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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" RSS Feed (ACT, Australia)

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Captive Prince: Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy
Captive Prince: Book One of the Captive Prince Trilogy
by C. S. Pacat
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.22
67 used & new from $8.35

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I have waited six days so that you and I could be alone.’, June 23, 2016
Damianos (known as Damen) is the real heir to the throne of Akielos. But Damen is captured when his half-brother Kastor seizes power, stripped of his identity and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave. Prince Laurent of Vere is beautiful, manipulative and deadly, and takes the gift as an insult.

‘A golden prince was easy to love if you did not have to watch him picking wings off flies.’

But Damen soon learns that nothing is as it seems in the Veretian court, and finds himself working with Laurent. Damen has to be careful: he would be in great danger if he was to reveal his true identity.

This is the first instalment of the Captive Prince trilogy by Ms Pacat, set in a medieval-style fantasy world with gay heroes. It is a brutal world: slavery, rape, forced submission. Sex is both weapon and pleasure, it’s explicit and confronting. And yet, somehow, there was enough story to keep my interest. While Damen bides his time until he can escape, he is drawn to the mysterious (but untouchable) Laurent.

The story unfolds, with a number of twists and turns. Details are important. By the end of ‘Captive Prince’, I knew I had to keep reading. I wanted to know how it would end, despite the fact that this particular world felt so very alien to me. So I picked up ‘Prince’s Gambit’ straightaway.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Lewis Man: Book Two of the Lewis Trilogy
The Lewis Man: Book Two of the Lewis Trilogy

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I don’t need to look at the clock to know the time.’, June 22, 2016
A body is found in a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis. Initially the finders thought that the male Caucasian corpse might be over 2000 years old, until they saw the Elvis Presley tattoo on his right arm. It’s clear that the man has been murdered: but by whom, and when? Fin Macleod, former policeman, has left his wife and his job in Edinburgh. He’s returned to the Isle of Lewis, and is trying to make his long-dead parents’ cottage habitable.

Tormod Macdonald, father of Marsaili, is elderly and suffering from dementia. His wife and daughter have always believed him to be an only child, so how can it be that a DNA test shows the corpse to be a relative of Tormod’s? Fin McLeod has time on his hands, and an interest in the Macdonald family. He’s happy to help the local police while they await assistance from the mainland.

‘There is always a moment of internal silence after being in the presence of death. A reminder of your own fragile mortality.’

Who is the dead man? Who killed him? And how is he related to Tormod? The story unfolds with Fin’s detective work in the present taking the story back into the past, while flashbacks from Tormod’s past provide a poignant dimension. Tormod has his own secrets as well, and his dementia is an added complication.

I kept turning the pages, keen to learn why the man was murdered and by whom. I was also interested in learning more about Tormod MacDonald’s past.

This is the second novel in Peter May’s Lewis trilogy. While it is possible to read this novel as a standalone, I’d recommend reading it after the first novel. The past, in this series, is always important. I’m now looking forward to reading the final novel in the trilogy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2016 8:18 PM PDT


4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Before you hear any words, you can hear the panic.’, June 21, 2016
This review is from: Relativity (Kindle Edition)
Ethan Forsythe is 12 years old and lives with his mother, Claire, who is very protective of him. Ethan is fascinated by physics and astronomy, and is called ‘Stephen Hawking’ by the boys at his school. It’s easy to imagine Ethan continuing on his gifted way. But then two things happen: Ethan becomes ill, and his father Mark (whose own father is dying) reappears in his life.

Why has Mark been absent from Ethan’s life, and what is the cause of Ethan’s illness? As the story unfolds and continues in the present, we obtain differing views of the past. What really happened? Is it possible for Mark have a relationship with Ethan? Is it possible to write more about this aspect of the story without spoiling it for a new reader?

‘But secrets were like scars: they faded and softened, but as much as you tried to camouflage them, they didn’t completely disappear.’

In the present, Ethan and his friend Alison are building a time machine. Ethan searches for a source of quantum foam, and while I am lost in the explanation he gives Alison: ‘Quantum foam is the foundation of the fabric of the universe. It's subatomic spacetime turbulence. And the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle lets energy briefly decay into particles and antiparticles, and then annihilate without violation physical conservation laws.’, I recognise her demand that he ‘speak English’.

I enjoyed this story. Ms Hayes has written a complex novel, which includes a number of difficult issues. I really felt for Ethan trying to make sense of his world, trying to use his knowledge and his own particular logic to improve it. I closed the novel, mostly satisfied, still thinking about some of the issues raised. This is Ms Haye’s first novel: I’m hoping that there will be more.

‘Theories were disproven all the time. Ethan thought, sometimes everything we thought we knew turned out to be a colossal mistake.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Book 1)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Book 1)
Offered by Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Price: $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.’, June 20, 2016
Jacob Portman has grown up with his grandfather Abe’s stories about his childhood. There’s nothing ordinary about Abe’s stories: they involve flesh-eating monsters, children with peculiar abilities, a bird smoking a pipe. As Jacob grows older, he becomes sceptical of Abe’s stories, even though Abe shows him photographs which he keeps in an old cigar box.

When Jacob is in high school, Abe seems to be losing his mental faculties. The monsters in Abe’s stories terrify him, and one night he calls Jacob absolutely distraught. Jacob and his friend Ricky travel to Abe’s house, and Jacob finds Abe dying of deep chest wounds in the woods behind the house. Before he dies, Abe gives Jacob a cryptic message: ‘Go to the island … find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.’

The police conclude that Abe has been killed by a pack of wild dogs. Jacob has nightmares, and consults a psychiatrist. Then, on his birthday, his aunt gives him a book that used to belong to his grandfather. A letter falls out. The letter is postmarked Cairnholm Island, Cymru, and is signed by Miss Peregrine, the woman who ran the children’s home where Abe had lived after fleeing from Poland.

Jacob and his father travel to Cairnholm Island, and then his adventures begin in earnest.

‘What kind of a place was this?’

Having set the scene, I don’t want to ruin the story for any intending reader. This is marketed as YA fiction, but I think that many older adults will also enjoy it. I certainly did. Sure, there are a couple of aspects that jarred, but nothing that stopped me rushing headlong through the story to see how (and where) it would end. It’s not Jacob that held my interest, it’s the world that Ransom Riggs has imagined. I really enjoyed learning that Ransom Riggs used real photographs as the inspiration for this novel. I now have to read the next two books.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Paradise Road: (White Coolies)
Paradise Road: (White Coolies)
by Betty Jeffrey
Edition: Paperback
7 used & new from $14.77

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘This is a story of women who fought in the last war.’, June 19, 2016
In 1942, a few days before the fall of Singapore, a group of sixty-five Australian Army nursing sisters was evacuated from Malaya. They were evacuated on the SS Vyner Brooke. Two days later, on 14 February 1942, the SS Vyner Brooke was bombed by the Japanese and sank. Fifty-three survivors made it ashore. Twenty-one survivors were shot and killed by the Japanese at Radji Beach on 16 February 1942. The other thirty-two were taken prisoner.

Betty Jeffrey was one of those nursing sisters, and she kept a record of their imprisonment. Using an exercise book she found and a stub of pencil, she kept a diary which she kept hidden. This diary, first published in 1954, entitled ‘White Coolies’, is an amazing story of courage, determination, ingenuity and resilience.

‘With these women, it was a different kind of war.’

Betty Jeffrey and her colleagues were held prisoner in and around Sumatra for over three and a half years. They lived in crowded and unsanitary conditions – thirty-two people in a small three roomed cottage, in October 1942 – on a diet of rice contaminated by dirt, bugs and rocks, and rotting vegetables. Occasionally, they might receive a sliver of meat. Many of the nurses had literally the clothes on their backs, and no shoes because they had removed their shoes before diving off the SS Vyner Brooke.

Amid the cruelty and despite the hardship, the nurses organised themselves. They established a routine, designating cooks, cleaners and gardeners. They also organised entertainment: establishing a choir, playing cards, making gifts for celebrations from what they had. Their guards were cruel: forcing the women to stand for long periods in the sun, requiring them to walk long distances to collect clean water for the guards’ sweet potato crop, when their own water supply was often contaminated and limited. Their Red Cross parcels were also withheld.

By the 18th of August 1945, there were only twenty-four survivors. On the 24th of August 1945, they learned that the war was over. On the 17th of September 1945, they were flown to Singapore.

‘We were out at last.’

I found this book deeply moving. I saw the movie ‘Paradise Road’ many years ago, but had not read the book. Betty Jeffrey’s account of events reminds us of events we’d prefer not to think of, of an ugly protracted side of war. These women were brave, courageous, and inspirational, and we should continue to remember them.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Kill Switch: Action-Packed Revenge & Gripping Vigilante Justice (Angel of Darkness Thriller, Noir & Hardboiled Crime Fiction Book 1)
Kill Switch: Action-Packed Revenge & Gripping Vigilante Justice (Angel of Darkness Thriller, Noir & Hardboiled Crime Fiction Book 1)
Price: $0.00

3.0 out of 5 stars ‘Like playing Russian roulette in slow motion, waiting for death tortured Catalina.’, June 18, 2016
I have to admit, the opening sentence caught my attention, and not necessarily in a good way. A little further down the page, I read:

‘Reminding her of home, the architecture had given her a welcome glow.’

And I almost stopped reading. For good. But I kept going, determined to find out more about the glow-giving powers of architecture, and Catalina’s wait for death.

Mr Lee has written a fast-moving short novel (just over 160 pages), and if it isn’t always realistic it certainly held my attention. While travelling in Krakow with her mother Elena, Catalina goes missing. Tess Williams, a woman with a mysterious past, is also travelling in Krakow. Elena enlists Tess’s help to find Catalina. Tess, who seems to be well versed in martial arts, is more than happy to take on the bad guys while helping Elena. Can Elena and Tess find Catalina? How many people will lose their lives along the way?

‘People looked for their answers in countless places. However, few realized they were all looking for the same thing – purpose, a reason to be.’

‘Kill Switch’ is the first of seven novels in ‘The Angel of Darkness’ series. While ‘Kill Switch’ introduces Tess, and we learn something about her training, there is clearly a lot more to her story. While I enjoy stories with strong female protagonists, I’m not yet hooked on Tess’s story.

If you are interested in a fast-moving and violent story, with a strong (but at this stage enigmatic) female character, then this series may be for you.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist
Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist
by Alida Brill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
65 used & new from $0.79

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘When I was six, I fell in love with Grace Kelly.’, June 15, 2016
Is it possible to be a romantic feminist, I asked myself when I read the title of Alida Brill’s latest book? Certainly, there’s no reason why being one should exclude the other. So I pushed aside some off my own (sadly stereotypical) assumptions, about romance and about feminism and read ‘Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty’.

I found this memoir full of insights and full of distractions. Distractions? Well, yes. Many of Alida’s recollections set me off on my own memory paths. Much (but not all) of the modern women’s movement passed by regional Tasmania where I spent the first (almost) eighteen years of my life. I’m not aware of my mother ever reading ‘The Feminine Mystique’ by Betty Friedan and it certainly wasn’t discussed in the circles I moved in at the time. My own reaction to what I perceived as deep inequality between men and women was to vow never to marry, never to have children. But that’s a different story, here serving as just one example of distraction.

For me, as a woman just a few years younger than Alida, it’s easy to remember the beauty of and poise of Princess Grace, the world represented by Barbie, the advantages (perceived and actual) of being male. I have no memory of wishing to be a princess, instead I wanted to be a scientist like Marie Curie. But few lives take the paths we imagine for ourselves as children.

I enjoyed reading Alida Brill’s memoir, of reading about the people and events that influenced her, of living a fulfilling life while living with chronic illness, of examining the choices available to her. It’s made me think about feminism, about the continuing battle for equality, about how easy it is to take for granted some hard-won aspects of equality without remembering the battles fought to attain them. This is Alida’s memoir, but it’s also in part a social history of feminism. Because Alida is so honest about her life, able to share vulnerability as well as triumph, it’s also an invitation to examine your own life, in all its complexity.

While I’ve not met Alida in person, I first came to know her as a fellow sufferer of autoimmune disease, as the co-writer (with Doctor Michael Lockshin) of ‘Dancing at the River’s Edge: A Patient and Her Doctor Negotiate Life with Chronic Illness’.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Schaffner Press, Inc for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Chocolate Promise
The Chocolate Promise

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘The rules had served her well and kept her steady for the past three years.’, June 14, 2016
In this novel, Christmas Livingstone owns a shop called ‘The Chocolate Apothecary’, an artisan chocolate shop in Evandale, Tasmania. She creates mouth-watering delicacies, gifts to appeal to the senses. And, as many women know, chocolate is one of the most essential of all foods, with magical healing powers. Christmas has some good friends, a beautiful shop, and work that she loves. Life is good, could it be better? Well, Christmas has ten rules for happiness, the most important of which is rule number 10: ‘Absolutely no romantic relationships.’ There has to be a story here: will we find out more?

But then, a dishevelled botanist arrives at the shop. Lincoln van Luc seeks Christmas’s help to select chocolates for his grandmother. Christmas finds him attractive, but doesn’t want to complicate her life. But Luc keeps turning up. Christmas needs to re-evaluate what is important to her. An opportunity to travel to France provides Christmas with an opportunity to learn more about chocolate, perhaps to learn more about her past, and to think about her future.

I found this a lovely escapist read, made more memorable by its (mostly) Tasmanian setting. Evandale in particular came to life, with its wonderful bakery and the penny farthing connection. In addition to Luc and Christmas, there are some other lovely characters. Most notably Luc’s Nan, and the gorgeous dog Luc rescues.

One of the best things about escapist literature featuring chocolate is that it has no calories!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 16, 2016 10:28 PM PDT

Of Virtue Rare: Margeret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor
Of Virtue Rare: Margeret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor
Price: $3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars ‘Margaret Beaufort, Matriarch of the House of Tudor.’, June 13, 2016
‘In Bedfordshire, on the last day of May 1441, a daughter was born to the great-great-grandson of Edward III, John Beaufort, and his wife, Margaret Beauchamp.’

This child was Margaret Beaufort. While this book gives her birth year as 1441, other sources I’ve seen state her birth year as 1443. Somehow this seems appropriate, for a woman who is known better for her legacy than her own life. Who was Margaret Beaufort? She was a claimant for the throne through her grandfather, John of Gaunt. In 1455, Margaret was married to Edmund Tudor, and gave birth in 1457 (after Edmund’s death) to her only child, Henry. When Henry was only five, she was separated from him as a consequence of the Wars of the Roses. In 1458 she married Henry Stafford. He died in 1471. In 1472 she married Thomas Stanley. After the Lancastrian victory at Bosworth, Thomas Stanley placed the fallen coronet of Richard III on Henry’s head.

After Henry VII was crowned, it was clear that his mother was a very influential member of his household. She was also a patron of religious scholarship (founding Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1505, and beginning the development of St John’s College, Cambridge).

Ms Simon presents Margaret Beaufort as gentle, kind and pious. A woman who wore hair shirts, and in later life took a vow of chastity. An ascetic who did not each much at banquets, with their multiple courses and subtleties. For me, the most vibrant passages of this book were the descriptions of medieval life. But, while these descriptions helped to bring this period to life, they didn’t really increase my understanding of Margaret Beaufort.

I closed this book feeling dissatisfied. How, in the absence of a diary or letters, can we know what Margaret Beaufort thought? The book is not very long, but much of it is a discussion of the time period. It also includes some poetry of the period (in the language of the period) which others may enjoy more than I did. This book was first published in 1982.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Endeavour Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Blackhouse: Book One of the Lewis Trilogy
The Blackhouse: Book One of the Lewis Trilogy

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘It was late, sultry warm in a way that it only ever gets at festival time.’, June 11, 2016
When a brutal murder on the Isle of Lewis seems similar to a previous murder in Edinburgh, Detective Fin McLeod is sent to investigate. Fin McLeod was raised on the island: going back is a journey into the past. His trip starts just before the annual guga hunt, a hunt in which he once participated and which resulted in tragedy. There are memories from the island that Fin would prefer to forget. But he had friends there too, even if he’s not seen them for a long time.

‘There was no greater reminder of your own mortality than to witness another human being laid bare on a cold mortuary table.’

Fin knows the man who was murdered, he was at school with him. He’s a man who many had reason to dislike. But as Fin investigates, he finds memories of his own life on the island, events he’s not thought of for a long time. There are people whose lives have been blighted in different ways, people trapped on the island who would have preferred to leave it as Fin did. The story moves between the past and present of various characters, of the children they were and the adults they’ve become. Fin needs to come to terms with his own past as part of the process of finding the murderer.

‘It was no good looking backwards, even if you had no notion of where it was you were going.’

I really enjoyed this novel. Mr May’s depiction of Lewis, of the characters he’s peopled the island with, the difficulties associated with living in such an isolated place. This novel is the first in a trilogy, and I’m about to start the second.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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