Circe ~ Madeline Miller

This book is on my Kindle, waiting to be read …

Café Society

341df81e231750e5c7f0523db256ffa3When I was ‘learning to read’ at primary school (i.e. crawling my way through a reading scheme designed to put children off books for life) the light at the end of the tunnel was a series of books called Wide Range Readers, which contained ‘proper stories’ rather than a  sequence of unrelated sentences about how much I loved (loathed) Dick and Dora.  I think there were twelve of these books altogether and each one included at least one tale from the myths of Ancient Greece and Rome.  This must be where I first encountered Circe, who I have to say did not impress herself on me anywhere near as much as Jason searching for the Golden Fleece or Theseus defeating the Minotaur.  I suspect she cropped up only as an appendage to the story of Odysseus. I certainly remember something about his sailors being turned into pigs ; it’s the…

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Canberra Writers Festival 2018, Day 1, Pt 4: Indigenous Australians (2)

Food for thought here:
One questioner asked an excellent question regarding being good white allies: How best do we consume indigenous stories while preserving their integrity?

Who benefits?

Whispering Gums

FNAWN screenMy first day of the Canberra Writers Festival ended with a bang – two hours with several of Australia’s top indigenous writers, organised by FNAWN (First Nations Australia Writers Network). It was a not-to-be-missed event, and was divided into two parts:

  • “Because of her I can”: poetry readings with Ellen van Neerven, Yvette Holt, Jeanine Leane and Charmaine Papertalk Green
  • Sovereign People – Sovereign Stories: a panel discussion with Kim Scott, Melissa Lucashenko, Alexis Wright, and moderated by Cathy Craigie

I liked this structure: the poets provided a emotive introduction to panel’s intellectually-focused discussion (not that the poems weren’t underpinned by intellect, mind you.)

“Because of her I can”

I’m just going to list the poets and their poems, as well as I can, as I did for the Canberra poets session earlier in the day. You may like to research them, though I’ve provided some links …

Jeanine Leane


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Wyvern of Wessex by Millie Thom

‘Bjorn whooped as the newly risen northerly smacked into the Sea Eagle’s sail.’

King Beorhtwulf of Mercia was sold into slavery twenty years ago. Can he possibly still be alive? His son Eadwulf hopes so. Eadwulf joins Bjorn and his crew onboard the Sea Eagle to try to find him. From the cold north, they sail south into the heat and the unfamiliar customs and laws in the Moorish lands of al-Andalus. Searching for Beorhtwulf leads Eadwulf and his companions into danger.

In Wessex, following the death of King Aethelred, his brother twenty-one-year-old Alfred has succeeded to the throne. The witan has agreed to Alfred’s succession, but he needs to prove himself. A task made much more difficult by the fact that the Viking Danes are intent on subjugating the kingdom. Alfred has other challenges as well: the Danes are not his only enemies.

Ms Thom brings 9th century Anglo-Saxon England to life: the battles for dominance within (and between) the kingdoms, the ongoing battles against the Danes, Alfred’s realization that a new strategy is required if he is to prevail. There’s plenty of action in this novel, both in al-Andalus as Eadwulf searches for his father, as well as in England. Reading this novel, it is easy to understand why Alfred became known as Alfred the Great: one of the great strategic planners.

This is the third book in what Ms Thom originally intended as a trilogy. I was delighted to read that the trilogy is now a series: a fourth book is underway. Why? Because the stories of Alfred and Eadwulf are not yet complete. Alfred is still fighting the Danes, Eadwulf could be a valuable ally. I may know a little about the history of this period, but Ms Thom brings it to life in a way in which historical facts and figures cannot. I will now (eagerly, but patiently) await the fourth instalment.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Lying and Dying by Graham Brack

‘We always disregard the obvious and assume that things are not what they seem.’

The body of a young woman is found strangled, by the side of a road in Prague. Who has killed her and why? The only clue seems to be a large amount of money concealed on her person.

The murder case is assigned to Lieutenant Joseph Slonský and his new partner Navrátil. Slonský who is edging close to retirement, is regarded as something of a maverick by his colleagues. He’s clever but seen as lazy. He does just enough work to ensure that his superior, Captain Lukas, has no grounds to retire him early. Slonský likes to conserve energy but needs frequent refuelling in the form of coffee and food. Navrátil is a recent graduate from the police academy: eager to learn as much as he can. While Slonský doesn’t really want a partner, he’s happy to have a gofer:

‘In return for small domestic services like making coffee, he was prepared to dispense occasional pearls of wisdom that might benefit Navrátil’s career.’

Investigation into the murder seems to indicate that the woman was involved with a member of the Czech government. And when the government minister lies about his involvement with the woman, it all looks very suspicious. But Slonský isn’t convinced. So he keeps digging.

‘Everyone is guilty, sir,’ offered Slonský. ‘They may not be guilty of what they’re charged with, but everyone has done something.’
‘Cynical, and hardly reassuring,’ Lukas observed.
‘But true, sir.’

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, with its twists and turns. Granted, some of those twists are extremely convoluted but Slonský is determined to find the truth. His methods may not be conventional (and his solutions certainly are not) but sometimes (at least in fiction) the ends justify the means. Perhaps. Slonský and Navrátil are great characters: Slonský, the crusty old cop, a flawed character with great knowledge and experience while Navrátil is smart and keen to learn.

I understand this book is the first in a series: I’ll certainly be looking to read the second!

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

My Home in Tasmania by Louisa Anne Meredith


‘Nine Years in Tasmania ‘

Louisa Anne Meredith (née Twamley) (1812-1895) married Charles Meredith (1811-1880) at Old Edgbaston Church, Birmingham on 18 April 1839.  They arrived in Sydney in September 1839. In 1840, together with their young son, they went to Oyster Bay in Tasmania, where Charles’s father owned an estate named Cambria.  The Merediths bought an adjoining estate, Springvale, and in August 1842 moved into their new home.

Mrs Meredith wrote an account of her life in Tasmania up until February 1850, which was originally published as two volumes in 1852.  In her preface, she writes:

‘The great amount of misconception and the positive misrepresentations relative to the social condition of this colony, now prevalent, not in England only, but wherever the name of Van Diemen’s Land is known, also determined me to enter more into domestic details than otherwise I might have thought it pleasant or desirable to do.’

And it is precisely the detail which makes this book such a delightful read.   Reading Mrs Meredith’s accounts of travel, her observation of the flora and fauna makes me yearn to have a conversation with her.  There’s her account of trying to keep a possum named Willy as a pet.   And a description of the Tasmanian Devil:

‘The “Devil” is the name universally given here to the Dasyurus ursinus, and, as I have never heard  any other appellation applied to this very ugly, savage, mischievous little beast, I must be permitted to use the one hitherto bestowed on it.’

Mrs Meredith writes of convict servants:

‘I have now lived above nine years in the colony, the wife of a “settler”, and the mistress of a “settler’s” home, and during that time we have been served by prisoners of all grades, as ploughmen, shepherds, shearers, reapers, butchers, gardeners, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, shoemakers, house-servants, &c., &c., and (with one or two exceptions) served as well and faithfully as we could desire.’


Her account of George Robinson’s ‘capture of the natives’ reflects the views of the time:

‘The debt of gratitude the colony owes to Mr Robinson can never be overpaid; by his capture of the natives, he saved the lives of thousands of defenceless persons, and was the means of restoring that prosperity to the colony which the accumulating number of murders was fast undermining.’

I may not agree with Mrs Meredith’s views here.

Reading this book led me to read more about the Merediths.  Charles Meredith served in Tasmania’s first House of Assembly, and in a number of colonial offices until 1879.  Louisa Anne Meredith wrote several books: fiction, non-fiction and poetry and won medals for her drawings of wildflowers.  She was also an honorary member of the Tasmanian Royal Society.

I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Tasmania’s colonial history.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



For anyone looking for more information about Louisa Anne Meredith, this link (which takes you to a .PDF) may be of interest.

Louisa Anne Meredith – Glamorgan Spring Bay Historical Society


Country Houses of Tasmania by Alice Bennett and Georgia Warner

‘Behind the closed doors of our finest private colonial estates.’

Although I grew up in Tasmania and am aware of many of these twenty-five historic homes, the only one I’ve visited is ‘Highfield’.  In 1982 the Tasmanian Government acquired the Highfield property with funds from the National Estate and has carried out extensive restoration works. The Highfield Historic Site is open for public inspection from 9.30am – 4.30pm seven days a week during September to May, and from Monday to Friday between June and August. There are other historic homes in Tasmania, open to the public, but many of the homes included in this book are privately owned. With the permission of the owners, Ms Bennett and Ms Warner have been able to photograph aspects of these properties and include a little of their history.

I’ve dipped into this book a few times since I’ve owned it, but more recently my reading of Louisa Anne Meredith’s ‘My Home in Tasmania’ (first published in 1852) had me looking more closely.  I was delighted to find that ‘Cambria’ was one of the homes included.  ‘Cambria’ belonged to Louisa Ann Meredith’s father-in-law, and is located near Swansea on Tasmania’s east coast.

These homes were built by Tasmania’s early pastoral settlers who, with access to convict labour in the early years, were able to build these imposing mansions.  Tasmania thrived for most of the nineteenth century, and these elaborate Georgian and Victorian mansions reflected the wealth of those who became Tasmania’s landed gentry.

I enjoyed reading about these homes, learning something of their history and admiring the glorious colour photographs.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith