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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" RSS Feed (ACT, Australia)
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Joan Makes History
Joan Makes History
Price: $12.91

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘What a big thing this business of history is, and what absurd bits and pieces make it up.’, September 2, 2015
In many history books, women are at the periphery or somewhere in the background. They are rarely anywhere near centre stage for the big moments. A number of learned, historiographers, historians and others (often women) have written about this perplexing absence of women. It’s serious stuff.

But if you want a light-hearted look at a woman’s role in Australia’s European history, it’s hard to go past this book by Kate Grenville. In this book, Joan is present at all of the important (read famous) moments in Australia’s European history. Joan gives her own version of what happened, covering the bits that other historians have left, providing a fresh and frequently irreverent look at events.

Yes, it’s light-hearted but it invites the reader to think about who determines what is included in history, and on what basis. What is important, and to whom? Why?

Joan herself is many different women. In one chapter she is a new-born baby, in another a female convict. Joan is also a free settler, an aboriginal woman. She experiences the first landing in 1788, the search for gold in the 19th century and Federation at the beginning of the 20th.

The delivery may be light-hearted (and humorous at times) but the underlying message is important. How can we really appreciate and understand human history without knowing more about the role of women within it?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Becoming George Washington
Becoming George Washington
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Imagining the man behind the legend.’, September 1, 2015
This novel covers a twelve year period of George Washington’s life, from July 1747 – when he was aged 15, to January 1759 – when, the month before his 27th birthday, he married Martha Custis. The novel explores the difficult relationship George Washington had with his mother, Mary, who always seemed to expect and require more from him. In this novel, George’s brothers, especially his half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine (‘Austin’), were an important part of his life. They provided him with support, introductions and opportunities which undoubtedly helped him to flourish despite his mother’s inflexibility.

‘I have often heard of the “smell of victory.” I certainly will never forget the “stink of defeat.’’’

But much of the making of George Washington appears to have been through the lessons he learned during his involvement in the French and Indian War. His successes and failures in the field shaped him both as a man and as a leader. While I found it difficult to reconcile all of his actions with the idealistic view I have of Washington as President, most of us learn more from our failures than our successes.

‘I will no longer be controlled by others or events. I will be the master of myself.’

In the novel, Stephen Yoch explores the possibility of an affair between George Washington and Sally Fairfax. While an affair appears to be supported by documentation, including letters written by George, it is controversial. Did they or didn’t they? Does it matter? I can imagine the need to keep any such liaison out of the public eye.

Mr Yoch provides detailed notes and commentary in support of his novel, and while I’m not comfortable with some aspects of his interpretation of George Washington, I appreciate the possibilities. At the time the novel concludes, George Washington is becoming a man of influence. What I liked most about the novel was how it required me to think about how George Washington went from being a fatherless boy with limited prospects to one of the most influential men in American history.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Wise Ink Creative Publishing for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


No Barrier (A&R classics)
No Barrier (A&R classics)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘Only the wind, blowing steadily from the West, failed to welcome the new Governor.’, August 31, 2015
This novel, the final in Ms Dark’s trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’, opens with the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810. While the period from the end of the second novel at the beginning of 1808 and the arrival of Governor Macquarie is covered using extracts from Conor Mannion’s journal and letters. Tragedy and the Bligh rebellion have had an impact on both the Mannions and the settlement at Sydney Cove. But the settlement continues to grow, and there are young men – including Miles Mannion – who dream of crossing the Blue Mountains looking for suitable land for settlement on the other side.

The expansion of the settlement provides a number of challenges. Not only is it more difficult to govern expanding settlements effectively, continually expanding settlements displace even more of the Aboriginal people.

From his secluded eyrie, Johnny Prentice is torn between European and Aboriginal cultures. Patrick Mannion has his own set of cares and responsibilities. And when his brother Miles returns to Australia, with a wife, Patrick’s life becomes more difficult.

I reread this novel with mixed feelings. While in many ways it is my least favourite of the trilogy, this is a consequence of my unrealistic expectations rather than any failure on the part of the author. The trilogy must come to an end, and not all of the characters will find happiness. I especially liked the way in which Ms Dark set out the challenges faced by Governor Macquarie, and how he determined to meet them. The Mannions will have mixed success, the Aborigines very little success, while Conor Mannion herself will flourish. And Johnny Prentice? Can he find happiness?

I finished the novel wanting more, yet knowing that no amount of ‘more’ would really satisfy. If you are interested in Australia’s colonial history, then this trilogy gives a wonderfully detailed, nuanced picture of it. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2015 8:31 PM PDT


Honor & Entropy
Honor & Entropy
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘If it is adventure you seek, come along with me.’, August 28, 2015
This review is from: Honor & Entropy (Kindle Edition)
Welcome to ‘Honor and Entropy’, a complex, sprawling odyssey covering a number of lives and adventures. The novel is presented as a manuscript found by J.E Rainey: Arthur Spevak’s manuscript which has been left forgotten in a trunk, abandoned. It’s presented as a lost tale, a journey for readers to undertake:

‘I am simply a messenger.’

The two major characters are Telly (short for Aristotle) Brensen and his friend Art Spevak. Telly and his mother Penny live in Washington State where Telly has grown up believing that his father Ulysses S. Brensen died during World War II mission in the Pacific Theatre. Telly and Art became lifelong friends after Art and his parents move to Washington State.

While the story starts with Ulysses Brensen in 1945, it is Telly’s search for him that is at the centre of the story. And, along the journey there are contrasts between the lives of Art and Telly, with similar experiences delivering vastly different outcomes for each of them. No, I don’t want to spoil the story by including detail of Art’s and Telly’s lives. There is a lot of detail to absorb, much of it important and by the end of the novel it makes its own form of perfect sense.

As an adult, Telly learns that there were survivors from the plane crash his father was in. One of those survivors was a Japanese prisoner of war, Major Shimano. With Art’s help, Telly meets Major Shimano. As a result Telly travels to Borneo where his father’s plane crashed.
What happens to Telly in Borneo? What does he discover about his father? What about his mother Penny, and his girlfriend? And Art? Most of these questions are answered towards the end of the novel, if you have patience and persist.

It took me a while to be swept up into this novel and there were times when I found the sheer length of it quite daunting. But the language held my attention and, ultimately, I wanted to know how it would end. Could it have been shorter? Definitely. But odysseys are not usually about the quickest, most direct route.

Note: The author provided me with a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


1066: What Fates Impose
1066: What Fates Impose
Price: $4.61

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘Such is fate.’, August 27, 2015
Spanning the period from 1045 to 1087, Mr Holloway’s novel deals with a turbulent period in English history. In 1043 King Edward the Confessor, supported by Godwin, the powerful Earl of Wessex succeeded King Harthacnut. When Edward died in 1066, without an obvious heir, many believed that the Earl of Wessex – Godwin’s son, Harold Godwinson – was the most able person to succeed him. They hoped that Harold would bring stability to the kingdom. But King Harald Sigurdsson of Norway (Harold Hardrada) had different ideas, as did William, Duke of Normandy.

There may not have been any obvious successors, but there were a number of claimants. There are many different factions at court, and with Norway and Normandy also plotting to rule England, there’s plenty of intrigue. Who would prevail, and why? The Godwin family are central to this novel and although they are powerful, they have plenty of enemies. Mr Holloway’s novel provides a fascinating look at this period in history.
Those who know their English history will know the outcome of the battles of 1066. The history can’t be changed, but in reading this novel I found myself wondering ‘What if?’ more than once. In battles won more by chance than strategy, it is tempting to imagine a different outcome.

I enjoyed reading this novel. For me, Mr Holloway’s strength was in bringing the times to life. This novel invited me to consider – in more depth – the characters involved and to consider their motivations. If you are interested in historical fiction set in the 11th century, especially in the period around 1066, then you may enjoy this novel. I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2015 8:43 PM PDT


Storm of Time
Storm of Time
by Eleanor Dark
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars ‘Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.’, August 26, 2015
This review is from: Storm of Time (Paperback)
The ‘Storm of Time’ is the second novel in Eleanor Dark’s trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’. It opens in 1799, in Sydney Cove, three years after Governor Arthur Phillip left the settlement. This novel covers the period from 1799 to 1808, under governors John Hunter, Philip Gidley King and William Bligh. In 1799, eleven years after European settlement, the settlements have expanded. Famine continues to be a problem as flood and drought hinder efforts towards self-sufficiency. An influx of Irish rebels convicted for political crimes adds to the complexity of the issues faced by the settlement where a battle between the New South Wales Corps and successive governors over the rum trade continues.

The Mannion family are established on the land, supported by convict labour. Ellen Prentice and her children are part of Stephen Mannion’s household at Beltrasna. The Mannion sons, Patrick and Miles are intended to reside only temporarily in New South Wales: they will in time return ‘home’. Stephen Mannion remarries, Conor Moore from Ireland and brings her to Beltrasna. And Johnny Prentice lives in the bush, preferring to be with the natives, harbouring a deep grudge against Stephen Mannion.

‘At night the land took back the silence of its centuries, and lay passive as it had done since the dawn of time under the indifferent stars.’

‘Storm of Time’ is a more complex novel than ‘The Timeless Land’. As European settlement expands, government of the colony becomes more complex. Tensions between convicts and masters, between the Aboriginals and the Europeans are depicted well. As is the ongoing battle between the New South Wales Corps and the governor.

I enjoyed the way in which Ms Dark bought her characters to life in their historic setting. While much of the focus is on the European settlers – the fictional Mannions and Johnny Prentice, and the historical figures such as William Bligh, John Macarthur and Samuel Marsden, the Aboriginal community is more peripheral. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the (fictional) Dilboong taken into service by Stephen Mannion. I first read this novel during the 1970s and I am finding this reread rewarding. I am currently reading the final book in the trilogy ‘No Barrier’. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this trilogy to anyone interested in fiction set in Australia’s colonial past.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2015 11:21 PM PDT


The Timeless Land (A&R classics)
The Timeless Land (A&R classics)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘Bennilong and his father had come down to the cliffs again, alone.’, August 19, 2015
The Timeless Land (first published in 1941) is a work of historical fiction by Eleanor Dark (1901–1985). It is the first novel in The Timeless Land trilogy, which is about the European settlement and exploration of Australia.

The narrative is told from English and Aboriginal points of view. It opens with Bennilong’s memory of being with his father Wunbula, waiting for the boat with wings which Wunbula had seen some time earlier. When the boat does not return, its sighting becomes less significant. But when the First Fleet arrives in January 1788, Bennilong remembers what his father had seen and spoken of.

The novel describes the first years of the colony, the attempts by Captain Arthur Phillips to impose European values and standards on the Aborigines and to involve them in European settlement. It also describes the famine suffered by the settlement, and the devastating effects of introduced disease (particularly smallpox) on the Aboriginal population. The novel ends in 1792, but the epilogue returns focus to Bennilong and provides a glimpse of how his life has been dislocated.

I first read this novel in the early 1970s, and loved it. It was the first novel I’d read that tried to look at the European settlement in 1788 from both an Aboriginal and European perspectives. And Australia itself, the ‘timeless land’ seen through very different eyes.

Lieutenant Tench thought: ‘This place did not welcome you, like Rio; it did not look particularly fertile, and it was certainly not languorous. Nor did it repel you, like Table Bay; it offered no enmity, no resistance. It simply waited.’

Wunbula’s earlier knowledge was that ‘Nothing could change the land, the eternal land, to which each generation of men was but one indrawn breath of its endless survival.’

Rereading this novel reminded me of the joy I found in reading it the first time, my sense that Eleanor Dark had captured something of the mystery of the land, as well as a sense of the impact of European arrival on both Europeans and Aboriginals. There are always some elements of the past which we could wish were handled differently. I’m currently rereading the second novel in the trilogy, ‘Storm of Time’, seeing Australian history though slightly different eyes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2015 9:01 PM PDT


Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 22-24 (Oliver and Jumpy, the cat Series Book 8)
Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 22-24 (Oliver and Jumpy, the cat Series Book 8)
Price: $0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘All Aboard!’, August 17, 2015
So far there are 11 books (each containing 3 stories) in the Oliver and Jumpy series by Werner Stejskal. Oliver is a black tomcat who is rather full of himself and Jumpy is a female kangaroo. They are good friends, and have had many adventures together. Sometimes Jumpy’s son, Joey is part of the adventure as well. This book, which is book 8 of the series, contains the following stories:

In Story 22: The Incredible Train Journey, Oliver, Jumpy and Joey go on a train journey which takes them to places where trains do not usually travel: it’s an exciting magical adventure.

In Story 23: Hiccup, Oliver has the hiccups. What do you do when you have the hiccups? Well, Oliver visits the Hiccup bird (an adventure in itself). He has to disguise himself as a baby Hiccup bird: will this work? And how will Oliver return home afterwards?

In Story 24: Fishing, Oliver takes Joey fishing to try out Joey’s new fishing rod. Will they catch any fish?

These are delightful whimsical stories, beautifully illustrated. Just perfect to read with small children. My Kindle doesn’t do justice to the illustrations (although they look beautiful on both computer and telephone). I know times have changed, but I really prefer print versions of story books for young children.

Note: The author drew my attention to his Oliver and Jumpy story series, and I downloaded a copy of this book for free.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Adam's Pouched Lion (Adam's Chronicles Book 4)
Adam's Pouched Lion (Adam's Chronicles Book 4)
Price: $2.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ‘The next step in evolution.’, August 16, 2015
In a story that has now encompassed five books and over five centuries, Adam Boatwright is still alive and still restoring wildlife and vegetation on earth after a disastrous meteor impact. But his longevity is not totally secret, and Adam fears that others may have stumbled on a way to achieve longevity for far less noble purposes.

It’s a complex mission trying to restore life on earth: who decides (and how) which species should be restored, and which should be left extinct? What about bats, or sharks, or Siberian tigers? Should malaria-bearing mosquitoes be restored? For what purpose? And is it possible to prevent humans repeating their earlier mistakes?

While Adam Boatwright faces similar issues in this novel to those he has faced in earlier novels, the story continues to develop. There needs to be some balance in the world, and some redress for mankind’s earlier damage. Perhaps the reintroduction of some long extinct species might achieve this. And, as the human population grows there’s tension between those who want zero population growth, and those who would ban birth control.

This is an interesting series. While it isn’t necessary to read the books in order, it is preferable to read them all to make sense of the world Adam occupies and the challenges he and the other humans face. For me, the strongest part of this series is neither the people nor the relationships but how they face the challenges that would face any survivors left on earth after such a global catastrophe. There are many issues to be considered, and recovery can only proceed slowly.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2015 5:50 PM PDT


The Straight Dope: The inside story of sport's biggest drug scandal
The Straight Dope: The inside story of sport's biggest drug scandal
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ‘The greatest drug scandal in Australian sport breaks in the middle of dinner.’, August 10, 2015
On James Hird’s fortieth birthday, 4 February 2013, the drug scandal known to many as ‘the supplements scandal’ started to unfold. Three days later – 7 February 2013 – is now referred to as ‘the blackest day in Australian sport’. Two years later, the supplements scandal continues to reverberate. There has been a lot of media coverage: the AFL, the NFL, the Cronulla Sharks, the Essendon Bombers, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the Commonwealth Government have all been involved. But what really happened, and what lessons can be learned as a consequence?

‘The worst thing you can do in sport is cheat.’

Chip Le Grand is a journalist who has been writing about sport, crime and politics for longer than twenty years. In this book, his first, he provides context for the supplements scandal as well as some of the detail missing from various media coverage of the case. While we are never likely to have complete detail about exactly what was administered to whom, Mr Le Grand’s book raises some important issues about sport governance and administration. While I was interested to learn more about the supplements scandal and the likely motivation of various participants, my real interest is in what government and the various sport administration bodies intend to do to prevent such events occurring in future. I hope that this book helps sports administrators work out what needs to be done to improve management of player welfare, governance and accountability for the future.

And for Esssendon, at least, the case continues. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is set to hear WADA’s appeal against the exoneration of 34 Essendon players later in the year, most likely in Sydney.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2015 5:37 AM PDT


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