Here in the After by Marion Frith

‘It was so quiet, so very, very quiet.’

Anna, aged 62, is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack in Sydney. Eleven others were murdered.  Nat, aged 35, is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Both are suffering because of their experiences; both have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Once Anna is well enough to leave hospital, she retreats into herself, into her home as a fortress. Anna is widowed with adult children and while they try to help her, the only comfort she can find is with her young grandson. Nat’s wife Gen is worried about him. He has outbursts of anger which he cannot explain. Why can’t he tell her what is worrying him?

Nat’s initial approach to Anna is rebuffed: she thinks he is just another person who does not understand what she has been though. But a chance meeting on the beach leads to a tentative friendship. And as their friendship builds, Nat takes what he believes is a terrible risk: he tells Anna his story. There is more to the story than this as you will find if you read it for yourself.

‘They told us we were going over to stamp out terrorism and keep Australia safe … and … well, we didn’t.’

Reading this novel barely weeks after the US and its allies have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving the country once again in the hands of the Taliban makes this an even more uncomfortable read. Ms Frith’s novel takes us beyond the impact of terrorist acts on the individuals concerned into an appreciation of the concomitant impact on their loved ones. Anna’s family feel helpless, as does Nat’s wife. Anna and Nat (eventually) can talk to each other because their shared experience gives them understanding. Words are sometimes not enough.

There is no happy ever after ending here but there is hope that with the right support the future will be more comfortable for both Anna and Nat and their families.

I was deeply moved by this story and after finishing my review copy, bought a copy for myself. This is Ms Frith’s first novel, and I recommend it highly.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Black and Blue: a memoir of racism and resilience by Veronica Gorrie

‘I come from a long line of strong women.’

At the beginning of the book, at the end of her Author’s Note, Ms Gorrie writes:

‘Please be aware that this book contains material that readers may find confronting and disturbing, and that could cause sadness or distress, or trigger traumatic memories, especially for Aboriginal people, and those who have survived past abuse, violence, or childhood trauma.’

I thank Ms Gorrie for this warning: being forewarned enables a reader to proceed with caution into what is a confronting, important but uncomfortable read. The book is split into two parts. The first part deals with Ms Gorrie’s life before joining the Queensland Police Service, the second with her experience of ten years in the Queensland Police Service, and beyond.

This is a very personal story, of growing up in a society which (to my shame) makes judgements about people based on colour and ethnicity often without considering culture, family ties and responsibilities. Some people sink beneath the burden of abuse and mistreatment, others will find a path through to achieve a more meaningful life for themselves, but all are scarred by their experiences.

In telling us her story, Ms Gorrie gives context. We learn about why, for example, her grandparents lived the way they did. We learn (or remember) the impact of alcohol abuse and violence on families.

‘When you are getting beaten, it does something to you. It takes away your self-esteem, your confidence, your self-respect and your self-worth. But more importantly, it takes away your voice.’

Disempowerment and abuse can become entrenched within family groups and across generations. Most of us will copy the behaviour of those responsible for our upbringing. Most, but not all. And this, for me, is one of the reasons why Ms Gorrie’s book is important.

‘I joined the police for many reasons: first, to see if I could get in, and more importantly, because I had seen the way the police mistreated my people and naively thought that if I joined, I would be able to stop this.’

Sadly, Ms Gorrie’s idealism is undermined by the reality she worked within. And injury forces retirement.

‘When I first joined the police, I had this idea that I could change the attitude of the Aboriginal community towards police. Little did I know I couldn’t do that until I changed the police attitude towards Aboriginal people.’

As I read this book, my admiration for Ms Gorrie increased. She tells a difficult story with humour and insight and in doing so provides hope for others.

‘The pain and suffering of the stolen generations is passed down from generation to generation. My grandmother lived this fear, my father experienced the fear, and I feared the experience.’

I would recommend this book to all Australians.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Art of the Engine Driver (Glenroy Series #1) by Steven Carroll

‘They are walking down the old street again, Rita, Vic and Michael.’

A summer evening in the late 1950s, in a newly developing suburb of Melbourne. We join Rita, Vic, and Michael as they walk down the (unsealed) street to engagement party of Patsy Bedser at the home of her father George. And as we walk with Rita, Vic, and Michael, we meet the other neighbours and have glimpses into each of their lives. Michael dreams of the future, Vic wants to be the engine driver on the Spirit of Progress, and Rita wants change. As they walk, they see a comet overhead. As they walk, we learn more about the neighbourhood and its history, about the dreams and disappointments of those who live there. We learn a little about the past and see something of the future.

And later, after the party, after a train accident the consequences of which seem likely to cost Vic his dream, Rita makes a difficult decision.

‘Driving is a gift. Physical. Something you’ve either got or you haven’t.’

This is the first novel of the six books in the Glenroy Series and for some reason, I read the last four first. So, I am heading back into the past, to the beginning of the story. It’s like catching up on the family history of old friends and revisiting familiar territory. I didn’t grow up in Melbourne, but I grew up in a similar new suburb on the (then) outskirts of Launceston in the early 1960s. New suburbs, new dreams, old secrets. Somehow, Mr Carroll manages to hold the story in the present while referring to the past and providing glimpses into the future. And while I know how the Glenroy Series ends, I need to read ‘The Gift of Speed’ to see what I have missed.

If you have not read this series, I recommend it. And, if you can, read the novels in order. These are beautifully written contemplative novels.

‘What happens to all that life? All that time? Where does it all go? One moment you feel like you’ve got all the years in the world to live, and the next you feel like you’ve lived them.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Turning  by Tim Winton

‘But, you know, all the big things hurt, the things you remember. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not important.’

This book contains seventeen linked short stories, set in the fictional whaling town of Angelus in Western Australia. These stories feature ordinary people struggling with life and responsibility, each trying to find their own place, grappling with life, actions, and consequences.

The Lang family feature in nine of these stories. Most of our view is through the eyes of Vic, as an adolescent and a young man, then as a husband and father. These shifts in chronology and perspective enable us to see the individual, his family, and his community. And then there are the stories featuring the bully Max Leaper and his wife Raelene, and the young Max with his brother.

As I read these stories, I feel like I know these people. I don’t like some of their choices and I wonder how they will survive some of them, but I recognise the gaps between ambition, dream, and reality. The stories are frequently bleak and depressing: exposing addiction, corruption, and domestic violence.

While I enjoyed each of the stories, I have two favourites: ‘Small Mercies’ and ’Boner McPharlin’s Moll’. In both stories, the characters stepped off the page and into my head.

This book was first published in 2004. Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

‘Four green apples lay scattered on the dry grass …’

Meet the Delaneys. Joy and Stan, former tennis coaches, are still winning tennis tournaments. They have sold the family business and are learning (or trying to) to live as retirees. They have four adult children: Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke, each a former tennis player and each busy with their own lives. Joy hopes, one day, to have grandchildren.

One night last year, Joy and Stan hear a knock at the door. A young woman stands there. Her name is Savannah, and she is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. Joy and Stan take her into their home. Joy thinks that she should recognise Savannah and worries that her memory is failing. Savannah stays with Joy and Stan for a while, but then moves on.

And then Joy goes missing. No one knows where she is, a weird text message is sent to her children, then later her mobile ‘phone is found under the bed. What has happened to Joy?

The police are involved and on the face of it, Stan looks guilty. He claims to be innocent but is clearly hiding something. And the Delaney children, each dealing with issues of their own are split over whether Stan might be innocent. The Delaneys had a fight just before Joy went missing.

As the story moves between the past, when Savannah was in their lives and the present where Joy is missing, we see the best and worst of the Delaney siblings. And what is the story with Savannah?

While I enjoyed this novel (and loved the neat ending) I found the story moved a bit too slowly at times.

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

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The Buchanan Girls by Emily Madden

‘When Andrew Buchanan returned home from the Great War with a bride in tow, his parents were not pleased to say the least.’

In July 1924, Andrew’s wife Louisa gives birth to identical twin girls: Olive and Ivy. Tragically, Louisa dies, and while Andrew does the best he can for his daughters, Ivy grows up feeling responsible for her mother’s death. Olive is the daughter favoured by both her father and grandmother. Olive is engaged at 17 and then marries her fiancé before he departs Australia to serve in the Army. Ivy wants to do more, and passing herself as being 18, joins the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS). She does so against her father’s wishes. Ivy starts to establish a life for herself in the barracks at Townsville, making friends with her colleagues. At a dance one night, she meets Leo, an American serviceman.

In 2008, Madeline returns to Sydney from New York. She has discovered that her husband cheated on her after the devastating loss of their baby and needs space to come to terms with both losses. Once in Sydney, Madeline is tempted to stay and never return to New York. But her husband Evan keeps sending her reminders of significant dates and she wonders why. Her grandmother provides a sympathetic ear and then Madeline learns of secrets within her family, secrets which will make her think about her relationship with Evan.

The story shifts between 1941 and 2008, between the lives of Ivy and Madeline. As the earlier story unfolds, Ivy makes many sacrifices for Olive. In the later story, Madeline learns about the past as she comes to terms with her own life and choices.

I enjoyed this novel with its dual timelines. I found Olive incredibly selfish and frustrating, felt sorry for Ivy and wondered what choices Madeline would make.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation by Anne Henderson

‘Who would have imagined that a woman born in 1897, married at seventeen, and the mother of twelve children, would be an achiever ahead of her time?’

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons (1897-1981) was born on 9 July 1897 at Duck River (Smithton) in Tasmania. She was the second of four children born to Eliza (née Taggart) and William Burnell. In this book, Ms Henderson raises the possibility that Dame Enid’s real father may have been Aloysius Joyce, the son of a wealth landowner in the Burnie district. I found this possibility difficult to reconcile with the character of Eliza Burnell contained in the book, but I guess it is possible. Does it matter? Not to me: Dame Enid has long been a hero of mine.

Moving beyond Dame Enid’s parentage, Ms Henderson describes her childhood and upbringing. Later, when the family moved to Cooee (now a western suburb of Burnie) where Eliza opened a store and a post office, Enid attended the Burnie State School. Enid and her older sister Nell attended Teacher Training College in Hobart and it was in Hobart at the age of 15 that Enid first met Joseph Aloysius Lyons, then the Labor member for the Tasmanian state seat of Wilmot. They married in Wynyard, on the 28th of April 1915: Joe was 35 and Enid 17.

And so began a partnership, which ended when Joe Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, died in office on 7 April 1939. Joe and Enid had twelve children, the youngest of whom was born in 1933. Enid and Joe had been effective partners in life and politics: they supported each other.

On 21 August 1943, Enid Lyons was elected member for the Tasmanian federal seat of Darwin (now Braddon). She was the first female member of the House of Representatives. In her maiden speech on 29 September 1943, she spoke about social security, the declining birth rate, and the need for an extension of child endowment. She also spoke about the family, about housing and the need to look ahead to policies for the post-war period.

Ms Henderson covers in detail Enid Lyon’s life and legacy. After she left politics in March 1951, she remained active: including writing three books of her own, as well as serving as a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

On moral issues Dame Enid was conservative, in keeping with her Catholic faith. Some of her children described her as remote. But it is clear that Dame Enid worked hard, and in her first parliamentary term could take some credit for the extension of child endowment and free medical treatment for pensioners.

This is the second time I have read this book. In between reads I have visited both Home Hill (the Lyons family home in Devonport) and the small cottage in Stanley where Joe Lyons lived with his aunts. Joe and Enid Lyons were a formidable team.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Enid and Joe Lyons and their achievements.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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I Can Jump Puddles (I Can Jump Puddles #1) by Alan Marshall

 ‘This book is the story of my childhood.’

I first read this book, as a school child, over fifty years ago. I remember reading about the boy who had poliomyelitis as a child and tried to contrast his experience with that of my father, who contracted poliomyelitis around his 21st birthday in 1951. Both learned to live with degrees of disability, both learned to challenge the boundaries. As a child, I did not appreciate the limitations my father had to live within, as an adult I admire his tenacity. And so, after fifty years I revisited ‘I Can Jump Puddles’.

Alan Marshall’s story of his childhood is of a happy world. Change is on the way, early in the 20th century, but Alan’s early childhood is about learning to adapt, of finding ways to do the things that mattered to him and of proving (to himself and to others) that he could.

It is worth reading this book not just for Alan’s story but also for the glimpse it provides into a way of an Australian way of life which is now history. And it reminds me, that I have not yet read the other two books of Alan Marshall’s autobiography.

‘In childhood a useless leg does not bring with it a sense of shame; it is only when one learns to interpret the glance of people unable to hide their feelings that one experiences a desire to avoid them.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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All About Ella by Meredith Appleyard

‘Most of us have a story. The older you are, the longer and more complicated those stories become.’

At 70 and recently widowed, Ella’s world is turned upside down. Her three adult children: Anthony, Julian and Olivia convince her to sell the family home, and then to move into Anthony’s Adelaide home with his family while a granny flat is built in Anthony’s backyard. This would be fine it if was what Ella wanted, but she is not sure. Her hesitation results in an argument with Anthony and she leaves for Cutlers Bay, a seaside town on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. Ella has friends at a farm nearby but had forgotten they were away for a holiday. She travels to nearby Rocky Point where she is found by local policeman, Zach Cooper. Anthony has reported Ella missing, and while Zach confirms to Anthony that she is safe, she decides to stay in Cutlers Bay at the local hotel overnight.

Angie Daniels, 40, is on the move from Cairns to Perth. She’s not seen her mother for 5 years, and while she wants to see her, she is no hurry. Angie decides to check out the Yorke Peninsula on the way. When she decides to check into the local hotel for the night, she finds herself helping Zach with Ella.

Ella likes Cutlers Bay and she and Angie become friendly. Angie stays longer than she had intended, while Ella starts to think about establishing a home there.

This is such a delightful story. Ella, Zach, and Angie are wonderfully depicted characters, each with their own history and issues to face. Ella decides to buy a house on the outskirts of town: a house which others think is unsuitable and which her children think is evidence that Ella is no longer competent to manage her own affairs. Ella is at the centre of this novel, but Angie and Zach are also important. This is a novel about growing older, about finding your own independence after a long marriage, and about standing up for yourself. It is also a novel about learning to trust others, and commitment. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

‘It was time to make new memories.’

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

‘Why was the weather never straightforward, timely or generous?’

Picture this: a close-knit rural community, somewhere in New South Wales, plagued by years of drought. And if the farmers are not earning money, then they are spending less. The whole community suffers – except, perhaps for the opportunists.

Meet Mitchell Bishop. When his ex-girlfriend left town, he fell into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy. Mandy makes the lives of Mitch and his father Cal utterly miserable: she can’t cook, she wastes water, and they never get to hear the weather report. Mitch’s crops are failing, and his stock is starving, but he refuses to give in. All he needs is rain, and for his ex-girlfriend Neralie McIntosh to return. Wishful thinking.

But then, Neralie does return to run the pub and sparks fly.

In addition to the truly awful Mandy Bishop, there’s Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle waiting for an opportunity to, umm, redirect some of the scarce water into a business opportunity. Mitch isn’t fooled by the empty promises made by the water authority:

‘The farmers are appreciated, and all water authorities aim to celebrate and support the farmers and the vital role they play in feeding, clothing and sheltering us all.’

but the town is running out of options. Neighbours argue over land management, feral dogs make life even more complicated.

‘Isn’t blood thicker than water?’

‘At this point, water is blood.’

Full of black humour and quick wit, this satirical novel is peopled with some very memorable characters. Mandy does her best to undermine Mitch but then spreads her nastiness more broadly.

How will it end? I kept reading: Mandy’s comeuppance was what I wanted, and drought-breaking rain.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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