Bulldozed: Scott Morrison’s Fall and Anthony Albanese’s Rise by Niki Savva

‘Peter Dutton and Josh Frydenburg knew, months out from the election, that they were headed for disaster under Scott Morrison.’

Yes, it is nine months after the defeat of the Morrison government, and it has taken me this long to get around to reading Ms Savva’s book. I was always going to read it. After all, I found Ms Savva’s earlier books about Coalition governments — the behaviour of Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin (‘The Road to Ruin’) and the Morrison coup by Scott Morrison against Malcolm Turnbull (‘Plots and Prayers’) disturbingly fascinating.

Clearly, Ms Savva does not like Scott Morrison. Clearly, based on research undertaken for this book and comments by interviewees, she is not alone. And, if you need reasons to mislike Scott Morrison, this book is testament to the mistakes he made and the arrogance he displayed . No, Scott Morrison is not personally responsible for everything that went wrong in Australia between 2019 and 2002. He didn’t start the bushfires or cause the Covid-19 pandemic. But he didn’t need to hold a hose to demonstrate leadership, and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout was poorly handled. I would give him some credit for establishing the National Cabinet as a mechanism for managing the pandemic but holding up New South Wales as the ‘gold standard’ for pandemic management would have been risible if it wasn’t so tragic.

This comment (in relation to the ‘captain’s pick’ of Katherine Deves as the Liberal candidate to Warringah) sums it up perfectly:

‘It was quintessential Morrison. Refuse to admit a mistake, stick with it, and turn it into an even bigger one. Allow a problem to become a crisis before mishandling it.’

What makes this book worth reading is Ms Savva’s access to key players (except Scott Morrison himself, of course) and her own experience. Labor had learned from the 2019 election while it seems that the Coalition had not. Morrison might have been praying for another miracle, but Labor, the Greens and the ‘Teal’ Independents had other ideas.

Perhaps my favourite line in this book is this one:  about Barnaby Joyce being ‘to Liberal voters what Roundup was to weeds’.

This book is well worth reading if you are interested in Australian politics (and contemporary personalities). The last word belongs to Nikki Savva:

‘He was the worst prime minister I have covered, and I have been writing about all of the since Gough Whitlam. He simply wasn’t up to the job.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Book 7 in my 2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. I’ve entered as a ‘Nonfiction Grazer’ and this book should be included under the heading of ‘Politics and Government’.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator) (The Neapolitan Novels #2)

‘In the spring of 1966, Lila, in a state of great agitation, entrusted to me a metal box that contained eight notebooks.’

After finishing the first novel in this series, I moved straight onto the second. I was curious to see what would happen next to Lila and Elena (also known as Lenù). Lila marries Stefano at age sixteen. She is no longer poor but is not happy with other aspects of the life she has chosen. Lenù chooses a different path to try to escape poverty. And, even as she works towards academic success, Lenù still feels overshadowed by Lila.

Here I need to make a confession. I did not like Lila: her opportunism and manipulation of Lenù (and others) drained much of my sympathy for her. And yet, Lila helps Lenù in several different ways. While I sometimes wanted to shake Lenù (‘wake up, you are better than this’) I could empathise with many aspects of her struggle. Can Lenù move beyond her complicated (and sometimes toxic) relationship with Lila?

Lila and Lenù become adults. Lila, while retaining her curiosity about the world and the people within it, lives dangerously. Lenù has a different focus. If Lina is focussed on the personal, Lenù tries to focus on a better world.

My feelings wavered during the novel. Ms Ferrante had me feeling sad, then angry as both women grappled with the weight of a patriarchal society as well as (for Lenù) the burden of poverty. Can either find happiness?

I need to read the third novel, but not yet.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Damnation Games by Gemma Amor, Joanne Anderton, J. Ashley-Smith, Alan Baxter (Editor), Aaron Dries, Gemma Files, Geneve Flynn, Philip Fracassi, Robert Hood, Gabino Iglesias, Rick Kennett, Maria Lewis, Chris Mason, Lee Murray, Cina Pelayo, Dan Rabarts, John F.D. Taff, Kyla Lee Ward, Kaaron Warren.

‘Horror looks into the darkness and doesn’t turn away…’

Some weeks ago, this book mysteriously appeared in my mailbox. It then challenged me to slip between the covers and check out nineteen short stories of horror. I resisted for a while, after all, who lets a book dictate when it should be read? But, as I discovered, resistance was futile. The impact of horror cannot be gainsaid, damnation beckoned either way…

What did I find?  Nineteen terrific stories each trying to get under my skin and into my mind. A combination of crime fiction and horror, each of which captured and held my attention. I tried to read slowly but could not resist reading just one more story (or perhaps three) each night.

Yes, I have favourites. ‘Ghost Gun’ by John F D Taff is brilliant, while ‘A Bitter Yellow Sea’ by Gene Flynn had me worried. ‘Remnants and Bad Water’ by Kaaron Warren held my attention from beginning to end as did ‘Spool’ by Dan Roberts and ‘Dangerous Specimens’ by Robert Hood.

And yes, I am going to reread these clever short stories. If you like a combination of horror and crime, then you really cannot go past this unique collection. Just keep the lights on and your wits about you. Damnation: I want more.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

My 100 km walk for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance

This month, I’m taking on the ‘100km in March Challenge’ to support babies, children and adults living with cerebral palsy. 👶 🧒 👩

My challenge started on the first of March, and I would really appreciate your support. Every donation, no matter how big or small, will fund life-changing research into the prevention, treatment and cure for cerebral palsy. 

Please donate to my page below and help show people living with cerebral palsy a future where the impossible is possible. 💚


I have walked 235 kilometers so far and expect to walk at least 300 kilometers during March. So far, I have raised $A495, and would like to raise more. If you can sponsor me (donations $2 and over are tax deductible in Australia) I would really appreciate it.

Thank you.

The Drift by C.J. Tudor

‘Necessity might be the mother of invention, but it was also the father of f**k you.’

Three main characters, three points of view, three separate groups trying to survive. First, we meet Hannah. She awakens to carnage. The coach that she and others were travelling in was in an accident during a snowstorm. The survivors are trapped. Next, we meet Meg. Meg awakens in a cable car, stranded above ground. There are five strangers in the cable car with Meg, and no-one has any memory of boarding the cable car. Originally, they were heading to ‘The Retreat’. And finally, we meet Carter. He is looking out the window of an isolated ski chalet which he and a small group call home.

The world each group exists in is a post-apocalyptic world in which a deadly virus continues to wreak havoc. Those who survive viral infection are called Whistlers because of the noise they make when they breathe. The Whistlers are dangerous, but they can also be a source of material for a vaccine against the virus.

Each of the three groups is under threat, both from the external environment and from one of their own members. But who, and why?

Ms Tudor takes us on a frenetic journey, shifting between characters as the story unfolds. I was busy trying to follow the various threads and I think I missed an important clue. It is equally possible that Ms Tudor kept it carefully hidden until three quarters of the way through the story. Either way, there is a clever twist that had me wondering.

A terrific read: a combination of interesting characters many of whom hold secrets, an inhospitable environment and plenty of tension. I read this in two sittings because I just had to know how it would end.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

A Ballet of Lepers: A Novel and Stories by Leonard Cohen

‘It is a general rule of the hierarchy that the slave should not go better robed than the master.’

A friend introduced me to the music of Leonard Cohen (thank you Susan L). I have lots of his music now, and some of his poetry on my shelves. When I saw that ‘A Ballet of Lepers’ had been published, I knew I had to read it: an unpublished early novel, fifteen short stories and a play script.

So, I sat down with this book, put my Leonard Cohen playlist on in the background, and travelled into some uncomfortable places. The pieces in this collection were written between 1956 and 1961 and are dark and challenging. The toxic relationships in ‘A Ballet of Lepers’ had me wanting to look away but unable to do so. I disliked the main character, was haunted by his actions, and wondered if he was redeemable. And the ending? Too neat.

The short stories held my attention while I was reading them, but they will quickly fade from my memory as will the play script.

While I am glad I read these stories, I prefer my memories of Leonard Cohen to be through his poems and songs. They are often dark enough. I wonder if Leonard Cohen would be pleased that these works have been published?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Bellevue by Alison Booth

‘Clare stood on the gravel drive in front of Bellevue.’

Numbulla, New South Wales, 1972.  Bellevue in the Blue Mountains holds fond memories for Clare Barclay. The house provided a haven for her and her daughter Sophie after her husband Jack died. So, when she inherits the house after her Aunt Hilda dies, Clare moves in and plans to restore it. Clare also hopes to find some answers in a missing box of documents which might explain the second mortgage on the home she and Jack occupied and which she lost after his death.

Clare makes friends with several the locals, including Joe, a young lad who had found his own haven at Bellevue. But then she discovers plans to redevelop around Numbulla. Some of those who protest the rezoning application find themselves being subtly (sometimes) threatened and harassed, prevented from attending meetings and subjected to vandalism. Clare is keen to prevent a development which would potentially ruin the protected wilderness area around Numbulla.  But exactly who is behind it?

The story shifts between the perspectives of Clare and Joe. Each has suffered loss; both love the wilderness area. Clare’s skill as a speech writer is invaluable to the local branch of the Conservation Society. There are a few twists as the story unfolds and a couple of mysteries are explained but the overwhelming sense I am left with is a powerful reminder of the power that people have when they unite in support.

‘She had found a new vocation: it was to fight and conserve the unspoilt places of the mountains.’

This is Ms Booth’s seventh novel and the fifth I have read. Now that I have realised that I have missed two (how on earth did that happen?), I will track them down.

Highly recommended. Enjoyable, well-written fiction.

Note: My thanks to Ms Booth and Red Door Publishing for providing a copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Five Fortunes by Barbara Venkataraman

‘How could she have known it would change everything?’

Five fourteen-year-old friends Abby, Allison, Meghan, Lori, and Rhianna decide to get their fortunes from an arcade machine. They do it for fun, but the way they each interpret the words they receive changes their lives. How easy it is to misunderstand words if you only recognise one possible meaning. How easy it is for one misunderstanding to follow another and for friendships to founder as a consequence. Being fourteen is never easy and parents never (apparently) get it.

Each of the girls is negotiating her own place in the world, making the transition from childhood, and finding what is important to her. Some of the girls have more responsibility than others, each of them has yet to find a balance between their individual rights and responsibilities.

Ms Venkataraman fits a lot into this 78-page YA novella/short story, and I enjoyed reading it.  I can remember being fourteen, well over fifty years ago. While some aspects including fashion and the impact of technology, have changed, much remains the same.

Thank you, Ms Venkataraman, for the opportunity to read (and then to review) ‘Five Fortunes. My inner fourteen-year-old was delighted to learn that she was not alone.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

A Heart Full of Headstones (Inspector Rebus #24) by Ian Rankin

‘John Rebus had been in court plenty of times, but this was his first time in the dock.’

The novel opens with John Rebus seated in the dock of an Edinburgh court. Covid-19 protocols have the jury in an hotel, watching via video link. While the charges are read, Rebus himself, now in poor health, thinks about the events that have led him to court.

The Covid-19 lockdown has led to an increase in cases of domestic violence. One of the alleged offenders is a police officer serving at the Tynecastle Police Station. His defence?  He claims to be suffering from PTSD because of the toxic culture at Tynecastle. He will do anything to avoid being charged: including blowing the whistle on his colleagues. Decades of misconduct at Tynecastle involving a group of corrupt police has the police internal investigations unit based at Gartcosh interested. Rebus has never served there, but he knows some who have. And he has an indirect connection through ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, still a powerful crime figure even  though he is confined to a wheelchair after an assassination attempt.

Big Ger calls Rebus: he wants a favour. While Rebus doesn’t believe Big Ger’s motivation, he has his own reasons for looking into the matter raised. In the meantime, DI Siobhan Clarke is first on scene at a murder in an apartment block. The murder becomes part of an investigation by the Major Incident Team. The corrupt police at Tynecastle are pursuing their own interests, and Rebus looks like being caught in the crossfire.

There’s plenty of action in this novel, with a twist at the end. What has Rebus been charged with, and is he guilty? Now I want to know what will happen next.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Spare by Prince Harry

I was not going to read this book. And then I changed my mind.  Why? Well, selective reporting of some of the contents in the media had me wondering about context. I was curious about what Prince Harry had to say. I borrowed the book from my local library.

Yes, there is more to this book than the salacious bits reported in the media. I found it a mixture of perceptive observations by Prince Harry about growing up in the British Royal Family, and of trying to make his own way and to find his own place in the world.

‘It occurred to me that identity is a hierarchy. We are primarily one thing, and then we’re primarily another and then another, and so on, until death – in succession.’

The loss of his mother overshadows this memoir: her hounding by the media is seen as the direct cause of her death and this drives Prince Harry in his quest to keep his own family safe.

I also admire the work he has done as the Patron of the Invictus Games Foundation and with veterans after leaving the British Army.

‘Who are you when you can no longer be the thing you’ve always been, the thing you’ve learned to be?’

I admit that I was somewhat cynical when I started reading this memoir but by the end, I simply hoped everything works out okay for Prince Harry and his family.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Book 6 in my 2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. I’ve entered as a ‘Nonfiction Grazer’ and this book should be included under the heading of ‘Biography’.