Fire and Blood: A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III as scribed by Archmaester Gyldayn (A Targaryen History) by George R.R. Martin,  Doug Wheatley (Illustrator)

‘He bound the land together, and made of seven kingdoms, one.’

When I learned that G.R.R. Martin was publishing a history of the Targaryen kings, I knew I would read it.  Sure, I’ve not yet finished reading all the published books in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, but I’ve watched the seven series of ‘Game of Thrones’ and I’m a fan.  Especially of the dragons.  And I was curious about the world building.

The book itself purports to be the first volume of the history of the early Targaryen kings, from Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters through to Aegon III.  There are twenty-three chapters and although my interest flagged towards the end, I mostly enjoyed it.  I’m told, by those more familiar than I am, with the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, that much of the material is not new.  I can’t comment on that as most of it was new to me.

My favourite part?  The seven chapters dealing with the fifty-year reign of Jaehaerys I, his Queen Alysanne and their children.  This read like, well, a history.

Is it worth reading?  Probably not for those who’ve been immersed in the series since the beginning.  I’m glad I read it: I borrowed a copy from my local library.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

All the Lovely Children by Andrew Nance

‘It’s happening again.’

Charlotte (Charly) Bloom is at the centre of the two separate storylines in this novel.  In 1982, as a private investigator, she’s asked to return to her home town of Temperance to help investigate the disappearances of four children.  In 1959, as a teenager, she and her friends Bobby and Micah Lee played amateur detectives to try to help find a girl who was abducted from her home.  Then, after another girl goes missing, Charly, Micah Lee and Bobby track down the kidnapper they nickname the Snatcher. Charly fights back and kills the Snatcher: she’s the only survivor.  Or so everyone thought. The only body recovered at the time is Micah Lee’s.

But the abductions in 1982 seem similar to those in 1959.  Has the Snatcher returned, or is there a copycat?  In 1982, there’s more than one suspect to investigate. Charly is convinced that she’s on the right track, but she needs to conquer some demons of her own along the way.

The story shifts between Charly’s memories of the past and the action she is part of in the present.  Both stories are interesting, both will fit together in a way I mostly found satisfying.  Charly has always been a risktaker, but in 1982 she’s also a loner.  This places her in danger more than once.  Along the way we learn more about Charly, about her career in law enforcement.  Charly once worked for the State Investigative Bureau (SIB) but resigned because of office politics.  One of the people who contributed to her resignation will also be involved in the 1982 investigation, which increases the tension.

Mr Nance has crafted a fast-moving story. Some will work out who the Snatcher was in 1959 (Charly doesn’t share this aspect of her memory until close to the end of the novel).  Some will also work out who the abductor is in 1982, but there’s a twist.  And that twist will either satisfy or irritate.

I found Charly Bloom an interesting character, and I hope to read more about her.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

ABUL RIZVI. The Best of 2018: Scott Morrison’s Record on Immigration. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

While Scott Morrison earlier this year publicly disagreed with Tony Abbott on immigration levels, he eventually gave way to Dutton’s ruse about ‘greater scrutiny’ leading to the migration program ‘ceiling’ not being delivered in 2017-18. Will he continue to compromise with Abbott and Dutton on immigration or has he drawn a line in the sand…

Source: ABUL RIZVI. The Best of 2018: Scott Morrison’s Record on Immigration. | John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations

The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is one of my favourite Australian authors.  I read his work slowly, because reflection is important.

‘A shop, is, in short, the flag of settlement.’

One summer day in 1970, Peter van Rijn as he drives to work, realises that his Melbourne suburb is one hundred years old. He realises this because he drives past a building, a shop, built in 1870. The same morning that Peter, who owns a television and wireless shop, gathers this thought, Rita is awakened by a dream of her husband Vic.  But Vic moved north years ago.  Their son Michael has moved into the city to teach and is falling in love.

‘One minute you’re twenty and it’s all there before you, the next it’s gone.’

A celebration is planned for the suburb, an artist friend of Michael’s is commissioned to paint a mural of the suburb’s history.

And while the planning goes on, and people wonder what the mural will reveal, we explore the past through the musings of Rita, Vic, Michael and of Mrs Webster the widowed factory-owner.

‘Love can be won and lost, lives come and go, everything that may matter in someone’s life may be contained in a moment – just as whole worlds can turn or crumble in one.’

This novel is a beautifully constructed reflection on change, life, and progress at both an individual and collective (suburb) level. As I read, I became annoyed with Vic (for essentially just waiting to die) but recognised others (in real life) doing the same thing.  I marvelled at how Rita, whose world seems so constrained, seemed to have a motive force that others lacked.  I agonised for Michael, learning that change can be imposed as well as sought, and I wondered how much Mrs Webster knew about Mr Webster’s world.

‘The remains of the old life mingle with the new.’

What can I tell you about this novel, about how it made me think about the spaces I’ve occupied and the passage of time?  Buildings usually outlive original purpose and occupants, people grow older and change. This, for me, was a novel to read slowly, to savour, to reflect on. Mr Carroll’s writing always holds my attention.  Three of my favourite quotes from the novel:

’That lost tribe.  At once exotic, strange and utterly familiar.  Gone.  Wiped away by time and speed.’

‘The suburb had grown, its children had left home, the factory’s workers had aged with the factory and the suburb didn’t need it anymore.’

‘We were Progress, only we didn’t know it then.’

This is the third novel in Mr Carroll’s Glenroy series.  It was originally intended as a trilogy but grew to six novels.  I’ve not read them all yet, and I’ve not read them in sequence, but this has not reduced my enjoyment.  I still have a couple to look forward to.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

 

‘And all the time, the living suburb is constantly evolving, through night and day, weekend and working week, sunshine and rain, ever forward, ever onward, until that perfect day arrives, surely not too far away, when the straight line of History can lie down its perfect summer gardens and pronounce its job done.’

The Murder of Patience Brooke by J.C. Briggs

‘Mr Dickens, you must come immediately.  Patience Brooke is dead this night.’

Set in Victorian London in 1849, the discovery of Patience Brooke’s body hanging outside Urania Cottage has Mrs Georgiana Morson, matron of the cottage, writing to Charles Dickens.  She asks him to attend, and to bring his friend Superintendent Sam Jones of Bow Street as well.  Patience Brooke was Mrs Morson’s assistant at Urania Cottage, established by Charles Dickens and Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts as a sanctuary for fallen women.  A murder of one of the Cottage’s inhabitants could undermine the good work being done there.  Charles Dickens is desperate to protect the reputation of Urania Cottage and to prevent a scandal from spreading.

A description of a ‘man with a crooked face’ and a fragment of a song overheard seem to be the only clues.

‘Thrown on the wide world, doom’d to wander and roam,

Bereft of my parents, bereft of my home.’

Little was known about Patience Brooke’s past.  Initially Superintendent Jones and Charles Dickens keep the murder from the public, telling those that they interview that Patience Brooke is missing.  Their search for the killer takes them into many unsavoury parts of Victorian London and involves several interesting well-crafted characters.  The London fog has its own part to play in the story.

Having started with a perfectly plausible reason for Charles Dickens’s involvement in the murder investigation, Ms Briggs has him reflecting on his life and books he has written. We see aspects of his domestic life, his concerns for his family and gathering observations for new works.  At the same time, he and Superintendent Jones are following possible leads which have them travelling around London in search of the killer. Identifying the killer is one step, locating the killer is another.

I really enjoyed this novel, which is the first in a series.  I enjoyed the descriptions of Victorian London, the portrayal of Charles Dickens as both man and author almost as much as the murder mystery itself.  I’m looking forward to the next novel.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

A Land Apart by Ian Roberts

‘I thought Paradise was lost, not found.’

North America, 1634.  The French, the English, the Iroquois and the Wendat are just starting to battle for control over the land.  The French and the English have established colonies and want to control the vast natural resources.   They also want to convert the ‘savages’ to Christianity and establish towns on the land they have inhabited.  In New France, the Iroquois and the Wendat may have been evenly matched, but when the English sell the Iroquois guns, this balance is shaken. Étienne Brûlé may be able to get guns for the Wendat, but he knows that no-one can win.

The hero of this novel is Étienne Brûlé who has lived with the Wendat for years.  He has embraced Wendat culture and has helped them develop a fur trade with France.  Brûlé has fought alongside the Wendat against the Iroquois and has suffered with them as a consequence. In the novel Étienne Brûle is the only person who seems aware of the dangers of European colonisation.

Based on historical events, Mr Roberts has written an action-filled novel accompanied by beautiful black and white drawings.  His novel draws our attention to the consequences of European colonisation including the impact of introduced diseases.  Viewed from the 21st century, we know that the French insistence on civilising the ‘savages’ will not end well for either side.  Read as a novel set in the 17th century, the French themselves succeed in looking uncivilised at times.  For me, the novel succeeds on two fronts. Firstly, by conveying a real sense of the beauty of the countryside and secondly by making me more aware of this historical period.

There is no neat end to this novel, no sense of a story concluding. The novel finishes.  The reader returns to the present, knowing that change has just begun. I finished the novel (and Mr Roberts’s notes) wanting to know more about the life of Étienne Brûle.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Atelier Saint-Luc Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Heir of Ra (Blood of Ra Book 1) by Maciek Sasinowski

‘We are born naked, wet and hungry—then things get worse.’

Seventeen- year-old Alyssa Morgan has accompanied her father on plenty of archaeological digs since they moved to Egypt seven years ago. And she really wanted to be there when her father Kade was given permission by the Council of Antiquities to enter the tunnels of the Hall of Records under the Sphinx. The first problem is that Kade’s permission only extends for 24 hours and the second problem is that Alyssa is in South Peru and can’t make it in time.

But something goes wrong, and Kade Morgan collapses in the tunnel. He’s taken to hospital, and the World Health Organisation confiscates everything form the site. What is wrong with Kade Morgan? He seems to have some mysterious mutating disease. Can Alyssa find the answers amongst the items confiscated? And just how will Alyssa get access to those items?

Welcome to an action-packed novel where the hero is a seventeen-year-old female. Alyssa is brave, smart and reckless: a perfect combination in fictional heroes. The story unfolds over two parallel timelines. In the present, Alyssa with help from Paul Matthews and Clay Obono accesses and tries to understand the information contained in an artefact they manage to liberate from the World Health Organisation. In the past, thousands of years earlier, Horus is exiled from Atlantis. Somehow, his memories are stored in the artefact and somehow (with the help of Paul and Clay) Alyssa is able to access those memories. Others are also after the artefact. Alyssa, Paul and Clay are in danger. Can they stay ahead of their pursuers and solve the mystery of Kade’s illness?

But don’t let me ruin your enjoyment of the story by telling you the ‘how’, the ‘what’ and the why. If you are interested in an action-packed read suitable for both young adults and young-at-heart adults, you may enjoy this as much as I did. There’s plenty of action.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Penelopiad (Canongate Myths Series #2) by Margaret Atwood

‘Now that I’m dead I know everything.’

Did you ever wonder, while reading The Iliad and The Odyssey, about Odydsseus’s wife Penelope?  What was she doing during the twenty or so years it took Odysseus to fight in the Trojan War and then return to Ithaca?

In ‘The Penelopiad’, Penelope reminisces on the events of ‘The Odyssey’ (perhaps Homer wasn’t entirely accurate in his depiction), Odysseus, Helen of Troy and life in Hades.  Not only had Odysseus been lured away because of Helen, Penelope had to raise Telemachus, and keep more than one hundred suitors at bay during Odysseus’s long absence.  But the narrative doesn’t entirely belong to Penelope, there’s a Greek chorus provided by the twelve maids, whom Odysseus believed were disloyal and whom Telemachus hanged.

‘We had no voice,

We had no name,

We had no choice,

We had one face,

One face the same’

 

In fewer than two hundred pages, Ms Atwood depicts Penelope as being much more than a devoted wife.  She’s clever and cunning, able to find her own place in Ithaca, and able to avoid entanglements with suitors.  Penelope remains loyal to Odysseus and rules Ithaca.  What a woman!

A friend recommended ‘The Penelopiad’ to me, and I’m grateful.  I enjoyed this depiction of Penelope.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

‘It takes courage and generosity to keep a community alive.’

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this novel.  ‘The Turn of Midnight’ is the follow-up to ‘The Last Hours’, Ms Walter’s novel set in Develish, Dorsetshire during the period after the arrival of the Black Death at the coastal town of Melcombe in June 1348.

When ‘The Turn of Midnight’ opens, just before the end of 1348, the people of Develish are still in quarantine.  This action, taken by the estate’s mistress, Lady Anne, has kept the people safe.  Lady Anne is an exceptional character.  She is caring, compassionate, literate and well-educated.  But as 1349 approaches, food supplies are dwindling and the community at Develish wonders whether others have also survived.  Someone will have to venture beyond the confines of Develish to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell may ostensibly be a common serf.  But he’s extremely courageous, independent and well-educated.  Just the man to lead a small group to explore the outside world.  The group finds horror aplenty, but there’s opportunity as well for those who are brave enough to envisage a different future.

‘The future will be bright indeed when even the humblest are given the chance to prove their worth.’

Once I started this novel, I found it very hard to put down. There’s plenty of tension in the story: many see the Black Death as being the consequence of sin and many abandon hope as a consequence.  And the death of so many serfs and labourers means that those who survive may have choices previously unthinkable.   There are some unexpected twists and turns as what remains of society struggles with change.  I particularly liked the characters of Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thurkell.  The story finished in the novel, but not in my mind.

There’s a great ‘people, places and events’ section at the beginning of the novel, perfect for reminding readers of what happened in ‘The Last Hours’.  But it’s no substitute for having read that novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Master of Verona (Star-Cross’d #1) by David Blixt

‘A man may control his actions, but not his stars.’

The novel opens in 1314, when, in perpetual exile from Florence, the poet Durante degli Alighieri and his two surviving sons, seventeen-year-old Pietro and fourteen-year-old Jacopo (‘Poco’) are travelling to Verona. Durante degli Aligheri is more commonly known as Dante Aligheri, or Dante. They’ve been invited by Francesco della Scala, the Prince of Verona, referred to as Cangrande.

‘What is nobler than thinking of perfection?’

Thus begins Mr Blixt’s sweeping novel with its large cast of characters. Some are historical figures, others are Shakespearean characters, all will have a part to play. At the centre of the novel is Pietro Alaghieri, the elder of Dante’s surviving sons. Pietro’s bravery during a battle for control of Vicenza brings him to Cangrande’s attention. Pietro also forms a strong friendship with Mariotto (‘Mari’) Montecchi and Antonio (‘Antony’) Capuletti. But there’s a world of intrigue for Pietro to negotiate. He is trusted both by Cangrande and his sister Katerina and is drawn into Cangrande’s political intrigues. At the same time, a baby known as Francesco (called ‘Cesco’) is in danger. Francesco, adopted by Cangarnde’s sister, is believed to be Cangrande’s bastard son and possible heir. Pietro has a part to play in keeping Cesco safe. The friendship between Mari Montecchi and Antony Capuletti will become rivalry when they both fall in love with the same woman.

‘No harm? A man raised to believe himself a creature of destiny, only to find his destiny belonged to another.’

It took me a while to get into this novel, to become familiar with the characters. I don’t have a detailed knowledge of this period of Italian history so I’m not always clear where the boundary between fact and fiction rests. Part way into the novel I was totally engrossed. Yes, I recognised some Shakespearean echoes, became caught up in the intrigue and became interested in the history.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes complex tales of historical fiction (such as Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo and Lymond Chronicles). I’m looking forward to the second book in this series.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith