The Fifth Season by Philip Salom

‘The four seasons only exist because of each other.’

Jack moves to an Airbnb in a small Australian coastal town called Blue Bay.  He reorganises the Airbnb to his own requirements.  The owner, Sarah, when she visits, hopes that he has taken a photograph so that he can return everything to the way it was.  Jack’s intention is, over a period of three months, to work on a book about what he thinks of as ‘found bodies’.  The bodies may be found, but their identities are lost.  Anonymous people found dead: the Somerton Man, the Gippsland Man, the Isdal Woman, bodies found on beaches, in cars, in hotel rooms.  The anonymity of these people, the story behind their lives and deaths occupies the public mind as well as the much more personal grief of those who love and miss them.

‘The Fifth Season might be Time, which holds the seasons together.’

Jack meets a number of people in Blue Bay, and befriends Sarah, the owner of the Airbnb.  Sarah’s  sister Alice is missing.  Sarah paints murals of her sister, and of other missing people, across the country hoping that their likenesses will enable them to be found.

But not everyone wants to be found.  Sometimes, going missing is a choice.  Some stories are complicated and difficult to understand. And Jack himself is grappling with his own continuing existence.

This is a novel which invites the reader to enter a community, to reflect on individual stories of life, to think about who goes missing and why, and about the impact on those left behind.  Is it ever possible to return to the way things were, before people go missing, before furniture is rearranged? So many questions.

This is the first of Mr Salom’s novels I have read.  I will add his others to my reading list.

‘And in time, what begins as memory becomes history.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Shelter by Catherine Jinks

To be published on 5 January 2021.

‘I first saw her spotlit by headlight, a pink plush rabbit tucked under her arm.’

Meg’s own experience with an abusive partner helps her to decide to help another woman who is fleeing, with two small children, from an abusive partner.  Meg knows that she left it too long to leave her own partner, Keith, and as a result she is essentially estranged from her daughter Emily.    

Nerine, the mother, seems incredibly stressed.  Her daughters, Analiese and Colette are anxious and afraid.  Meg thinks that she can help.  Her home (aptly named ‘The Bolt Hole) is remote, and Meg has plenty of supplies to keep the family out of sight.  Meg will provide the three of them with shelter for a few weeks until another woman is able to offer them shelter.

But Nerine is convinced that her husband will find her, and when strange things start happening around Meg’s home, Meg is concerned.  Meg is in a dispute with her own ex-husband: is he trying to intimidate her, or is Nerine right?

What a bleak, heartbreaking, and incredibly beautifully written story this is.   The characters are well-developed, the issues are real, and the tension is high.  Nothing is straightforward, and while I worked out a few of the twists, I was not at all prepared for the ending.  If you read this novel, be prepared to ride an emotional roller-coaster. 

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



#AWW2020 My Completion Post

This year I have read (and written reviews) for 109 books by Australian women.  Eleven fewer than last year. Of these, 31 are non-fiction (bold) and I had noted that 8 were written by Indigenous women (italic)

  1. Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

2.    When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson

 3.    CRY: The Tears of a Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

 4.    A Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

 5.    White Throat (Clementine Jones #2) by Sarah Thornton

 6.    The Survivors by Jane Harper

 7.    Mother Tongue by Joyce Kornblatt

 8.    Songwoman by Ilka Tampke (Skin#2)

 9.    Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

 10. The Wreck by Meg Keneally

 11. Dancing in My Dreams: Confronting the Spectre of Polio by Kerry Highley

12. A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

 13. A Life Worth Living by Louise Guy

 14. My Tidda, My Sister by Marlee Silva

 15. The Edwards Street Baby Farm by Stella Budrikis

 16. The Cartographer’s Secret by Téa Cooper

 17. The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham

 18. The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

 19. The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home by Joanna Nell

 20. Here Until August by Josephine Rowe

 21. Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis

 22. An Unusual Boy by Fiona Higgins

 23. The Warrior, the Voyager and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire by Kate Fullagar

 24. The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

 25. A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

 26. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

 27. Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

 28. Diving into Glass by Caro Llewellyn

 29. The Family Inheritance by Tricia Stringer

 30. The First Time He Hit Her by Heidi Lemon

 31. The Killing Streets by Tanya Bretherton

 32. Something in the Wine by Tricia Stringer

 33. The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

 34. In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the world by Danielle Clode

 35. Fresh Cuttings (selected by Sue Abbey and Sandra Phillips)

 36. The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

 37. Top End Girl by Miranda Tapsell

 38. Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

 39. The Wasp and the Orchid by Danielle Clode

 40. Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie by Fin J Ross

 41. Hunting the Wild Pineapple by Thea Astley

 42. Painting in the Shadows by Katherine Kovacic

 43. The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

 44. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

 45. The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

 46. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey (Gemma Woodstock #2)

 47. Where The Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

 48. A Treacherous Country by K.M. Kruimink

 49. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

 50. Darkness for Light (Caleb Zelic #3) by Emma Viskic

 51. The Goldminer’s Sister by Alison Stuart

 52. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

 53. The Safe Place by Anna Downes

 54. Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

 55. Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin

 56. I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley

 57. Dragon’s Gate by Vivian Bi

 58. Pride against Prejudice by Ida West

 59. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

 60. The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer

 61. The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

 62. When Grace Went Away by Meredith Appleyard

 63. One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville

 64. Finding Ullagundahi Island by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton

 65. Royal Canberra Hospital by Janet Newman and Jennie Warren

 66. See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence by Jess Hill

 67. Present Tense by Natalie Conyer

 68. Prey by L.A. Larkin

 69. The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

 70. The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab

71. The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

 72. Poison and Light by Gillian Polack

73. Community of Thieves by Cassandra Pybus

74. Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

75.Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

76. After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

77. The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

78. Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

79. The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer

80. Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans

81. Sheerwater by Leah Swann

82. Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor

83. Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore

84. Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh

85. Back on the Wool Track by Michelle Grattan

86. Troppo by Madelaine Dickie

87. Charlotte Pass by Lee Christine

88. Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

89. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

90. Dead Man Walking by Kate McClymont with Vanda Carson

91. Red Can Origami by Madelaine Dickie

92. The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

93. Perhaps a Little Madness by C. J. Martin

94. The River Home by Hannah Richell

95. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

96. Just an Ordinary Family by Fiona Lowe

97. The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks 

98. Nothing New by Robyn Annear

99. Asbestos in Australia (edited by Lenore Layman and Gail Phillips)

100.   Island Story by Ralph Crane and Danielle Wood

 101.  The Changing Room by Christine Sykes

102.   The Shining Wall by Melissa Ferguson

 103.   The Cherry Picker’s Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert

 104.   Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

 105.   Storytime – Growing up with books by Jane Sullivan

 106.   Field of Poppies by Carmel Bird

 107.   Watershed by Jane Abbott

 108.    The Bee and the Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley

109.   Saltwater by Cathy McLennan


And in 2021?  I hope to include more non-fiction and more books by Indigenous women.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

‘It wasn’t enough that she lived in her sea of waking dreams.’

The world around her is being destroyed by fire and extinction. At eighty-seven, her body failing, Francie is ready to die.  But her three children, Tommy, Anna, and Terzo want her to live.  They are sure that medical science and appropriate support at home will be enough.

‘And, after all, wasn’t living preferable to dying?’

As readers, we know the inevitability of death.  As readers, in Francie’s room in the Royal Hobart Hospital, we can see the paradox in a struggle to keep Francie alive while all around her the world is burning, collapsing, being polluted.  What is it we notice around us?

Anna, torn between fighting to keep her mother alive and the inconvenience of it all, notices a finger is missing.  No one else does that Anna is incomplete, not even when her knee disappears a few months later.

But Anna persists.  There are reasons for her persistence.  Tommy would let Francie go (he knows about pain) but Terzo is determined.

But this is not just a story about prolonging human existence no matter how cruel that process can become.  It is also an allegory about the suffering world filled with metaphor about existence.

‘They had saved her from death, but only, thought Anna, by infinitely prolonging her dying.’

Anna becomes interested in trying to save the critically endangered, orange-bellied parrot.  She travels to Melaleuca, on the west coast of Tasmania, where these parrots breed.  Will her efforts make any difference?  Or is it too late?

What an amazing novel.  I am led to places I don’t want to go, to confront a reality that I wish I could ignore. I weep for Francie and for Tommy, I want to shake Anna and Terzo.  But most of all, I want people to realise how inhumane we have (collectively) become while we claim (paradoxically) to care about humanity.

‘She was trying to outrun herself and failing.  Words collapsing their job of conveying meaning meaningless in the face of all that was happening.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

What if …

In these twenty short stories, ranging in length up to thirty-two pages, Ms Tan takes us on journeys where smart ovens can help lonely people (at least for a while) and where a homeless man makes his mark with a ballpoint pen.

These are quirky stories, often darkly disturbing.  Clever, compact, and compelling.

My favourite was ‘Pang & Co.  Genuine Scribe Era Stationery Pty Ltd.’  I am not sure why, except that I wanted to enter the pages to talk to the homeless man.

I liked the cleverness of ‘Smart Ovens for Lonely People’, and the quirkiness of the worlds Ms Tan creates (albeit briefly) for her characters to inhabit.

Who would not want a cat shaped smart oven?

If you enjoy unusual short stories, then I can recommend this collection.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson

‘In a perfect world, we could wait until the apricots bloom.  Alas, the world is not perfect.’

Set in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, this novel is told through the eyes of three quite different women.  Ally, wife of an Australian diplomat (a ‘dependent spouse’), has accompanied her husband on posting to Baghdad.  Ally has her own reasons for wanting to be in Baghdad.

Huda, a secretary at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, is ordered by the mukhabarat to befriend Ally.  Huda does not want to be an informant for the secret police but must think of her family.  Her husband is bitter and unemployed, and her teenaged son is of an age where he could be forced to join the militia.

Rania, a childhood friend of Huda’s, grew up in a life of privilege as the daughter of a sheikh.  Both privilege and money are long gone, and Rania is an artist, struggling to look after her teenaged daughter.

Three different women brought together by circumstance.  Ally is trying to find information about people from the past, an activity which is viewed with suspicion and is highly dangerous.  Huda will do almost anything to protect her son and calls on Rania for help.

‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you?  Two can keep a secret only when one of them is dead.’

This novel was inspired by Ms Wilkinson’s own experiences in Iraq, and makes it clear how difficult and challenging life could be for many (and particularly women) in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Difficult choices need to be made by each of the women to protect their family members and to survive.  And who can they trust?

Each woman’s story is difficult and heartbreaking in its own way.  As I read, I wondered what choices I might make in their situations.  A thought-provoking debut novel.

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



Hitler’s Brothel by Steve Matthews

‘Listen to me, I tell you.  I tell you this: she was a good neighbour, a good worker and a good woman.’

The novel opens in New Jersey, USA, on 7 February 2000.  Something, involving Stella’s friend Anna, has happened.  It looks like she is going to kill someone: who, and why?

The next part of the story takes us back to 9 January 1940, to Zwinbrych in Poland.

Over a period of sixty years, this story will unfold.  The story of two sisters from a Polish village in World War II, separated when soldiers came to recruit women for the brothel at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  One sister, Ania, was taken while Danuta fled.  Danuta was shot and left for dead.  When she recovered, she joined the Polish underground to try to find her sister. Ania was one of several women forced into sexual slavery, in a brothel which was set up to ‘reward’ the non-Jewish prisoners.  A clever and evil motivational tool which destroyed lives.  Those who survived were often shunned and treated as outcasts.

Ania and Danuta set out to survive, hoping one day to be reunited.

I did not know, until I read this novel and then did some research of my own that there was a brothel for the prisoners at Auschwitz.  While the brothel was real, Ania and Danuta are fictional.  The story is heartbreaking and yet another reminder of the cruelty and tragedy of war.

This is a thought-provoking novel: both important and difficult to read.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


CRY: The Tears of a Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

‘Have you ever had a memory from years ago that you hadn’t previously thought about since?’

In her opening to this book, Ms Ollman explains that she left a lot out of her first autobiography ‘A Girl from Birkenhead’ and this book is a ‘no holds barred’ account of her life.  She also notes that those of us who have read the first book will already know some parts of her life story.  So, this book is perhaps more of a revision than a sequel.

Because I chose to read this book immediately after ‘A Girl from Birkenhead’, the areas of overlap were clear to me.  I noticed that Ms Ollman changed the given names of some of her family members in this book, but not consistently.  While writing this book may well have provided the catharsis she was seeking, editing and proofreading would have helped the reader.

This is a difficult book to read, with its mentions of abuse and family difficulties.  Readers who are triggered by mention of sexual abuse (in particular) should proceed with caution.  It is part of Ms Ollman’s story.  

While I was amazed to read that Ms Ollman ‘ taught Julia [her granddaughter] to read at 10 months’,  my own reading difficulties were compounded by many of the same grammatical and word choice issues that confronted me in the first book. I wish Ms Ollman would edit her work (or have it edited) before publication.  Some readers may think this is a minor quibble, especially as context usually makes the meaning clear.

Ms Ollman wrote this book to show herself as a survivor rather than a victim, and I wish her all the best for the future.  It takes courage to confront the past, and to try to move beyond it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



A Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

‘There are many memories that live in the brain of an old girl from Birkenhead.’

In this autobiography, published in 2016, Ms Ollman writes of growing up poor in Birkenhead in the UK.  She was the eldest of six children. At the age of sixteen, pregnant with her first child, Trish and Ian eloped to Scotland to marry.  By the time she was seventeen, Trish and Ian had two sons.  Ian and Trish emigrated to Australia when they were aged twenty-one, where they had two more children.

In 2016, when this book was published, Ian and Trish were still married.  They have since divorced.

It often takes courage to write about the past, especially when the past is full of challenges and difficulties.  Ms Ollman’s life has certainly been eventful, and she has overcome many difficulties with determination.  Numerous moves (between houses and between the UK and Australia a couple of times) combined with career changes and family issues makes for an interesting read.  Interesting but at times frustrating because grammatical and word choice issues (such as ‘it’s’ for ‘its’; ‘heal’ for heel’; ‘ridicules’ for ‘ridiculous’) kept dragging me out of the narrative.  I kept thinking how much better this book could have been with effective proof reading and editing.

Ms Ollman’s (first) autobiography is both a snapshot of the times in which she grew up and a deeply personal account of her life.  She’s since written and published a second autobiography: ‘Cry’ (described on her website as ‘The tears of A Girl From Birkenhead A ‘No-Holds’ barred version of the original ‘Girl from Birkenhead’.).  I have also read this and will review it shortly.

If you read this book, be prepared to experience a range of emotions.  If you can ignore the grammatical and word choice issues, there is a story which is sometimes heartbreakingly sad and sometimes wryly amusing.  I finished this book, and immediately picked up ‘Cry’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



White Throat (Clementine Jones #2) by Sarah Thornton

‘Looking out over an ebb tide from the back verandah was like watching God paint stripes.’

The house-sitting gig in Piama on the Queensland coast does not pay much, but it gave Clementine (Clem) Jones a convenient excuse to leave Katinga once certain facts about her past became known.  It is supposed to be a temporary move.  The local Australian Rules Football club want her back after her success in coaching them to their first premiership win.  But Clem does not think she will return to Katinga.  And, while she considers her future (including a lucrative job in Melbourne), she is helping her friend Helen with a campaign to save the endangered white throat turtle.  The turtle’s habitat will disappear if a planned new port development goes ahead.

After Helen is found dead at the foot of a cliff, the police consider her death suicide.  Clem does not agree and sets out to find out what happened to Helen.  And there are plenty of suspects: many of the people in Piama want the port to go ahead.  The mayor and some businessmen see profits, while others would welcome the money they would receive for their properties.

Clem’s life and her investigation are both enhanced and complicated when one of her Katinga football stars (an ex-convict, himself in a spot of bother) joins her.

Clem takes quite a few risks (nothing new here) as she tries to find out what happened to Helen.  Who would benefit from her death?  And why did Helen include some puzzling conditions into her will?

I like Clem: she’s a flawed, focussed hero trying to work through some personal challenges while trying to ensure that Helen’s death is properly investigated. She’s feisty and brave and occasionally foolhardy.  Can she uncover the truth?  And will she accept what looks like a very attractive job back in corporate law? What about Katinga?

A terrific second instalment in Ms Thornton’s Clementine Jones mystery/thriller series.  What will happen next?

Highly recommended.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith