Traffic by Robin Gregory

‘After that case, I’d sworn I’d never investigate another homicide. If only I’d remembered.’

Meet Private Investigator Sandi Kent. Sandi works in Melbourne, where she supplements her PI income by teaching swimming to children twice a week. She’s on her way home from one of those swimming sessions in December when her ‘phone rings. Her friend lawyer, Maria Luisetto, wants her to find out more information about a client she is defending, Ricardo Lopez, who has been charged with the murder of a sex worker. There are inconsistent witness statements, a few complicating issues and Sandi is initially reluctant.

‘If my lack of money hadn’t been such an issue right now, I would have waved adiós amiga.’

Sandi then takes on another case, after meeting up with her volatile ex-girlfriend Cassy Joynson. It has been seven years, and Sandi wonders why Cassy has contacted her. She soon finds that Cassy wants Sandi’s help to rescue a young woman who is being held as a prisoner in a Melbourne brothel. Can Sandi help?

Meeting Cassy brings the past back to Sandi. Memories of failed relationships and hopes for the future. And then a reminder that it is December, and a family Christmas needs to be negotiated with her sister Iris and their mother.

Sandi is smart, strong, brave, instinctive, and impulsive. She will need all her skills if she is to negotiate the dangerous reefs of Melbourne’s underworld to get the information she needs. Sandi quickly finds that there is more to Ricardo’s case than she thought, and several people are in danger. And rescuing the young sex worker will not be easy. Her friend Stewart Wright helps: teamwork at its best!

This is a fast-moving story, with a plenty of tension and more than a threat of violence. While everyday Melbourne provides the setting, an underworld of human trafficking, drugs and murder is where much of the action takes place. The story held my attention from beginning to end. Sandi is an engaging character, her friendship with Stewart is terrific, and I hope to read more Sandi Kent mysteries.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

#SistersInCrimeAustralia

A Home Like Ours by Fiona Lowe

Publication date 3/3/2021

‘Holding on means there’s still hope.’

The small (fictional) town of Boolanga provides the setting for Ms Lowe’s thoughtful and thought-provoking novel exploring prejudice and privilege. Helen, in her last fifties, has experienced tragedy, homelessness and employment-related ageism. Jade, a teenaged mother, is dealing with a frequently absent boyfriend who sees parenting their baby son Milo as Jade’s responsibility as well as with judgemental locals. Tara is struggling. She is juggling the demands of two small children and the family business and is concerned that her husband Jon is no longer interested in their marriage.

Boolanga has a community garden, but some of the locals want to keep that garden exclusive. Recent migrants are excluded. Others are convinced that ‘the Africans’ are responsible for the town’s recent crime wave. Through the stories of these three quite different women, Ms Lowe shines a light on the different ways people are displaced and regarded as ‘others’.  While Helen, Tara, and Jade each must adapt to changed circumstances, they each learn to accept help without being defensive and to accept difference without automatically rejecting it.

Once again, Ms Lowe creates three-dimensional characters who tackle some difficult contemporary issues. And, in doing so, she invites the reader to think about their own attitudes and responses.

I loved this novel.

Note: My thanks to Better Reading Preview for an ARC.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

Winterkeep (Graceling Realm #4) by Kristin Cashore

‘Giddon was carrying a sleeping child through a rocky tunnel when he got his first clue that something was wrong in Winterkeep.’

It has been seven years since I read the third book in this series, and I was very keen to read this one. ‘Winterkeep’ opens five years after ‘Bitterblue’ ends, and the known world has expanded. Torla, northeast of The Dells, is where Winterkeep is located. While there has been contact between the Royal Continent and Torla, the mysterious disappearance of two of Bitterblue’s men on a mission there has Bitterblue and others travelling to Winterkeep.

Welcome into a fantastical world where the story will unfold through five different perspectives: Bitterblue, Lovisa Cavenda, Giddon, a telepathic fox bonded to Lovisa’s mother Ferla, and a mysterious sea creature. Welcome to a world, both similar and dissimilar to our own. The people may be different in some ways but many of the issues are the same.

I found Lovisa intriguing: observant and manipulative, both caring and dismissive. She has an important role to play in this story and I grew to like her well before the end of the book. And Bitterblue? She has challenges to face and grows as a consequence. I also enjoyed the magic of the silbercows and the telepathic foxes. Alas, it all ended too soon, and I had to return to (my) real world.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Pawn in Frankincense (The Lymond Chronicles #4) by Dorothy Dunnett

 ‘To trace one man in Baden at the turn of the year was a strenuous but not a disagreeable task.’

Pawn in Frankincense opens in 1552, shortly after the end of The Disorderly Knights with Jerott Blyth and Philippa Somerville in Baden, looking for Francis Crawford of Lymond. Lymond is looking for his son, stolen by Sir Graham Reed Malett. This small blue-eyed boy is now a pawn in a dangerous game. Lymond, an emissary of France, aboard the royal galley Dauphiné, is bound for Algiers and Constantinople with gifts for Suleiman the Magnificent. Can Lymond use his position and resources to find his son?

Lymond and his followers become separated during the search: different clues point to different locations. And then we discover that there are two small blue-eyed boys: which one is Lymond’s, and where is he?

Eventually Lymond and his followers end up in Constantinople, where Sir Graham Reed Malett awaits him. This instalment of The Lymond Chronicles is packed with adventure and heartbreak and ends with a deadly chess game. Heartbreakingly difficult choices are required and must be made.

If you are new to The Lymond Chronicles, I strongly recommend reading the series in order. Both the main characters and the plot develop over the series.

Highly recommended historical fiction. I’ve read this series several times, and still find something new in each read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

2021 Aussie Author Challenge

I set out to complete the EMU Level of this challenge:

Read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 10 of those authors are female, at least 10 of those authors are male, and at least 10 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 4 different genres.

And here is my list of (currently, as at 24 February 2021) 26:

Books by 10 male authors:

  1. I, The Aboriginal by Douglas Lockwood (Non-Fiction: Biography)
  2. by Steven Carroll (Fiction: Literary)
  3. Launceston Municipal Transport 1911-1955 by Ian G Cooper (Non-Fiction: Transport)
  4. Cold Light (Edith Trilogy #3) by Frank Moorhouse (Fiction: Literary)
  5. The Widows of Broome (Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte #13) by Arthur W. Upfield (Fiction: Murder mystery)
  6. Trust (Martin Scarsden #3) by Chris Hammer (Fiction: Suspense)
  7. Factory 19 by Dennis Glover (Fiction: Satire)
  8. Honeybee by Craig Silvey (Fiction: Diversity, Coming of Age)
  9. Lost Property by James Moloney (Fiction: Coming of Age)
  10. The Ruby Princess by Duncan McNab (Non-Fiction: Medical, COVID-19)

Books by 16 female authors

  1. Shiver by Allie Reynolds (Fiction: Thrilller)
  2. Killing Sydney by Elizabeth Farrelly (Non-Fiction: Social History)
  3. On the Town by Dianne J.E Cassidy (Non-Fiction: Social History)
  4. 2020: The Year That Changed Us by Molly Glassey (Editor) (Non-Fiction: Current Issues)
  5. Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3) by Jessica Townsend (Fiction: Fantasy)
  6. The Second Son by Loraine Peck (Fiction: Crime thriller)
  7. Wild Orchard by Isabel Dick (Fiction: Historical)
  8. This Has Been Absolutely Lovely by Jessica Dettmann (Fiction: Contemporary)
  9. A Question of Colour; my journey to belonging by Pattie Lees (Non-Fiction: Autobiography, Indigenous Issues)
  10. Vida: A Woman for Our Time by Jacqueline Kent (Non-Fiction: Biography)
  11. Party Animals: The Secret History of a Labor Fiasco by Samantha Maiden (Non-Fiction: Politics)
  12. Gilgamesh by Joan London (Fiction: Literary)
  13. Historic Tasmania Sketchbook by Patsy Adam Smith and Joan Woodberry (text) Max Angus, Frank Mather and Arthur Phillips (drawings) (Non-Fiction: Tasmania)
  14. Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey (Fiction: Literary)
  15. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu (Fiction: Contemporary)
  16. The Performance by Claire Thomas (Fiction: Literary)

The (more than) ten authors new to me

  1. Douglas Lockwood
  2. Ian G Cooper
  3. Arthur W Upfield
  4. Dennis Glover
  5. James Moloney
  6. Duncan McNab
  7. Allie Reynolds
  8. Elizabeth Farrelly
  9. Dianne J E Cassidy
  10. Molly Glassey
  11. Loraine Peck
  12. Isabel Dick
  13. Jessica Dettmann
  14. Pattie Lees
  15. Jessie Tu
  16. Claire Thomas

Fiction/Non-fiction at least 4 different genres

Of the 26 books listed above, 10 were non-fiction (I have categorised them as biography, transport, history, current issues, social history, medical)

Of the 16 fiction, I have categorised them as : historical fiction (1), contemporary (2), crime fiction/mystery/thriller (4), coming of age (2), literary(5), fantasy (1), satire (1).

Reviews of each of these books have been linked to the Aussie Author Challenge are on this blog and on Goodreads.

I will keep reading and linking my reviews to the Aussie Author Challenge.

Who knows how many I will finish by the end of 2021?

#AussieAuthor2021

The Performance by Claire Thomas

‘Excuse me.’

Three different women are watching the performance of a Samuel Beckett play in Melbourne. It is 40 degrees C outside, and the country around Melbourne is burning. But inside the theatre, the air conditioning makes it cool, and easy to escape from the outside world. Or does it?

The performance unfolds, as do the women’s stories. There’s little dialogue: we are readers of each woman’s internal monologue.

Margot, a professor, has just had a dreaded conversation about retirement, with the dean. Her trip to the theatre has been difficult and she is preoccupied. Her husband is ailing. The play has started.

Summer, a student, is working as a theatre usher. Because of her role, she misses the beginning of the play – again. But Summer is preoccupied, anyway, because her girlfriend April was travelling into the fire zone to help her parents.

Ivy, younger than Margot, is distracted by a man snoring in the seat next to her. She is a philanthropist who has received free tickets to the play because the theatre company wants her money. Ivy is thinking about the past.

Three women of different ages and backgrounds separately watching ‘Happy Days’, a two-act play with an ambiguous ending. And the women? What will happen next for each of them now the play is over?

I admire the structure of this novel, the way in which Ms Thomas uses the performance of ‘Happy Days’ to bring these separate stories together without constructing an artificial connection between the women. Each woman’s monologue invites the reader to think about their own life: past and present, as well as to envisage the future. Watching a play is a very solitary activity, even in a crowd. Because the audience is static, seated and focussed (in varying degrees) the play on the stage becomes a backdrop for reflection, for each of the three women whose stories we become part of. And for readers as well.

Highly recommended.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

The Ruby Princess by Duncan McNab

To be published 23/2/2021.

‘Put simply, despite the best efforts of all, some serious mistakes were made.’

When the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney on Thursday, 19 March 2020, no-one realised that a viral bomb was about to explode. But should they have? By then, COVID-19 was already circulating around the world. On 30 January 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and it was declared as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

Hours after the Ruby Princess docked, 2700 passengers disembarked. There were no health checks, and passengers dispersed across Australia as well as internationally. Eventually over 900 crew and passengers would be diagnosed with COVID-19, and 28 people would die from it. What went wrong?

In this book, Mr McNab explores both the history of the cruise industry and the series of events that led to this fiasco. Cruise ships, it would seem, are perfect breeding grounds for viral infection and many of the passengers (by virtue of their ages and or medical conditions) were particularly vulnerable. By including firsthand accounts from passengers and (usually anonymously) some crew members, Mr McNab enables the reader to see more clearly the human face of this tragedy.

It is easy, reading the sequence of events, conclude that this particular cruise should never have set sail in the first place.  It is easy, as well, to look at the failure to keep and then to provide contemporaneous records to NSW Health. If those records had been provided, then the arrival of the Ruby Princess may have been better managed.

On 15 April 2020, a Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess was established. The Special Commission was led by Bret Walker SC. The Report was handed to the NSW Government on 14 August 2020.

On 17 August 2020, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said (in part):

‘NSW Health has acted immediately to address the failures identified by Mr Walker to ensure the errors are not repeated.

 The NSW Government will work closely with the Commonwealth to adopt all recommendations made by Mr Walker.’

 At the time Mr McNab was writing this book, there is still a NSW Police investigation in progress, and at some time in the future there may be a Coronial inquest.

I found this book eye opening. Whatever desire I had to undertake a cruise has entirely evaporated.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor2021

Lost Property by James Moloney

‘That’s what the Lost Property Office is for, to get lost things back to their owners,’

Seventeen-year-old Josh Tambling is working at the Central Station Lost Property Office in Sydney for part of his school holidays. From the outside, Josh has everything going for him: caring parents, he’s part of a band, has a lovely girlfriend and is doing well at school.  But his family is suffering. Josh’s older brother Michael left home two years ago, and the only family member he will speak with is Josh. Why did Michael leave? And where is he?

Working with Clive in the Lost Property Office gives Josh a different perspective on the importance of items to people. Some of the people he meets have lost small but significant items, things that matter to them and define (in part) their relationship with the world. So how much bigger, then, is the loss of Michael to Josh’s family?

Josh finds a clue to Michael’s whereabouts and heads north from Sydney (while ostensibly on a trip with school friends) to find Michael. He wants to bring Michael home.

This YA novel deals with several important issues around identity and boundaries. Josh learns to find his own place in the world, while respectfully moving away from the religious practices of his parents.

I enjoyed this thought-provoking novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor2021

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

‘I’m going to be fine. You have to trust me.  I know how to take care of myself.’

Jena Chung is twenty-two years old. She plays the violin and was once considered a child prodigy. But she is struggling. There are two sides to Jena’s life:  the professional side which involves relentless practice, auditions, rehearsals, and concerts; the personal side which involves managing the demands of families and friends and lots of (often risky) sex.

No, Jena, you do not know how to take care of yourself. Jena is lost and lonely, detached from the world, trying to find a place where she belongs. Physical connection with others is important for most humans, but commitment needs caring and context.

‘Even in the cosmopolitan centre of the universe, I am an outsider.’

I found this a difficult book to read. I wanted to talk to Jenna, not read about her sexual exploits. I wanted her to see her self-worth rather than define her value in relation to the expectations of others. I kept reading, hoping that Jenna would become more self-aware and less impulsive.

Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic: could this be the opportunity she needs?

I finished this book, torn between throwing it at the wall and placing it gently on the shelf. I didn’t care for the story, but I found myself admiring Ms Tu’s writing. And I wondered about what the future might hold for Jena.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

Hare Sitting Up (Sir John Appleby #18) by Michael Innes

‘I am a policeman. My name is Appleby.’

At the height of the Cold War, Professor Howard Juniper disappears. He has not been seen for three days.  Professor Juniper has been researching and developing defences against bacteriological warfare and the British government is concerned. He has been working under considerable pressure: has he been kidnapped; has he been driven mad or has he defected? In the wrong hands, his work could destroy humanity.

Sir John Appleby, head of Scotland Yard, has been asked by the Prime Minister to investigate. Sir John enlists the help of Miles Juniper, Howard’s identical twin brother. Miles, the headmaster of a boys school, is asked to impersonate Howard for a few days to buy time for Sir John to investigate.

The investigation takes Sir John from the private boys’ school of Splaine Croft to the crumbling estate of Lord Ailsworth, and on to remote Ardray Island. Lord Ailsworth may be eccentric, but he gives Sir John an important clue. Can he find Howard Juniper? And then Miles Juniper goes missing…

‘Lord Ailsworth and his Donkey Ducks suggest a sort of challenge, wouldn’t you say?’

This book was first published in 1959, and while this particular cold war might be behind us, the current COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of just how vulnerable humanity is to virulent viruses as well as to other biological agents.

I enjoyed this novel, which had a couple of twists to keep me guessing.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith