In Sunshine or in Shadow by Martin Flanagan

A few days ago I read ‘A Crying in the Wind’, a novel set in Tasmania written by Elizabeth Fleetwood.  I started thinking about other books I have read in which Tasmania features, and was reminded of Martin Flanagan’s memoir ‘In Sunshine or in Shadow’, which I read back in 2015.  Here’s my review of that book.  And yes, I am still homesick for the island I’ve not lived on for over 40 years.
‘All my conscious life, I’ve been looking for those who were here before me.’

Tasmania has a long history.  While the European component is comparatively short, it is full of paradox and puzzle.  While this is Martin Flanagan’s memoir of his relationship with Tasmania, I can relate to a lot of it.  For much of the nineteenth and twentieth century, there were frequently gaps in personal histories, silences about ancestry and revisions of events.  How could so few of us have convict ancestry?  Was it true, as so many of us were taught during the 1960s and earlier, that there were no remaining indigenous Tasmanians?  Why did so many – who had never even seen England – refer to it as home?

Martin Flanagan is the fourth of six children, a Tasmanian of Irish descent.  His father was a teacher in rural Tasmania: in Longford in the northern midlands, and then at Rosebery, a mining town in Tasmania’s west.  These are very different parts of Tasmania, with very different stories.  Or are they?

‘Walking to school one morning behind the silent figure of my father, surrounded by dark mountains of thought, I first experienced the sense of absence that would mark me as surely as any belief in God. Years later, when I read towards the end of her life Truganini was accompanied by a feeling she called ‘big lonely one’, I wondered if the two absences, hers and mine, were somehow related.’

As Martin Flanagan explores his own family history, the history of European settlement in Tasmania and the impacts of that settlement on native species and on Indigenous Tasmanians, it becomes clear that this sense of absence is central.  Where is the truth about the Irish convicts, about Truganini ‘the so-called Last of Her Race’, about the thylacine (the Tasmanian tiger)?  A world and a history has been constructed where silence marks past existence with echoes (at least) in the present.

This is a book which combines biography and history, memoir, opinion and political issues in an exploration of the past and what going home means to Martin Flanagan.  And for others?  If you know nothing about Tasmania, this book will invite you to explore and consider Tasmania’s history.  For me, as an expatriate Tasmanian, it increased my longing to return, to learn more about my own family and about those we displaced.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Long Drop by Denise Mina

‘Good storytelling is all about what’s left in, what’s left out and the order in which the facts are presented.’

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Denise Mina’s novels, and when a friend mentioned this one, I added it to my ‘must read’ list.  This is quite a different novel: a fictionalised account of real events.  Peter Manuel was a serial killer, convicted of seven murders in Glasgow, and hanged in July 1958.  He was aged 31.

So, how does Denise Mina turn this into a novel?

William Watt is under suspicion of having killed his wife Marion, daughter Vivienne and sister-in-law Margaret.  Watt swears that he wasn’t responsible, he was miles away at the time the murders were committed. Concerned that the police won’t investigate further, even if they don’t have enough evidence to prove him guilty, Watt sets out to find out the truth.  Through a series of vague and shadowy connections, Watt meets Manuel.  Watt is convinced that Manuel is the murderer, and sets out to prove it.

The two men spend a drunken night together, a night which constitutes the body of the novel.  Drunk, each reveal more than they’d intended to.  The novel shifts between the drunken night and scenes from Peter Manuel’s trial.  The shifts are unsettling: drunk he may let his guard down, sober Peter Manuel is delusional, his reality incomprehensible.  His father has lied for him, his mother won’t.  Bridget Manuel loves her son, and fears him.

After I read this novel, I read a little more about Peter Manuel.  At least in this novel, Ms Mina has provided some context for events. William Watt, in this novel at least, is not particularly likeable and may not be quite as innocent as he claims. Nor is Glasgow likeable: Ms Mina creates such a vivid picture of Glasgow in the 1950s.  Public drunkenness, crime, poverty, violence.  Such an appropriate backdrop to this miserable, awful story.

I did not enjoy this novel, but I’m glad I read it.  It’s a confronting story, well told.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

AWW 2017: Challenge Completed

Life’s about to get busier than usual for me, so I’d better post my ‘ AWW 2017 Challenge Completed’ post now, rather than wait until further into December.  Besides, I can always add to it if I write any more reviews between now and Christmas.

I’ve reviewed 63 books by Australian Women Writers for the 2017 challenge.  I’ve actually read more than 70, but as is always the case for me, review writing lags behind reading.

I’ve read some terrific books.  The links below are to my reviews on Goodreads, but if you are not a member there and don’t want to join (why ever not?) then you’ll find the reviews posted up on this blog.

My favourites?  Well that would depend on the day and the mood that I’m in.  But there’s something for everyone here.  Happy reading!


My first review for 2017:  Ruth Quibell’s ‘The Promise of Things’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My second review for 2017: Jan Smith’s memoir: ‘Confession of a Homegrown Alien’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My third review for 2017: ‘The Hidden Hours’ by Sara Foster.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fourth review for 2017: ‘Jerome and His Women’ by Joan O’Hagan.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifth review for 2017: ‘The Circle and the Equator’ by Kyra Giorgi.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixth review for 2017:  ‘To The Sea’ by Christine Dibley.  Here’s a link to my review:

My seventh review for 2017: ‘Family Skeleton’ by Carmel Bird.  Here’s a link to my review:

My ninth review for 2017: ‘The Hate Race’ by Maxine Beneba Clarke.  Here’s a link to my review:

My tenth review for 2017:  ‘One Leg Over’ by Robin Dalton.  Here’s a link to my review:

My eleventh review for 2017: ‘Dangerous to Know’ by Anne Buist.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twelfth review for 2017: ‘Three Wishes’ by Liane Moriarty.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirteenth review for 2017: ‘The Last Anniversary’ by Liane Moriarty.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fourteenth review for 2017: ‘Dear Quentin’ by Quentin Bryce.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifteenth review for 2017: ‘They Cannot Take The Sky’ edited by Michael Green, Andre Dao, Angelica Neville, Dana Affleck and Sienna Merope.  Two of the editors are Australian women.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixteenth review for 2017: ‘The Shape of Water’ by Anne Blythe-Cooper.  Here’s a link to my review:

My seventeenth review for 2017: ‘Dying:A Memoir’ by Cory Taylor.  Here’s a link to my review:

My eighteenth review for 2017: ‘Do You Love Me or What?’ by Sue Woolfe.  Here’s a link to my review:

My nineteenth review for 2017: ‘The Better Son’ by Katherine Johnson.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twentieth review for 2017: ‘See What I have Done’ by Sarah Schmidt.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-first review for 2017: ‘Fighting Hislam’ by Susan Carland.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-second review for 2017: ‘The Golden Child’ by Wendy James.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-third review for 2017: ‘Storyland’ by Catherine McKinnon.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-fourth review for 2017: Eva Hornung’s ‘The Last Garden’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-fifth review for 2017: Caroline Overington’s ‘The Lucky One’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-sixth review for 2017: Julia Baird’s ‘Victoria the Queen’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-seventh review for 2017: Sally Abbott’s ‘Closing Down’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-eighth review for 2017: Sarah Bailey’s ‘The Dark Lake’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My twenty-ninth review for 2017: Karenlee Thompson’s ‘Flame Tip’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirtieth review for 2017: Eliza Henry-Jones’s ‘Ache’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-first review for 2017: Baba Schwartz’s memoir ‘The May Beetles’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-second review for 2017: Katherine Brabon’s ‘The Memory Artist’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-third review for 2017: Tania Blanchard’s ‘The Girl from Munich’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-fourth review for 2017: Catherine Lee’s ‘Dark Chemistry’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-fifth review for 2017:  Sheila Fitzpatrick’s ‘Mischka’s War’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-sixth review for 2017: Pip Smith’s ‘Half Wild’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-seventh review for 2017: Louise Milligan’s  ‘Cardinal’ (The Rise and Fall of George Pell).  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-eighth review for 2017: Claire Corbett’s ‘Watch Over Me’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My thirty-ninth review for 2017: Zana Fraillon’s ‘The Bone Sparrow’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fortieth review for 2017: Catherine Lee’s ‘Dark Paradise’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-first review for 2017: Kate Cole-Adams’ ‘Anaesthesia’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-second review for 2017: M.J. Tjia’s ‘She Be Damned’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-third review for 2017: Joanne Verikios’s ‘Winning Horsemanship’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-fourth review for 2017:  Sheridan Jobbins’s ‘Wish You Were Here’.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-fifth review for 2017: ‘My side of the Bridge’ by Veronica Brodie as told to Mary-Anne Gale.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-sixth review for 2017: ‘The Choke’ by Sofie Laguna.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-seventh review for 2017: ‘Three Little Maids’ by Ethel Turner.  This book was first published in 1900.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-eighth review for 2017.  ‘Fatal Mistake’ by Karen M Davis.  Here’s a link to my review:

My forty-ninth review for 2017.  ‘Bridget Crack’ by Rachel Leary.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fiftieth review for 2017.  ‘The Way Back’ by Kylie Ladd.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-first review for 2017.  ‘A Dangerous Language’ by Sulari Gentill.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-second review for 2017.  ‘Driving Too Fast’, a collection of poetry by Dorothy Porter.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-third review for 2017.  ‘The Lone Child’ by Anna George.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-fourth review for 2017.  ‘Sixty Seconds’ by Jesse Blackadder.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-fifth review for 2017.  ‘How to Dress a Dummy’ by Cassie Lane.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-sixth review for 2017.  ‘Falling Pomegranate Seeds’ by Wendy J Dunn.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-seventh review for 2017.  ‘The Tides Between’ by Elizabeth Jane Corbett.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-eighth review for 2017.’Drawing Sybylla’ by Odette Kelada.  Here’s a link to my review:

My fifty-ninth review for 2017. ‘Accidental Heroes’ (‘The Rogues’ #1) by Lian Tanner.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixtieth review for 2017.  ‘The Trauma Cleaner’ by Sarah Krasnostein.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixty-first review for 2017. ‘Mirror Sydney’ by Vanessa Berry.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixty-second review for 2017. ‘Whitehaven Beach’ (a children’s book) by Cathy Maisano.  Here’s a link to my review:

My sixty-third review for 2017. ‘A Crying in the Wind’ by Elizabeth Fleetwood.  Here’s a link to my review:

A Crying in the Wind by Elizabeth Fleetwood

I picked this novel purely by chance: it was on the new acquisitions list at my library.  Any novel about Tasmania will catch my attention, but not all will hold it in quite the same way as this novel did.

‘By an unwritten agreement, nobody ever spoke of the past.’

Spanning two hundred years and involving four families, Ms Fleetwood divides her story into four parts and writes of a Tasmania that few of us can have a complete understanding of.  I picked the novel up because it is set in Tasmania and because, although I’ve not lived there for over forty years, I still consider it ‘home’.

The four families, introduced in Part One (which opens in 1812) are the Aborigines (starting with ‘Tom’ Kickerterpoller, stolen from his family in 1812), the Fairfield settlers from Scotland (starting with Susannah), the convicts (starting with George Turner) and (much more briefly) the Dutch Dijkstra family, beginning with Katrijin’s dream.

In the subsequent three parts of the novel, the stories of different family members are told.  These stories will involve dispossession and removal for many of the Aborigines, contrasted with the relative prosperity for many of the European settlers. The Turner descendants will be part of the settlement of the North West, and the Dijkstras will seek refuge in Tasmania after being displaced from both Java and Europe.

Tasmania itself provides another story: of changed land use, of attempts to try to make the land respond to European demands.  Some of these attempts work, others don’t and there is a brooding undertone for those who are sensitive.   Consider this, from one of the more powerful passages in the novel:

‘.. and that awful crying in the wind that apparently nobody else could hear.’

“I hear it”, said Marner. “It’s the cry of the wounded and dispossessed, it’s the groan of nature destroyed for greed, the wailing of the animals driven out and the broken song of the birds shot for no reason, the sadness of those who don’t count, and those whose dignity was trampled on.  It’s the tears of the broken hearts and it’s the cry of those who didn’t love when they could have.”

I kept reading.  I know this crying in the wind more as a feeling of unease in some places.

I enjoyed this novel, recognised some history (especially as it relates to the settlement of the North-West coast region where I was born), learned more about the dispossession of the Aborigines, and wondered about the impact of the past two hundred years.

If you like family sagas, if Tasmania is part of your life or intrigues you because of its beauty, its contrasts and (or) its history, you may enjoy this novel as much as I did.  I loved the way in which Ms Fleetwood wove her characters into the history.  Real or representative, the characters bring the story to life.

I finished the novel wondering what the next chapter would be, both for the characters and Tasmania.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Best Books of 2017 – a list of lists

I need to look through these lists when I have a little more time to see how many inclusions I may have read, or hope to read. I love looking at the ‘best of’ lists compiled by others. How about you? Which ten books would you rate most highly in 2017?


It’s that time of the year when newspapers and magazines publish their ‘Best of 2017’ lists.

I know, it’s November…

I have noticed that this year many of the lists include a Best of 2017 ‘so far’ disclaimer – do you think the publishers have finally realised that a lot of reading can happen in the last five weeks of the year?! Or perhaps it’s a loophole so that they can publish another list when I reveal the list of books that made the most Best of 2017 lists? Either way, all of these fabulous lists will probably do some serious damage to the TBR stack.

The Best of 2017 According to #ALLTHELISTS will be coming in the next week or so – stay tuned!

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A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

Until reading this post, I was unaware of this Elizabeth Taylor. Another author to read. I love how the various webs of connectedness lead me in new reading (and other) directions. I’ll need to live for a very long time to read all the books I want to.


I feel like Elizabeth Taylor gets overlooked.

I don’t mean this Taylor:

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The Burden of Lies by Richard Beasley

I really love it when I find a new (to me) Australian author.  This is the second novel in Richard Beasley’s Peter Tanner series, and I’ve now bought the first.  My only problem now is finding the time to read it.

‘I’m looking for all the truth I can get.  When I have the pieces, I’ll start on the puzzle.’

Sydney defence lawyer Peter Tanner has been hired to represent Tina Leonard, a self-made property mogul, charged with arranging the murder of Oliver Randall.  Oliver Randall, a senior banking executive, had just been released from prison where he had spent more than five years because of a drug conviction.  It’s clear who murdered him, but was the murder really arranged by Tina Leonard?

Peter Tanner has some problems of his own to deal with, but he immerses himself in Tina’s case.  It’s easy to establish a motive for Oliver Randall’s murder: the bank he worked for had called in loans made to Tina’s company which caused her to lose the business.  Tina lost her home as well as her marriage, and the children are with her ex-husband.

So, did Tina pay for Oliver Randall to be killed, or is she being set up?  What is the truth behind the business venture which collapsed when the bank called in Tina’s loan?  Why did the bank sell the development so cheaply?  And, if Tina isn’t guilty, then who else might be?

The more Peter Tanner looks, the more questions he has.  Welcome to a world of opportunism and sleaze: questionable property deals, crooked police, corrupt corporate bankers, powerful business people and drug dealers.  A world in which some are prepared to do anything at all to avoid the spotlight. Including threats against Peter and his family.

And the truth?  Is Tina Leonard innocent?

I enjoyed this novel.  While Peter Tanner’s methods are not always orthodox, they are certainly interesting and kept me turning the pages.  While the story held my attention, it was Peter Tanner that has me intrigued.  I’ve bought a copy of the first novel in the series (‘Cyanide Games’) to find out more about him.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith