The Other Half of You by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

‘Rust is my blood. Stardust is my soul.’

This novel is presented as a story by Bani Adam to his son Kahlil. It is the story of how Bani, a young Australian Lebanese Muslim man fell found his place in the world, and the balance he found between traditional community expectations and his own aspirations.

The story unfolds in three sections:

All that was

All that is

 All that will be.

We learn of Bani’s traditional upbringing, the expectation that he will marry within his own Alawite Muslim tribe, and work with his family. Bani is the first member of his family to achieve a tertiary education: a mixed blessing which attracts both ridicule and admiration.

And through this novel (I have not read Mr Ahmad’s other novels – yet) I am drawn into a world I am less familiar with inside Western Sydney. Bani wants the freedom to make his own choices, but his family see that as a rejection of all they hold dear. A series of matchmaking attempts follow as Bani’s family tries to find a wife from within the Alawite community. A brief but unsuccessful traditional marriage, which his wife agrees to because she sees it as a way of obtaining her own freedom, ends as neither of them can meet the expectations imposed. Bani tries to conform but cannot.

Who is Bani? Can he step outside his family’s expectations and beyond his own prejudices to find his own more comfortable place in the world? Can the young man in flared jeans achieve his objectives?

Bani falls in love with a woman he chose for himself, the woman who becomes Khalil’s mother, the woman we come to know gradually as the story unfolds. Both will need to compromise, as will their families.

‘With all due respect Kahlil, I know I was being harsh on her, but please don’t be too harsh on me: I am the other, and you are half the other and your mother is the other half of you.’

I finished this novel, wanting to reread it after I have read ‘The Tribe’ and ‘The Lebs’. This is not just a novel about a migrant experience, it is a novel that touches on difference and othering, on ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ but finishes with hope: ‘We’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Bodysurfing: A Catherine Kint Mystery by Hugh McGinlay

‘The question was: what time is acceptable to have one’s first drink? This led to the second question: if time is meaningless on holiday, does that render the first question moot?’

Milliner Catherine Kint and her friend Detective Britt Houden are on holiday, on a beach at Ocean Grove enjoying the Australian summer. They are three days into their holiday, relaxing into their routine when a body is discovered in the water.

‘The body was male, about 170 centimetres and very, very dead.’

It is quickly established that the man, a candidate in the upcoming Ocean Grove by-election, has been murdered. Britt Houden is not happy with the way the police investigation is being handled (although she is quite impressed by one of the local policemen). Britt, Catherine and their friends Boris and Andy all become involved (to varying degrees) in the search to identify the killer.

And, as they sift through the sand and trawl for clues, they find that there is plenty happening just under the surface at Ocean Grove. In addition to the by-election, with its caste of squeaky-clean candidates, there is a group of seahorse poachers operating in a lucrative illegal market.

Can Catherine and Britt work out who the murderer is? Can they dodge the various red herrings being tossed their way? There’s a fraught domestic situation which may be related to the case, and a strange man who may be able to shed light on some events.

Clearly, investigating a murder and tracking down seahorse poachers is important work, even if some of Britt’s police colleagues wish that she’d leave it to them. And what would a holiday be without a hint (perhaps) of romance?

This is the first of the Catherine Kint mysteries I have read, and I now want to read the first two. A milliner’s attention to detail is clearly an important attribute when investigating a mystery.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Say Hello by Carly Findlay

‘Go on. Say hello.’

Dear Carly,

I would love to meet you one day. And yes, I would say hello. How could I not do so? Reading your memoir has educated and inspired me and reminded me that disability takes many forms. When I was a child, the focus was on difference. Most children with a physical disability went to a special school and many lived in associated homes. Those of us in more mainstream education had little contact. Difference became entrenched early. And now, over fifty years later, I wonder what opportunities we all missed.

‘I think, when someone needs to engage with a disabled person, the first thing they should say is ‘Hello’ – not something inappropriate that they wouldn’t want said to themselves.’

I agree.

As I was reading your book, I kept stopping so I could learn more about ichthyosis and its impact on those who live with it. And then I thought about other disabilities, both visible and invisible, and the energy many must use in their daily lives on activities many of us find easy.

And when I finished your book, just before you turned forty, I wanted to thank you for all you have achieved so far and to wish you well for the future. Your work as an activist for the wider disability community helps us all.

So, thanks Carly, for writing this book, for sharing your personal experience of disability and your love of life (and fashion). Thank you for reminding us (although we should not need reminding) of the importance of inclusion.

Thank you.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Mirror Man (DCI Jack Hawksworth #3) by Fiona McIntosh

‘His life was meaningless. How could he ever give it meaning again?’

Several bizarre deaths in England have Scotland Yard concerned. DCI Jack Hawksworth is reassigned from his role in Counter Terrorism to head up an operation to try to find any connections between the deaths. Hawksworth is promoted to Detective Superintendent to head up Operation Mirror and has a small team including DI Kate Carter, DI Malek Khan, and analyst DS Sarah Jones with whom he has worked before.

How is the killer identifying his victims? Some of them are criminals who have been released early from prison, but how would the killer know how to find them? There is nothing random about these deaths, but how can Operation Mirror get ahead of a serial-killing vigilante? Detective Superintendent Hawksworth uses some unconventional methods to get results, including speaking with a convicted serial killer and working with an ambitious young journalist.

The reader may know who is responsible for these deaths, but the members of Operation Mirror must find evidence that the deaths are linked before they can search for a suspect. And the killer is very careful not to leave behind any trace.

I read this book in two sessions. I was intrigued by the characters (this is the first Jack Hawksworth novel I have read, and I’ve added the first two books to my reading list) and by the actions of the vigilante. Ms McIntosh introduces a few twists in this rapidly paced story and there is plenty of tension as the story nears its conclusion. Can the vigilante’s actions ever be justified given the nature of the crimes committed by those killed? Do the ends ever justify the means?

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Back Street Murder: A hard-boiled Irish crime thriller (Ben Miller Investigations Book 2) by Seán Gibbons

‘…this whole mess started right here in my cab.’

November 2009, Galway, Ireland.

Ben Miller is having a quiet coffee at the Bunch pub when Superintendent Máirtín Folan drops in. While telling Miller that his absence was noted at the funeral for his girlfriend Gárda Siobhán O’Grady, Folan reminds him (subtly, of course) that Miller might not have many friends left at the station. And Miller must take care: Folan is corrupt and holds knowledge of Miller’s own criminal past over his head.

Things soon deteriorate for Miller. He picks up a couple of Lithuanian fares and becomes involved in their drug-dealing world. But then drugs go missing from the home of one of the Lithuanians and the Colombians who own the drugs want them returned. At the same time, Superintendent Máirtín Folan sees a business opportunity and there are several corrupt gardai quite happy to help him.

There is plenty of violence in this novel. Ben Miller is caught up in a race against time to try find the missing drugs. And the wife of one of the Lithuanians becomes a complicating factor.

Miller sees an opportunity to escape Folan’s control, but who can he trust?

Life as a taxi driver in Galway can be dangerous, even without corrupt gardai. Ben Miller is an interesting character while Superintendent Máirtín Folan is, well, despicable.


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

Farewell to 2021 in federal politics, the year of living in disappointment (from The Conversation)

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Some will recall it as 2021. For more, it will be Year 2 of COVID. Either way, it will have been a time of disappointment for many. And the nation’s politicians need to bear a large share of the responsibility for that feeling.

It’s easy to imagine a different scenario. As 2020 ended, there were disappointments, too, with parts of Sydney in lockdown. But most imagined that, with vaccines on the way, our future would be brighter.

While there had been a tragic second wave of infections in Victoria that reflected poorly on its Labor government, the country’s decision-makers had taken advantage of Australia being an island nation, imposed external and internal border controls, and established an effective tracing system.

There had been some failures, and several hundred fatalities, and many Australians abroad were treated harshly. But governments succeeded in their primary duty of preserving our safety, and they seemed to have done well in propping up the economy in tough circumstances.

By the end of 2020, mistakes had been made – particularly in Victoria – but by and large governments had protected Australians from the worst of the pandemic. James Ross/AAP

What an opportunity this scenario offered!

An efficient vaccination program delivered rapidly in the first half of 2021, targeting vulnerable groups first, then extending quickly to the rest, would have provided substantial protection from COVID’s Delta strain when it arrived. The construction of quarantine facilities could have allowed the safe return of Australians stranded overseas.

Instead, the federal government mismanaged vaccine procurement, muddled its messaging, did nothing much about quarantine and stuffed up the “rollout” – both of Australia’s national dictionaries embraced “strollout” as their Word of the Year.

Millions unnecessarily spent much of 2021 locked down. Some paid with their lives, and others with their health, jobs and businesses. The economy has suffered another multi-billion-dollar shock.

It would be easy to blame the Morrison government. After all, its indolence and squalor became increasingly plain during 2021.

But there is something more alarming at the heart of these failures: a basic frailty in national government. So energetic when chasing down “welfare cheats” and in persecuting whistleblowers, Australia’s federal government is just no longer very good at the hands-on delivery of anything of serious complexity.

The JobKeeper scheme acclaimed as a national saviour in 2020 was revealed this year as an efficient scheme whereby the already filthy rich could become even filthier and richer.

Unleashed in haste, it lacked basic mechanisms for checking whether those claiming its benefits had actually suffered their anticipated losses. The result has been an unprecedented looting of the country’s treasury, all within the law.

Hailed in 2020 as a national saviour, JobKeeper was soon revealed to be a way for the already rich to become even richer. Mick Tsikas/AAP

JobKeeper contributed to a larger narrative that has gathered a hold: that the Morrison government lacks honesty and integrity. Its resistance to creating a proper anti-corruption commission is widely seen as prima facie evidence of its own fear of what one would find.

Scott Morrison instead raises the furphy of ICAC’s treatment of the former New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, as an objection to a federal body on anything like that model.

Australian conservatives and some on the Labor side, too, have long resolutely opposed the concept of a bill of rights, yet now we find just one right being elevated above others – religious freedom – which in the hands of the government amounts to an enhanced right to discriminate against sexual minorities.

Predictably, its effort has done little more than draw adverse attention to the expansive right that already exists to do just that in the Sex Discrimination Act, the result of lobbying of the Hawke Labor government by the churches.

The Morrison government is certainly interested in accountability, but not in the accountability of politicians to voters. Its preferred version is the accountability of the people to their political masters. So, far from protecting whistleblowers against government illegality and wrongdoing, it prosecutes them with vigour. It sought to impose US Republican-inspired voter ID laws to deal with a problem that only it seems to believe exists.

And it wants to make it easier for politicians to sue members of the public who say objectionable things about them on social media.

The same politicians who tell you that they believe resolutely in protecting women’s right to be free of sexual harassment maintain a workplace in Canberra, with its adjuncts in their electorate offices, that would disgrace the most rancid feudal regime.

Women have been harassed and even assaulted with impunity. Ministers have slept with staffers. Staffers have filmed themselves masturbating on desks. There is no recourse for the victims of this regime unless, like former Liberal staffers Brittany Higgins and Rachelle Miller, they go to the media.

Women have been treated disgracefully within Parliament House. This year some brave women, such as Brittany Higgins, called it out. Lukas Coch/AAP

The reckoning in these matters has arrived, but the prime minister repeatedly displayed his inability to understand what is at stake. On one occasion, he began a media conference expressing his sympathies with the plight of women but ended up issuing a thinly veiled threat to the female journalist most prominent in reporting of the issue.

Which brings us to Morrison himself.

The idea that he routinely lies now clings to him like a politician to a freebie. The extraordinary attack on him by French President Emmanuel Macron, over the mismanagement of the submarine contract and the AUKUS agreement, confirmed a sense of Morrison as a small-time Sydney politician morally and intellectually out of his depth, and lacking in the necessary gravitas or judgment to deal with complex international affairs and major world leaders.

It seemed odd, at the beginning of 2021, that we still didn’t have a single book about him. Was he too uninteresting to bother?

Now we have several, but the turn in Morrison’s fortunes was so rapid that it defeated the efforts of authors to keep up. When Wayne Errington and Peter Van Onselen’s How Good is Scott Morrison? went off to the printers, the authors were convinced he was a shoo-in for the next election. By the time it appeared in the bookshops, the edited extract that appeared in The Australian suggested they were rather less sure.

The year saw a remarkable leeching of Morrison’s standing and authority, not least in relation to state and territory leaders.

But they too had their problems: Berejiklian lost her job when ICAC announced it had launched an investigation into her conduct. Daniel Andrews in Victoria suffered a serious back injury at the beginning of the year and faced large “freedom” protesters waving the Eureka Flag at the end of it. Mark McGowan seems a little less shiny than a year ago, as Western Australia’s severe border restrictions extend into 2022.

And we have a federal election to come.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, having kept his powder dry for years, is beginning to drip-release policies, seeking just enough distance over issues such as climate policy for product differentiation without frightening the horses. He seems to wish to slip quietly into office rather as numerous Labor state and territory opposition leaders have done over the past 25 years.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese: hoping to slip quietly into office? Dean Lewins/AAP

Morrison is now transformed from goofy Scomo into biblical Moses, leading his people out of the COVID desert into the Promised Land of “Freedom”.

But he still must try keeping the increasingly wild right flank of his Coalition government solid while attending to the threat that independent and Labor candidates pose to metropolitan Liberal seats.

His government ended the year by losing two ministers to scandals, with another announcing his retirement at the next election. Morrison’s grip on the Coalition party room was now so loose that it called into question his grip on the House of Representatives itself.

The election result seems less certain than in the months before the 2019 election when it was all rather obvious that Labor and Bill Shorten were heading for a famous victory.

Readers will understand if I refrain from offering a prediction.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Darkness Falls (Kate Marshall #3) by Robert Bryndza

‘What now? She had to disappear. Her body. Her computer. All DNA evidence had to vanish.’

Twelve years ago, journalist Joanna Duncan disappeared after exposing a political scandal. Her mother Bev is still hoping for answers and approached Private Investigator Kate Marshall to investigate. Kate’s fledgling private investigation agency is happy to take on the case: the biggest one that she and partner Tristan Harper have taken on so far.

Kate and Tristan are given access to the original case files and start following the same leads. But amongst Joanna’s personal effects finds the names of two young men. Investigation reveals that those two young men had also vanished without a trace. Could this be related to the political scandal Joanna uncovered before she disappeared?

Before establishing her private investigation agency, Kate was a detective and criminology lecturer. She has a holiday caravan business to run as well: fortunately, her 18-year-old son Jake will be spending his summer holidays with her to help. Tristan, who still works part time at the university, has some issues of his own to deal with, including a very protective sister. Between them, Kate and Tristan track down several key witnesses from twelve years earlier. What was Joanna investigating when she disappeared? And how are the missing men linked? The story unfolds, with a couple of unexpected twists, to a surprising (and satisfying) ending.

This is the third book in Mr Bryndza’s Kate Marshall series. I have not (yet) read the first two books.


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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Past Life (DS Aector McAvoy #9) by David Mark

‘She wakes with a yell, jerking upright and swinging madly at the air.’

In the Sunk Island area of Hull in East Yorkshire, a middle-aged clairvoyant is found dead, her tongue carved out, a shard of crystal buried deep within her ribcage. The gruesome scene reminds DS Aector McAvoy of a case twelve years earlier, a similarly gruesome case in which Roisin (now his wife) was a witness. DS McAvoy thought the killer involved in that murder was dead, but if he is not then McAvoy’s family is in danger.

Twelve years earlier, because of a feud between two Irish traveller families, Roisin’s aunt was killed. Recently, Roisin has been unsettled and Aector McAvoy is worried about her. But he needs to work with his supervisor DS Trish Pharaoh to try to solve this case and tries to push his family concerns out of his mind.

Brutal murders, blood feuds, bleak landscapes, and complex characters each have a place to play as the story unfolds. The past threatens to overwhelm the McAvoys and their children Fin and Lilah are in danger. Some secrets are dangerous.

 While I have read several Mr Mark’s recent standalone novels, this is the first book I have read in the DS Aector McAvoy series. I enjoyed this novel and I now want to read the earlier novels in the series, to explore the past.

A very dark read, with a few twists and surprises. A couple of aspects left me wondering but I really enjoyed the journey.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

It’s about opportunity: a lesson on capitalism for the party of capitalism – Pearls and Irritations

Morrison’s theme that can-do capitalism beats don’t-do government is nonsense. Labor can respond by exalting government’s role, writes Michael Keating. Scott Morrison is signalling that his campaign for the forthcoming election will be built around the theme of ‘‘can-do capitalism’’ in contrast to ‘‘don’t do government’’. According to Morrison: ‘‘We’ve got a bit used to Continue reading »

Source: It’s about opportunity: a lesson on capitalism for the party of capitalism – Pearls and Irritations