AM PDT

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