Lymond is back!

If you’ve not read these novels and you like exquisitely written historical fiction, now is your chance.

She Reads Novels

Today sees the reissue in the UK and Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand of The Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful six-volume series following the 16th century adventures of Francis Crawford of Lymond. As Dunnett is one of my favourite authors, I couldn’t let this day pass unmarked on my blog!

Originally published in 1961, The Game of Kings is the first of the Lymond novels, and little did I know, when I picked it up for the first time in 2012 and read that opening line “Lymond is back”, that I was about to embark on the most enjoyable – and emotional – reading experience of my life.

What do you think of the new Penguin covers?

Dunnett’s standalone novel set in 11th century Orkney and Scotland, King Hereafter, has also been reissued today, although we will have to wait until 2018 for her other series, The…

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DOUGLAS NEWTON.  Beersheba and the Scramble for the Ottoman Empire | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

The centenary of the bloodshed at Beersheba this month is being used to bolster a narrow nationalist understanding of Australia’s First World War. Vital truths about the worldwide catastrophe that …

Source: DOUGLAS NEWTON.  Beersheba and the Scramble for the Ottoman Empire | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

Thanks for the memories: Kathleen Margaret Sebbens. May you rest in peace.



Today I attended a funeral.  An opportunity to say farewell and to share memories of this wonderful lady.  Kathleen and her husband Bert are near neighbours of mine, and over the years we’ve had more than a few conversations.  Kathleen was 89 when she passed away, and she and Bert had celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this year.  I ‘ve met two of their three children, and my son was at primary school briefly with one of their granddaughters.

Kathleen lived for her family.  She was, until the past couple of years, always busy, always engaged in making her part of the world a better place.  And how wonderful it was, to hear her daughter and some of her grandchildren speak of their mother and grandmother.  To be reminded, too, of Kathleen’s passion for Mills & Boon novels, her garden and her homemade jams, and that proper tea was made with leaf tea in a tea pot and served in a cup with a saucer.  To hear some of the stories about a much loved Nan (who did not tolerate bullshit) and wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.

Kathleen worked until retirement and then kept busy at home.  She will be missed by all of us, and most especially by Bert.  But just think of the memories she’s left for us, as she made her part of the world a much brighter place.


The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Definitely one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

‘This expedition isn’t really about the trees at all, is it? It’s about getting a decent map, for if – when – the army has to go?’

It’s 1859, and former East India Company employee Merrick Tremayne is trapped in his family’s decaying estate in Cornwall. Tremayne is disabled, having almost lost his leg in an accident. The British India Office is desperately trying to seek a source of quinine, which is required to treat malaria. Tremayne is approached to be part of an expedition to deepest Peru and, while he knows it’s a terrible idea, he agrees. After all, what can he do in Cornwall? Peculiar things are happening around him and his brother is convinced that Tremayne is mad.

Thus begins a slow-paced epic journey. Others have undertaken this journey before and few have survived it. And they were able-bodied men, whereas Tremayne can barely walk. Tremayne and his companion, his former naval colleague, Clements Markham. They are being sent to:

‘… steal a plant whose exact location nobody knows, in territory now defended by quinine barons under the protection of the government, and inhabited by tribal Indians who also hate foreigners and have killed everyone who’s got close in the last ten years.’

They arrive, Tremayne and Markham, with the help of the mysterious Raphael at the tiny Peruvian town of Bedlam at the edge of the Amazon. A salt line separates the town from the forest, and the line is closely watched. Those who cross it are likely to lose their lives. The cinchona trees are beyond the salt line and while Tremayne and Markham hope to find a way to the cinchona trees to take cuttings, they wait in Bedlam and learn more about the place and its people.

To write more detail of the story may spoil it for a first-time reader. Everything in this finely crafted world makes its own perfect sense. There’s magic in this place, and mystery. There is also the brief appearance of one character from ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’.

‘Forward was the past, behind was the future.’

I really enjoyed this novel, and am likely to reread it. Ms Pulley makes the fantastical seem plausible, the magical appear possible. Merrick Tremayne may be an unlikely hero, but he in his own words:

‘I was the stronger of us by far but I’d forgotten, because I was too used to feeling broken.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

ALLAN PATIENCE. Is Australia a morally backward society? | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

I would support the formation of this Council. I am sad that the Government has not.
Earlier this year a national conference of First Nation Australians at Uluru recommended that a Council representing all Indigenous Australians be enshrined in the Constitution. The purpose of the …

Source: ALLAN PATIENCE. Is Australia a morally backward society? | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

Dempsey’s People:  A Folio of British Street People 1824-1844 by Dr David Hansen


‘Dempsey’s people are a small but profound addition to the canon of British art.’

I was fortunate to attend this exhibition, at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.  (

of 52 street portraits made by the itinerant English painter John Dempsey between 1824 and 1844. In reading about the exhibition, my attention was caught by the fact that many of the portraits were from the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and had not previously been exhibited.  I’ve since read that David Hansen’s chance discovery of a set of watercolour portraits over 20 years ago was the starting point.

‘It is sadly ironic that this John Dempsey, who preserved for us the names and identities of so many of the otherwise unremembered, is himself an obscure, shadowy figure.’

The publication of this book, in full-colour, accompanied the exhibition.  It would be of interest to both social historians as well as art historians.  These incredibly detailed images (we viewed some detail with the help of magnifying glasses provided by the NPG) are of English street people.  These are people who may appear in the novels of Charles Dickens but otherwise are generally ignored by history.  It’s interesting to think about the work of itinerant painters such as John Dempsey, about his painting of recognisably local figures from the streets as a means of advertising his skills to paying customers.

‘John Dempsey died in early 1877, aged 74.’

I enjoyed both the exhibition and this book as a record of it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

I love the 44 Scotland Street series, and this latest instalment did not disappoint me.

A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

‘The world was a difficult place.’

When my Scots-born neighbour gave me the first books in this series, I had little idea how much I would come to love them.  I’d enjoyed The Portugese Irregular Verbs series, but for some reason I’d never really clicked with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  And I’ve yet to pick up any Isabel Dalhousie.

But back to 44 Scotland Street.  ‘A Time of Love and Tartan’ is the 12th novel in this delightful series, and all the characters I’ve come to enjoy (or not enjoy, in the case of Irene) are present.  I sighed as Pat MacGregor was foolish enough to accept Bruce’s invitation to coffee (will she never learn?), laughed as Matthew found himself in a bit of a pickle as a consequence of picking up a copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and shuddered as Stuart took Irene’s advice on how to apply for promotion.  I’m interested in how Domenica and Angus settle into matrimony (as long as Cyril is happy), but I’m always keenest to read about Bertie Pollock and his friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson.

It’s like sitting down in Big Lou’s cafe and catching up with old friends!  Just how are Matthew and Elspeth coping with the triplets?

Stuart and Irene both make momentous decisions, and life seems to be looking up for Bertie.  Unlikely as it seems, Scotland beats the All Blacks at a game of rugby union.  Bertie, Stuart and Ranald are there, kilted, to witness the joy.

It would be possible to read this novel without having read the earlier instalments, but it would be nowhere near as much fun.  At some stage the series will finish, but I hope not yet.  At least not until Bertie is much older.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Falling Pomegranate Seeds by Wendy J Dunn

‘Life passed so quickly, one season dying, re-birthing into another.’

In this novel about Queen Isabel of Castile and her daughter the Infanta Catalina (known to history as Katherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII of England), Ms Dunn writes of mothers and daughters, of duty and responsibility. Catalina is the youngest daughter of Queen Isabel of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, and this novel is focussed on her childhood, on how Isabel set out to prepare her daughter for both a life in exile from home and life as a queen. Dońa Beatriz Galindo was chosen by Isabel to tutor Catalina. Although little is known about the life of Beatriz Galindo, she was a poet, a scholar, and lectured at the University of Salamanca. She also taught Queen Isabel Latin.

Ms Dunn has chosen Beatriz Galindo to tell this fictionalised story of Catalina’s early years. Woven into a setting which includes the costly Holy War, the Spanish Inquisition, the conquest of Granada and Cristóbal Colón’s (Christopher Colombus) voyage to the Americas, the novel’s main characters are female.

I enjoyed this novel, mostly for the intriguing portrayal of Beatriz Galindo. I’ve read many novels about Katherine of Aragon and about Isabel and Ferdinand, and am reasonably well-versed in the history of the period. I liked the way in which Ms Dunn presents a multi-dimensional portrayal of the key women involved: Isabel is queen, wife and mother; Beatriz is scholar, wife and mother; Josefa Gonzales de Salinas is friend, wife and mother. Each of these women has duties and responsibilities. The main children in the novel, Catalina and her companion Maria de Salinas (daughter of Josefa), are being prepared for life in England, away from family and what is familiar. These girls are learning to follow the examples of their mothers. Lives differentiated, and frequently constrained, by gender.

In the words of Beatriz: ‘ All of us must walk our own roads, but ‘tis wrong to prevent women from walking to many roads just because we’re women. Even Plato said, ‘Nothing can be more absurd than the practice of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced by half.’

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith