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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" RSS Feed (ACT, Australia)
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Price: $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘This is the ghost train. If you’ve got the right ticket, it’ll take you all the way to the gates of hell.’, March 3, 2015
This review is from: THE HOARD (Kindle Edition)
On 29 June 1951, at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Bridgwater in the UK, an explosion killed six men. The cause of the explosion was never identified. This event provided the inspiration for Neil Grimmett’s novel.

The novel opens with the explosion, and with one man’s knowledge that the explosion was not an accident, but murder. That man, Gunner Wade, was sent to find the shift chemist and foreman when a problem developed in the nitration house. He was the only member of the crew to survive.
Fast forward to spring 1979. Byron Browning’s father Gerard was one of the men who died on 29 June 1951. Bryon’s seen the letters Gunner Wade had written to his mother over the years, stating that Gerard was murdered. Martha Browning has tried to keep the letters hidden from Bryon, but he’s seen them. And, keen to find out the truth about his father’s death, Bryon gets a job at the ROF.

‘And The Hoard still waits, its evil has grown with the passing of years. And the Triumvirate is alive and prepares to move…’

What follows is an intriguing blend of betrayal, murder and mystery. Will Bryon discover the truth, or will he become another casualty of the evil that seems to permeate this place? Several different characters tell the story, and while the production of high explosives can be both dangerous and dirty, human greed increases the danger immensely.

The story is complicated: numerous characters and technical detail about the processes serve to simultaneously slow the development of the story and to increase the suspense. Gunner Wade seems to have been driven to madness: can he be relied upon? It isn’t always easy to differentiate good from evil, or to sift truth from madness.

Because of the number of different characters and points of view, it took me a while to get caught up in this story. But I was hooked early, and found it almost impossible to put down. The description of the factory - surely one of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, the manipulation of men to distort (or destroy) the truth, the destruction caused by the production of materiel even before that materiel makes its way into a theatre of war are some of the thoughts and images that accompanied me as I read this novel. Many of the characters are flawed, some are more likeable than others: a near perfect cast to tell this story.

I found this novel challenging and thought-provoking. And scary.

‘And all hell broke loose.’

My thanks to Mr Grimmett for offering me a copy of this novel after I’d read and reviewed his novel ‘The Threshing Circle’. Two very different novels, both will stay with me for a long time.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Pit of Vipers (Sons of Kings Book 2)
Pit of Vipers (Sons of Kings Book 2)
Price: $3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘We must be united in whatever path we choose to follow.’, March 2, 2015
‘Pit of Vipers’ is the second book of Ms Thom’s ‘Son of Kings’ trilogy and continues the story of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia, which started in ‘Shadow of the Raven’. I’d strongly recommend reading ‘Shadow of the Raven’ before embarking on ‘Pit of Vipers’.

The year is 864, and Alfred is now fifteen. At the court of first one older brother and then the other, he is learning the art and craft of being a king. Eadwulf, the (fictional) Mercian who has spent time as a Danish slave, has been back in his homeland for four years. Eadwulf has married, and he and his wife Leoflaed form part of the household of Wigstan of Elston, a Mercian ealdorman. While Eadwulf, known as Ulf to the Danes, is happy with Leoflaed, he has not forgotten Freydis. He is still determined to extract vengeance on his uncle, Burgred.

While Alfred and Eadwulf are the primary characters, Ms Thom has skilfully used secondary characters to portray everyday life in the ninth century and to add depth to the story. A dozen vipers also play an important part. Ms Thom portrays Alfred as a much more likeable character than some of the other depictions I have read in other novels. Yes, he is pious and he has some medical problems but he is keenly observant. Eadwulf has been shaped by his experiences in Denmark, and his loyalties are divided. Where will Eadwulf stand as the Danish attacks increase? Will he ever get his revenge on Burgred?

There are many characters in this novel, and the character list at the beginning of the novel is great for those of us who need it. There are also two helpful maps: ‘Anglo Saxon kingdoms, 860s-70s’ and a more detailed map of Wessex for the same period. I found the maps particularly useful when trying to follow the action, especially the invasion by those dubbed ‘The Great Heathen Army’ in 865.

I enjoy historical fiction set in this period and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both of the books so far published in this trilogy. The intrigues, lifestyles and lives of the characters are well drawn, and the world they inhabit is alive and vibrant.

NOTE: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes. I am keenly awaiting the publication of the final book in this trilogy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2015 11:23 AM PST

Heir to a Prophecy
Heir to a Prophecy
Price: $3.82

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘It all began with the witches’ prophecy.’, March 1, 2015
In Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, after prophesying that Macbeth ‘shalt be King hereafter’, the three witches end their prophecy with these words for Banquo:

‘Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.’

In the play, Banquo is murdered shortly afterwards, and Fleance flees from Scotland and out of the play. But have you ever wondered what happened to Fleance afterwards? In Ms Rochelle’s novel, we follow Fleance as he escapes into Wales and joins the court of the King, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Fleance meets Gruffydd’s daughter Nesta. They have a child together, a son named Walter. It is through Walter that the witches’ prophecy will eventually be fulfilled, and it is Walter who is the main character in this novel.

‘It takes more than an unfortunate birth to dishonour a man.’

Ms Rochelle has woven fact and fiction with elements of fantasy in her portrayal of some of the key events of the 11th century. From Scotland to Wales we accompany Fleance, from Wales to England, Scotland and France we accompany Walter as he grows from a youth into a responsible adult. Walter becomes friends with Malcolm, son of Duncan, who will become King of Scotland in 1058. Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy will fight for the crown of England in 1066. And every so often, Walter will be visited by the witches, mostly through his dreams:

‘The Norns seem to have an interest in my future. I believe in them.’

I enjoyed this novel. I’m familiar with Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, as well as portrayals of Macbeth in a number of novels of historical fiction. While Shakespeare’s Macbeth provides a starting point for Ms Rochelle’s novel, and the prophecy by the witches (the weird sisters or the Norns) provides a connection to the play, the novel itself is not bound by the play. Banquo, Fleance and Walter may be fictional characters, but many of the other characters are historical, as are many of the events portrayed. I particularly enjoyed how Ms Rochelle portrayed the challenges faced by Malcolm as he became King of Scotland. If you enjoy well-written historical fiction grounded in fact, and if you ever wondered what happened to Fleance after Banquo was murdered, you may well enjoy this novel.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2015 2:11 AM PST

The Country Wife
The Country Wife

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘If you get upset about small things, you’ll never be able to cope with big things when they come along.’, February 27, 2015
This review is from: The Country Wife (Kindle Edition)
Anne Gorman (née Austin) was born in Mudgee, NSW, on 17 January 1934. Anne was the eleventh of Christina and John Austin’s thirteen children. When Anne was aged five, her mother was hospitalised as a consequence of a breakdown and the family was turned upside down. By then the family was living in Sydney, and Anne and her sisters were placed in St Joseph’s Convent. This marks the beginning of an anxious and difficult period in Anne’s life: her family split, her mother absent for some time and then her father becomes ill. And in addition to this, the impact of World War II.

Anne sees education as providing her with freedom and choice, as a means of escape from the fears and uncertainty of her childhood. Surely a university degree, leading to a career as a hospital social worker would be worthy, and would ensure that Anne would have more choices than her mother?

But love changes Anne’s plans when, in July 1956, she agrees to marry Bruce Gorman. Anne becomes a farmer’s wife, and then the mother of five children. Life on a sheep and wheat property in the Riverina was a very different life from the one she envisaged when entering university.

‘A life in the country! This was to be my destiny.’

When Bruce Gorman becomes gravely ill, Anne’s life changes again: bringing up their five children, and keeping the farm afloat.

This is an absorbing and interesting memoir. While the most detailed part of the memoir spans the period from 1939 to (about) 1983, Ms Gorman touches on earlier family history and on some of the challenges and opportunities she faced after her husband died. Ms Gorman has seen some enormous changes during her life, including increasing possibilities for women to take on roles outside the home, and to participate more fully in public life.

I finished this book wanting to know more about Ms Gorman’s life since 1983. I hope that she writes another book.

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Whitewash to Whitewash: Australian Cricket's Years of Struggle and Summer of Riches
Whitewash to Whitewash: Australian Cricket's Years of Struggle and Summer of Riches

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘These were flawed years for the Australian game, its players and its decision-makers’, February 26, 2015
In 2007, Australia won the Ashes Series against England in a 5-0 whitewash, the first time this had been achieved in an Ashes series since 1921. In 2014, Australia repeated the 5-0 whitewash. In between these two successes were many failures: both on and off the field.

At the end of the Ashes Series in 2007, Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne each retired from Test Cricket. Damien Martyn had retired earlier in the series. Everyone expected that the retirements of four such successful players would have a significant impact on the Australian team, but none of us expected it would be as significant as it was.

So, what happened and how did the Australian team recover? Daniel Brettig is a journalist who writes about cricket and has added the reflections of a number of key Australian cricket figures to his own observations in writing this book. It makes for fascinating reading: a case study in succession planning, in management of individuals and of adapting to changing circumstances.

During that seven year period, the changes included: Twenty20 cricket became more significant in Australia creating its own set of headaches for cricket management; Michael Clarke replaced Ricky Ponting as the Australian captain; and Darren Lehmann became the third Australian Cricket coach since John Buchanan retired in 2007. During the same period, there were a series of controversies: ‘Monkeygate’ - the alleged racial abuse of Andew Symonds by Harbhajan Singh; the sacking of Simon Katich which followed a dressing room incident between Katich and Michael Clarke; the horror of losing three Ashes Series (2009, 2011 and 2013); the ‘homework’ saga and the firing of Mickey Arthur as Australian coach; and the Argus Review into Cricket Australia.

Finally, under coach Darren Lehmann (appointed just weeks before the Ashes loss in 2013), Australia wins the Ashes in 2014. Success at last!

What I enjoyed most about this book were the insights offered by those players and members of the coaching and management staff into the events of the period. Many of the attempts to manage incidents were reactionary, without (seemingly) much thought being given to either team building or long term consequences. There are questions, too, about how involved the captain and coach should be involved in selection, about how younger players should be welcomed and mentored, about succession planning, and striking a balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the team. Did Cricket Australia do enough to support Andrew Symonds after ‘Monkeygate’? Oh, and what is being done to foster spin bowling?

This is an interesting study of personalities and of management in a game that many of us love. I hope that the current board of Cricket Australia learns from the mistakes of the past.

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Penguin Australia for an opportunity to read a copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2015 6:11 AM PST

Witch: The Moondark Saga, Books 7-9
Witch: The Moondark Saga, Books 7-9
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘My goal is to destroy the children of prophecy, to make the names Gan and Sylah signify shame and disgrace.’, February 15, 2015
In Witch, the third trilogy of the Moondark Saga, Gan Moondark’s kingdom, the Three Territories is under threat from all sides. The Rose Priestess Sylah, whose quest for ancient knowledge has been successful, is looking to Gan Moondark for help. Her discovery of ancient knowledge has shattered the unity of the Church, and has seen her branded as a witch. But in addition to external threats, Gan faces enemies from within the Three Territories. Can Gan get the help he needs from Tate, Conway and the other twentieth century survivors? In the meantime, Leclerc’s inventions could assist, but the people are made nervous by what they perceive to be magic.

‘Visions and prophecies. They seem to always stand in need of interpretation.’

Tate and Conway journey back to the Enemy Mountains, in search of the ammunition and weapons stored there. It’s a race against both time and the Moonpriest whose objective is to destroy Gan and Sylah. In the meantime, there are those who seek to undermine Gan and his friends through misrepresentation and deceit. If they can turn friend against friend, then the Three Territories will be destroyed from within.

‘Deceit was an insidious infection that poisoned friendship.’

It’s winter. Gan and the Three Territories are preparing for war against many enemies. Can he prevail?

‘Tomorrow is different. Another world to build, another world to create, another world to discover.’

I loved this series. Over the nine books that make up the three Moondark trilogies, I became familiar with the world that Don McQuinn has created, the peoples who inhabit it and the challenges they face. This is a series that I know I will reread: the current ending enables me to imagine a continuation of the saga. I’m grateful for that.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this trilogy for review purposes. I am so glad that I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2015 12:53 AM PST

Ms Cellophane
Ms Cellophane
Price: $1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘I am Ms Cellophane. I have no job and no spouse or children and I am overweight.', February 12, 2015
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This review is from: Ms Cellophane (Kindle Edition)
' This makes me a dumpy middle aged spinster. Cellophane.’

Liz Smith, middle-aged spinster, rendered redundant, and living a life she considers deadly dull. Is it any wonder that Liz Smith thinks that she is boring? Ah, but will Liz remain boring? Her life is about to change. The changes start with a simple (hah) redecorating project, but where (and how) will it end?

‘Life was standing still, waiting for Liz to fall into its trap.’

Liz may be enduring her very own form of existential crisis, but she is not alone. Just ask her friends, and the ants, especially the ants. In Liz’s world, nothing is as it seems – especially when it involves a mirror.

I am especially fond of the mirror. Until I looked into it, I couldn’t recognise anyone in the story. Or perhaps I just chose not to. After all, Canberra is full of middle-aged people, isn’t it?

I read this novel when it was first released as ‘Life through Cellophane’ in 2009. I reread it after it was reissued in digital form, and found that I enjoyed it even more. The first time around I focussed on the hectic drama of Liz’s life, a blend of inward-focussed musing and curious external events. This time around I looked more at the journey Liz was taking, at how she was looking for a meaning not defined by relationship and employment status. Or ants. Who might Liz become?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it
Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Though I am not an historian, I am history.’, February 10, 2015
Harry Smith, born in 1923 and celebrating his 92nd birthday this month (February 2015), has quite a lot to say about the UK and the modern world. There’s an urgency about Harry’s views, and reading about his life experiences it’s hard not to agree with much of what he has to say.
Harry Smith lived through the awful, grinding poverty of the Great Depression. His sister Marion died in 1926 as a consequence of tuberculosis because his family could not afford medical treatment.

‘In those days, there was no national health service; one either had the dosh to pay for you medicine or you did without.’

By joining the Royal Air Force in 1941, Harry finally obtained many of the things that many of us take for granted: food every day, decent clothing, a bed to sleep in. Harry did okay, despite having little formal education and ins spite of the British class system.

So what is Harry’s book about, and why is it worth reading?

Central to the book is the promise made by politicians after the war that ‘no one in this country would face that type of unemployment and helplessness again’. It was to be a more optimistic new world, one in which education would ensure equality of opportunity and healthcare would be universally available. Instead, Harry points to evidence that the rise in living costs and a decrease in government programs are diminishing opportunity and extinguishing hope. In Harry’s view, much of what government is doing is of benefit only to the rich. Who else can afford expensive schools and healthcare? Who else benefits from massive subsidies to business? Government austerity did not work during the Great Depression: why (and how) will it work now?

‘We have become hyper-vigilant about imaginary risks to our person and our society, but indifferent to the threats that austerity creates to our neighbourhoods, our schools, our hospitals and our friends.’

Harry Smith’s book is worth reading, whether you agree with his left-leaning views or not. The Great Depression is not an historical event for him: he experienced it directly. As Harry Smith moves between his own past experiences and his analysis of contemporary issues, it’s hard not to agree with some of his suggestions for improvement. Do we really want to see a return to an era in which a child can die in a developed country of a treatable disease because medical treatment is only afforded to those who can pay? Do we really believe that corporations are more important than people?

I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a passionate and articulate view about learning from the lessons of the past. We need to take responsibility for our future.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2015 2:16 AM PST

Langue[dot]doc 1305
Langue[dot]doc 1305
by Gillian Polack
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.77
22 used & new from $15.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Time for Botty to beam you down into the Middle Ages!’, February 9, 2015
This review is from: Langue[dot]doc 1305 (Paperback)
The plan: to send a team of Australian scientists, together with an historian, back to St-Guilhem-le-Désert in 1305. The scientists will take scientific measurements of the atmosphere, environment and ecology, and study the skies for nine months. They will live in a cave, and they will have no impact on the people or the history.

Dr Artemisia Wormwood is the historian. She’s a late inclusion to the team, and she’s and expert in Anglo-Norman and Norman hagiography, rather than medieval history. Still, Artemisia is willing to go for personal reasons.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, the only thing that the scientists seem able to agree on is that their own work is important and should be given precedence. The importance of history hardly seems worth considering. And as for keeping away from the people in the local town - why should they?

The local townsfolk soon notice the people living ‘under the hill’ and can’t decide whether they are fairies or demons. Are they simply annoying, or actually dangerous? Time passes, individuals become frustrated, and things go wrong. How will it end? Especially as no-one seems to be taking Artemisia seriously. Artemisia is the only one who can communicate with the locals, and her contact with Guilhem, the local knight, leads to a new set of problems.

‘Why did they bother bringing an historian if they assumed that historian’s stupidity?’
The novel is a series of (usually) short anecdotes, usually from the perspective of Artemisia or Guilhem. These anecdotes demonstrate all too clearly some of the things that can go wrong when people are separated by 700 (or so) years. This, for me, is a novel about difference, about the perceptions that people bring to their experience and expectation of the world in which they live. Each group (the time travellers and the townsfolk) has their leaders, each group has its outsiders. The time travel provides an opportunity to explore some of those differences.

This is a novel to read slowly and reflect on: it is interesting and enjoyable. While few of the characters appealed to me (most were either too argumentative or egotistical, or too passive), the challenges thrown up by the situation had me thinking. And for that, I can almost accept a Timebot known as ‘Botty’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2015 1:24 PM PST


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `All the others were honeydew.', February 8, 2015
This review is from: Honeydew (Kindle Edition)
When I requested a copy of this book of short stories, I had no idea what to expect. I'd not read any Edith Pearlman before. This collection of twenty short stories (each of them previously published in various journals) held my attention from the beginning of the first story to the end of the twentieth.

The longest of these stories is 22 pages, most are between 10 and 15 pages. And it's a tribute to Ms Pearlman's skill that she can construct a person, a group or family, a setting, a series of events, a lifetime in a way that is self-contained and satisfying to read. Words are not wasted. These stories are about relationships, about observing, about evaluating life choices. Some are unconventional love stories, others remind the reader that happiness can often be found along less conventional paths. Many (but not all) of these stories are set in a fictional Boston suburb inhabited by a multicultural cast of characters.

If you enjoy short stories about people, about possibilities and situations, then you may enjoy this collection. I did. I won't identify a favourite story, because my view will probably change when I reread the book, but I particularly liked the character of Rennie in `Puck' and in `Assisted Living'. Rennie has an antiques business called `Forget Me Not' and while she observes much, Rennie is discreet, and does not offer advice. Each of these stories invites you through a significant event or moment into a life, and then to appreciate (at least part of) that life and to reflect on it. Consider `Hat Trick', in which a recently widowed woman invites four 19 year old girls (including her daughter) to draw the names of their future husbands from a selection of names in a hat. And the result? Fifty years later, the mother is on her deathbed, and the daughter tells her what became of each of the girls: `You did a marvellous thing, .. we are all happy enough.'

Note: My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Hachette Australia for an opportunity to read a copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 10, 2015 3:26 AM PST

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