Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

‘Jasper Jones has come to my window.’

In the Australian summer of 1965, Charlie Bucktin is aged thirteen.  He is trying to sleep one hot summer night when there’s a knock on the window of his sleep-out.  His visitor is Jasper Jones, viewed by many as an outcast, and he wants Charlie’s help.

 Charlie finds Jasper both intriguing and dangerous.  If there is any trouble in the regional town of Corrigan, most will blame Jasper.  He’s a rebel, a mixed-race boy, who spends most of his time on his own.  Charlie follows Jasper, past the house of Mad Jack Lionel, and into Jasper’s secret place.  And there he becomes involved in a horrible mystery.  One that both Jasper and Charlie hide and try to solve. This is the beginning of Charlie’s loss of innocence.

Charlie has a good friend, Jeffrey Lu, a cricket fanatic.  Jeffrey is quick-witted, and while it should not matter that he is Vietnamese, in parts of 1965 Australia it does.  Jeffrey is ostracized, his parents treated badly.  Jeffrey will find his own triumph.

And Charlie is caught in trying to understand conflict between his parents, in discovering his first love, and trying to help Jasper find the answer to the horrible mystery he uncovered.

I’ve had a copy of this book for a while and read it recently after watching the movie made of it.

I have mixed feelings.  I think it is an accomplished novel: it explores several important issues and is set in a 1965 Australia that some of us will recognise.  I am glad I am not thirteen anymore.  Even without some of the challenges Charlie must face, it can be tough moving beyond childhood.

And yet, I was uncomfortable with some elements.  But that’s me, trying to impose adult lived values on a fictional teenage journey.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


2020 ABIA Book of the Year shortlists

Some great reads here!

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The 2020 ABIA Book of the Year shortlists have just been announced.
Congratulations to the winners of the two Hall of Fame Awards, Helen Garner as the recipient of the Lloyd O’Neil Award for outstanding contribution to the industry and Erica Wagner as the recipient of the Pixie O’Harris Award for exceptional contribution to Children’s Literature. Congratulations also to Hazel Lam from Harper Collins as the recipient of the 2020 Rising Star Award – an award that recognises emerging talent in the industry.

Literary Fiction Book of the Year
Damascus, Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin)
The Weekend, Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin), see my review
The Yield, Tara June Winch (Penguin Random House Australia, Hamish Hamilton), see my review
There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia, Hachette Australia), see my review
Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar (Pan Macmillan Australia, Picador Australia), see my review

View original post 736 more words

The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson

‘Helen is dead.’

The death of their grandmother, Helen Auerbach, forces a fractured family to reunite, at least temporarily.  Siblings Beck, Ashley and Jake Miller and their mother Deborah carry the baggage of decades of betrayal, misunderstanding and resentment when they get together in their grandmother’s house after her death.  Her will is clear: Helen left her house to Deborah, the balance of her estate to Beck, Ashley and Jake, with one exception: ‘My yellow diamond brooch goes to Becca’.    Beck thinks that the brooch is costume jewellery and of little value.

But the brooch is far from costume jewellery: it contains a 137-carat yellow diamond that went missing as the Hapsburg Empire collapsed in 1918.

Ms Meyerson weaves an enthralling story, with elements of mystery (about both the diamond and Helen) as well as the lives of each of the members of the Miller family.  And, while each member of the family dreams about the changes the sale of the diamond might bring to their lives, others are seeking to stake their claims.

‘It’s funny how similar they seem, betrayal and protection.’

The characters in this novel are very human: fallible and not always likeable. The history of the diamond is important: how did Helen end up with it?  Was it stolen?  Finding out the truth about the diamond leads Beck and her mother into the future, while Jake and Ashley are more focussed on problems they have currently.

And the ending?  Perhaps not what some readers are expecting, but somehow entirely appropriate.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning (from The Conversation)


John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of people working from home as directed by governments and employers around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

If, as some expect, people are likely to work from home more often after the pandemic, what will this mean for infrastructure planning? Will cities still need all the multibillion-dollar road, public transport, telecommunications and energy projects, including some already in the pipeline?

Read more: Flexible working, the neglected congestion-busting solution for our cities

World’s largest work-from-home experiment

Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19. But the pandemic suddenly escalated the trend into the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. Many people who have had to embrace remote working during the pandemic might not want to return to the office every day once restrictions are lifted.

They might have found some work tasks are actually easier to do at home. Or they (and their employers) might have discovered things that weren’t thought possible to do from home are possible. They might then question why they had to go into the workplace so often in the first place.

But what impact will this have on our cities? After all, many aspects of our cities were designed with commuting, not working from home, in mind.

Read more: Coronavirus could spark a revolution in working from home. Are we ready?

Stress test for NBN and energy networks

From a telecommunications perspective, the huge increase in people working from home challenges the ways in which our existing networks were designed.

Data from Aussie Broadband show evening peak broadband use has increased 25% during the shutdown. Additional daytime increases are expected due to home schooling with term 2 starting.

Research by the then federal Department of Communications in 2018 estimated the average Australian household would need a maximum download speed of 49Mbps during peak-use times by 2026. If more people work from home after COVID-19, the size and times of peak use might need to be recalculated.

Another factor not modelled by the government research was the potential impact of an increase in uploads. This is a typical requirement for people working from home, as they now send large files via their suburban home networks, rather than their office networks in the city.

Read more: Coronavirus: telcos are picking up where the NBN is failing. Here’s what it means for you

Recent research by Octopus Energy in the UK has found domestic energy use patterns have also changed since COVID-19. With more people working from home, domestic energy use in the middle of the day is noticeably higher. Some 30% of customers use an average of 1.5kWh more electricity between 9am and 5pm.

Conversely, data from the US show electricity use in city centres and industrial areas has declined over the same period.

Less commuting means less congestion

Closer to home, new data from HERE Technologies illustrate just how much traffic congestion has eased.

Thursday afternoons from 5-5.15pm are normally the worst time of the week for traffic congestion in Melbourne. Last week the city’s roads recorded the sort of free-flowing traffic usually seen at 9.30am on a Sunday. Just 1.8% of Melbourne’s major roads were congested, a fraction of the usual 19.8% at that time.

All of Australia’s major cities are experiencing similar reductions. Transurban has reported traffic is down 43% on the Melbourne airport toll road, 29% on its Sydney roads and 27% in Queensland.

Passengers are also staying away from public transport in droves. For example, South Australian government statistics for Adelaide show passenger numbers have slumped by 69% for buses, by 74% for trains and by 77% for trams, compared with this time last year.

Read more: For public transport to keep running, operators must find ways to outlast coronavirus

What does this mean for infrastructure planning?

With these trends in mind, future investment in roads, public transport, energy and telecommunications will need to consider the likelihood of more people working from home.

Prior to COVID-19, Melbourne research found 64% of city workers regularly worked from home, but usually only one day a week, even though 50% of their work could be done anywhere. While the changes we are now seeing are a result of extreme circumstances, it is not inconceivable that, on average, everybody could continue to work from home one extra day per week after the pandemic. Even this would have significant implications for long-term urban planning.

The most recent Australian Census data show 9.2 million people typically commute to work each day. If people worked from home an average of one extra day per week, this would take 1.8 million commuters off the roads and public transport each day.

Many road and public transport projects will be based on forecasts of continuing increases in commuter numbers. If, instead, people work from home more often, this could call into question the need for those projects.

Areas outside city centres would also require more attention, as working from home creates a need for more evenly distributed networks of services for the likes of energy and telecommunications. Interestingly, such a trend could support long-term decentralisation plans, like those outlined in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Planning Strategy. And if such change encourages more people to live away from the big cities, it also could help to make housing more affordable.

Read more: Fancy an e-change? How people are escaping city congestion and living costs by working remotely

John L Hopkins, Innovation Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Story of Port Dalrymple by Llwelyn Slingsby Bethell

‘Life and Work in Northern Tasmania’

I’ve been reading a lot about Tasmania recently.  I’ve not lived there since 1974, but I still think of it as ‘home’.  I visit regularly, and daydream about (one day) moving back.  In the meantime, I read.

This book, first published in 1957, provides a history of European settlement from the discovery of Port Dalrymple by Matthew Flinders in 1798 until just after the beginning of the twentieth century.

While the main focus is on the establishment and growth of Launceston and on some of the more notable colonists involved, it also looks at the settlement of the North-West coast.

Mr Bethell focusses on the region north of the forty-second parallel, (Lt Colonel Paterson’s command) which means that neither the penal system nor broader political activities are covered in detail because both were directed from Hobart. It’s interesting to read about the movement of the administrative centre from George Town to Launceston, and the challenges of navigating the Tamar. 

While I know much of the early history of Launceston from other reading, Mr Bethell addresses the factors (including mining, land quality, proximity to mainland Australia) which had an impact on northern Tasmania’s development. The photographs of Launceston’s significant buildings, including the Customs House, the Town Hall and the Albert Hall, reflect its late nineteenth century prosperity.  But the collapse of many mining activities and emigration (which had waxed and waned over the period) has had an impact on subsequent development and prosperity.

The scope of the book is narrow.  The writing reflects the historiography of the period, without reference to the original inhabitants. And yet it is interesting: I found it worth reading. This book was first published in 1957, which makes it nearly as old as I am.  My copy is a reprint from 1980.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

‘The love song began its life, not with a fanfare or a crash of cymbals, but instead with a knock at a door.’

A love song is written, is lost, is rediscovered.  It crosses lives and continents, and it brings people together. 

In Australia, Arie Johnson waits for classical pianist Diana Clare to return from a world tour.  He’s hoping that after seven years together, Diana will finally agree to marry him.  While she’s travelling, Diana starts composing a song for him.  One night, Diana’s song is overheard and begins its own journey.

Evie Greenlees, drifting in Scotland, hears a love song.  As one journey ends for her and she returns to Australia, another journey is about to begin.

Music, in any of its varied forms, is important to most of us.  There are songs (or pieces of music) which define various stages of our lives, bring back happy memories, or signal major events.  Music is special.  And so is this novel.

Diana does not complete her love song.  Someone else does, and its journey continues.  Eventually it will find its way to Arie.  The journey of the song, told by way of a series of interludes, is a delightful story of serendipity.  The journey of the people involved is heart-warming (although once or twice I did want to shake a couple of them). 

This is Ms Darke’s second novel, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as her first: ‘Star-Crossed’.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Random House (UK), Transworld Publishers for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Dental Tourism by Mark O’Flynn

‘Dental tourism they call it.’

There are three parts to this book of short stories: the first two parts contain ten stories each, the final part just one.

I found something to enjoy (or puzzle over) in each of these stories.  Yes, I have favourites: there is a budgie: thinking about his future, a daughter tasked with making a purchase for her father, and a girl flying alone to Antarctica with a plane load of much older people.

But two stories have stayed with me.  There is ‘Reading with Daddy’ which almost reduced me to tears, and there is ‘Dental Tourism’.  In ‘Dental Tourism’ a man heads off to Thailand for dental work.  He can save money, he thinks, by having his extensive dental work done there.

Each of these twenty-one stories is self-contained.  But some of them, at least, invite you to wonder what might happen next or to think about the events that occurred before. ‘Bluey and Myrtle’ had me looking at life from an entirely different perspective even though I am quite sure I do not want to be a budgie. ‘Political Correctness’ made me smile wryly while ‘Tooth for a Tooth’ made me wonder what I might do in a similar situation.

What a treat!  My thanks to Lisa for drawing this collection to my attention.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #3)

‘Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away.’

London, May 1536. Thomas Cromwell, now aged fifty, has just witnessed the beheading of Anne Boleyn.  He moves on to breakfast, while her remains are treated unceremoniously.  Thomas Cromwell will continue his rise, but it is not without cost:

‘He feels tired.  Seven years for the king to get Anne.  Three years to reign.  Three weeks to bring her to trial.  Three heartbeats to finish it.  But still, they are his heartbeats as well as hers.  The effort of them must be added to the rest.’

I have no difficulty imagining Thomas Cromwell: Ms Mantel brings him to life.  And even though I know what is ahead, I am there with him negotiating the uncertainties of Henry VIII’s court.  Henry is happy, briefly, with Jane.  She dies, but at least has provided a male heir.  And in the meantime, there are matters of religion to consider, the uncertain positions of Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth, Henry’s desire to marry again.

Thomas Cromwell has risen far, and will rise further, before his death.  He imagines a future for England, for himself.  He knows that he has enemies and that he needs the king’s support in the face of powerful opposition by the great families.  And, in between affairs of state, he thinks about himself and his family.  About the events he has been part of, the shape of the future.

‘Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.’

I remember the history, I know how (and when) Thomas Cromwell’s story will end.  But even so, I am swept up in the final chapters, thinking as Cromwell does:

‘Surely death will give me notice.  We have met before.  He should not be churlish like a stranger.’

What can I say about this novel?  Yes, it is a fitting conclusion to Ms Mantel’s trilogy.  I am drawn into the life and times of Thomas Cromwell: I wonder about choices and outcomes, about possibilities.  And while I wonder, Ms Mantel’s writing keeps me focussed on Thomas Cromwell’s present.  The journey has ended.  I finished the book, wondering what Ms Mantel will turn to next.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Coronavirus weekly: as virus numbers peak, governments are charting the path out of lockdown (from The Conversation)

Fron Jackson-Webb, The Conversation

As the world approaches 2.5 million coronavirus cases, some regions have reached the peak of the virus and the number of new cases and deaths is slowing.

This includes New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the United States. It has had almost 15,000 deaths so far, but is seeing fewer deaths each day. Meanwhile, case numbers in Europe have surpassed a million, with the virus claiming more than 100,000 lives so far. But numbers are now declining.

In many regions, it’s too early to lift lockdown restrictions, but the planning for this is underway. Over the past week on The Conversation, experts from around the world have delivered advice to governments based on local trends, threats and resources available.

The situation is different for each region, but most experts agree any exit needs to be a staged response, with a strong focus on testing and tracking to avoid a second wave of infection.

This is our weekly roundup of expert info about the Coronavirus.
The Conversation, a not-for-profit group, works with a wide range of academics across its global network. Together we produce evidence-based analysis and insights from across academia. The articles are free to read – there is no paywall – and to republish.

This seventh weekly column by our team of international health editors highlights some of the recently published articles from The Conversation’s global network.

Exit strategy considerations

Some countries appear to have reached the peak of their coronavirus cases but before easing restrictions, it’s important to ensure it’s not just a temporary suppression of cases.

Here’s what governments need to keep in mind when planning their exit strategies:

  • Don’t rush it. Without a vaccine or effective treatments, relaxing the lockdown too early could lead to a second wave of infections. As Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths from UCL warns, in some past pandemics, the second wave has killed more people than the first.
  • Learn from other countries. Rather than a total lockdown, South Korea implemented border closures, extensive social distancing, and focused on testing and tracing contacts, explains Alex van den Heever and his colleagues at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. This allowed it to keep a larger proportion of its economy open.
  • Work out who has immunity. The economy can be gradually and carefully reopened by testing to see who has been infected in the past and developed immunity, argues Eric Muraille and colleagues (in French) from the Free University of Brussels. They say those with immunity could return to work, minimising the risk of additional waves, while others stay at home.
  • Tailor the response. New Zealand has among the strictest lockdown measures in place and will scale back these restrictions from April 28. This will strike the right balance between protecting people’s health and livelihoods, writes Martin Berka from Massey University.

One step forward, two steps back

Donald Trump recently halted US funding to the World Health Organization, accusing it of “mismanaging and covering up the spread” of the virus.

Adam Kamradt-Scott from the University of Sydney warns such cuts could cause the WHO to go bankrupt in the middle of a pandemic. This would mean having to lay off staff and being less able to assist efforts in low and middle-income countries.

How have countries responded so far?

We hear a lot about the coronavirus response in the UK, US, China and parts of Europe. But what’s the situation in other parts of the world?

  • Calls for assistance in Indonesia. Coronavirus has hit Indonesia hard – it now has the highest death toll in South-East Asia. China has committed to helping Indonesia but to make a real difference, this should also include sending experienced medical staff and testing technology, argues Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat from Universitas Islam Indonesia.
  • Some surprises in Greece. Greece appears to have been lightly hit by coronavirus, with just over 100 deaths so far, despite just coming out of a ten-year financial crisis. Stella Ladi from Queen Mary University of London explains that the country learned from the financial crisis and acted quickly to close schools, ban public gatherings and ensure consistent messaging.
  • Financial constraints in Cuba. Cuba’s success at keeping case numbers to just over 1,000 so far can be attributed to its thorough planning, swift response and ability to scale up measures as needed. But what happens next depends on its access to test kits, write Emily Morris and Ilan Kelman from UCL.
  • Welfare buffer in Mauritius. The tiny island nation of Mauritius has been under a curfew since March 24 and the impact of coronavirus has devastated its economy. But with a strong social welfare system, it heads into the epidemic on a stronger footing than many sub-Saharan African countries, argues Myriam Blin from Charles Telfair Campus in Mauritius.

What’s the latest evidence on COVID-19 and pets?

You don’t need to worry about getting coronavirus from your pet. Shutterstock
  • Pets are vulnerable in other ways, too. More people are adopting pets to keep them company while in isolation. But these pets are at risk of abandonment after lockdowns ease and owners either no longer want them or can’t afford to keep them, writes Heather Fraser from Queensland University of Technology in Australia and her colleagues.

Lessons from history

  • On conspiracy theories. Despite science delivering more answers about coronavirus every day, conspiracy theories abound. Humans have always found explanations for the unknown, writes Hanna Tervanotko from McMaster University in Canada, and we can look at how the ancient Israelites dealt with epidemics to help understand why.
  • Learning from mistakes. The course of human history has been shaped by infectious diseases, and the current crisis certainly won’t be the last time. David Griffin from the Doherty Institute and Justin Denholm from Melbourne Health in Australia outline what we’ve learnt from past pandemics.
  • How socioeconomic status affects your coronavirus risk. In this pandemic, the poor are packed into small living quarters and compelled to keep showing up to work, while the wealthy work remotely and flee to their second homes. This has eerie similarities to how the rich reacted during the bubonic plague, explains Kathryn McKinley from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the United States.

Sign up to The Conversation

Get the latest news and advice on COVID-19, direct from the experts in your inbox. Join hundreds of thousands who trust experts by subscribing to our newsletter.

Fron Jackson-Webb, Deputy Editor/Senior Health + Medicine Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Niccolò Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

‘It all began, mildly enough …’

 Three men, drifting in the Duke of Burgundy’s bath. Meet Claes, Julius and Felix. Welcome to 15th century Bruges, to a world on the brink of change:

‘From Venice to Cathay, from Seville to the Gold Coast of Africa, men anchored their ships and opened their ledgers and weighed one thing against another as if nothing would change.’

What can I tell you about this novel, without spoiling the beginning of a magnificent eight volume series? Who is Niccolò? The story builds slowly, with action aplenty, to keep the reader turning the pages and (frequently) confused. Confused?  Well, you need to read slowly to try to keep track of each of the different threads and to try to sift important plot points from red herrings.  And along the way you will learn about trade, about mercenary armies, and about politics.

You will meet some fascinating characters (and wonder how some of them survive, while other do not).

Ms Dunnett’s novels are complex and multi-layered. They reward careful reading and rereading. Rereading?  Yes, Ms Dunnett’s novels are amongst the few I reread regularly. And each time I read; I discover new detail.  There is a wealth of detail to explore, relationships to puzzle over, decisions to question.  Who is Niccolò?  Who is this man of many names and talents, this enigma?

I love these novels. If you’ve not yet read Ms Dunnett’s novels and you enjoy lively well-written historical fiction, this series (The House of Niccolò) may appeal.  This is the order of the eight books:

Niccolò Rising

The Spring of the Lamb

Race of Scorpions

Scales of Gold

The Unicorn Hunt

To Lie with Lions

Caprice and Rondo


I strongly recommend reading them in order. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith