BOOK REVIEW: ROLAND HARVEY – ON THE RIVER

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Roland Harvey’s family adventure series has included trips to the beach, bush and farm. His latest picture book, On The River is set on Australia’s Murray River. It’s a story that will engage adults and children alike thanks to its light and whimsical text, colourful watercolour illustrations and rather detailed and informative facts.

This book includes appearances by Banjo Patterson and Ned Kelly but perhaps the most intriguing character of all is Harvey himself. He is joined by a pelican friend and can be found on every page in the book in a kind of homage to Where’s Wally? On The River is like three books in one, you can have fun finding Harvey, enjoy learning about the Murray River and you can laugh at Harvey’s cheeky sense of humour. Kids will love this loveable larrikin and his talk of bumboats and the like.

On The River may be a story aimed at children aged five to 10 years but in all honesty this bracket could be extended by around 100 years because all sorts of readers can enjoy this book. This story about the fragile Murray ecosystem as well as is secrets, wildlife, history, people and ecology is all really captivating. Harvey’s delicate illustrations are wonderful and the story is a precious gem because it sums up how important the Murray River is and how crucial it is for us to conserve and maintain its environmental beauty.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-on-the-river

BOOK REVIEW: TONI JORDAN- OUR TINY, USELESS HEARTS

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David Bowie may have sung about modern love but it is author, Toni Jordan that has written a book about it. Her fourth novel, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is set over the course of a single weekend in suburban Melbourne and it shows how three different relationships implode. This well-written and witty book is a fun and light read that is set in a kind of domestic chaos.

This novel is what you would get if you crossed Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with the works of Marian Keyes or P. G. Wodehouse. The story begins with the end of Caroline and Henry’s marriage. It’s an ugly event where a night-long screaming match ends with Caroline cutting out the crotches of her husband’s fine suits. She then follows him to Noosa where he has planned a holiday with his new flame, a schoolteacher named Martha.

Caroline and Henry are the parents of two precocious young girls (one of whom is taught by Martha). Their Aunty Janice is called in to babysit because she is the “sensible one,” or so it would seem. Janice is the story’s narrator and is a clever and witty scientist but she has also made some silly mistakes involving her own love life. She divorced the man she loves- the sweet and kind-hearted Alec and she did not divulge the true reasons for her change of heart. This is just one of the many secrets that are revealed in this novel. The other main characters are Caroline and Henry’s neighbours, the attractive but dumb, Craig and his self-absorbed artist wife, Lesley.

The characters in this novel are very flawed but for this reason the also seem very real and believable. Jordan has done an excellent job by providing rich characterisation, as the adults provide many moments of real humour as well as emotion and thoughtfulness. The whole experience is like being a fly-on-the-wall to the shenanigans that take place. Jordan expertly reveals each secret and lie from the past and tells these alongside the light of the present day, while also offering up some social observations about fertility, fidelity, parenting, sex and more.

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a warm and pithy take on modern romance. This Australian, domestic dramedy is an easy and enjoyable read. It’s ultimately a good satire based on love and marriage and a jaunty take on an institute you can’t disparage, lest you wind up being the star of a novel and the butt of a joke.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer thanks to a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29285427-our-tiny-useless-hearts

DVD REVIEW: SGT. BILKO

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Sgt. Bilko is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This comedy farce is a remake of a sitcom from the 1950s called The Phil Silvers Show. In the movie version, Steve Martin acts as a frantic and crafty Sgt. Bilko (a character not too far removed from his one in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and he guides us all through a series of different japes and misadventures.

Bilko is not your typical army sergeant. This man in uniform is the motor pool supervisor on paper but in reality he is a conniving and money-hungry rapscallion. The sergeant is the mastermind behind his platoon’s get-rich-quick schemes (these mostly involve illegal gambling syndicates and competitions as well as hiring out army vehicles to the highest local bidder.)

The commanding officer, Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) seems uncaring, inept and oblivious to Bilko and Co.’s antics. But things change when Maj. Colin Thorn (the late Phil Hartman) pays the barracks a visit. The Major is Bilko’s enemy (although on screen Martin and Hartman prove great comedic foils for one another). The Major is back to seek revenge, even if he has to fabricate and plant it. The sub-plots also see Maj. Thorn trying to steal Bilko’s long-suffering fiancé, Rita (Glenne Headly) and some questions about whether a military hover tank will actually work.

This film is not the most hilarious, thoughtful or original one out there. But this comedy film is pleasant enough and should be enjoyed by fans of physical, slapstick humour. The script was written by former Saturday Night Live writer, Andy Breckman and is directed by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) so these two are no strangers to comedy. Sgt. Bilko is ultimately an over-the-top, offbeat and wacky film that will have you cheering on the loveable, eponymous rogue because who hasn’t dreamt of receiving “An honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work?” It’s cheeky but fun to dream…

Originally published on 26 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/sgt-bilko-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

iTunes Review: The Escort (Film)

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If you combined parts of Pretty Woman’s plot with two characters using each other not unlike those in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days then chances are you’d get The Escort. The film is a rom-com about two unlikely people finding each other. While the film is not an original one and it is predictable and clichéd at times, it is still rather pleasant and easy to watch.

Lyndsy Fonseca stars as Natalie, a sassy Stanford graduate who earns a crust by being a tutor by day and a high-class escort by night. She seems like a rather strong and independent woman until you learn her back story. While Natalie can hold her own at times, there are other moments when things can get a little out of hand, especially when she’s on the job.

Enter Mitch (Michael Doneger), a sex addict and unemployed 27 year old journalist. He is trying hard to get his foot in the door at a glossy magazine but in order to convince the editor that he’s the right candidate, he needs a good story. So Mitch calls on Natalie to be his subject matter and she in turn uses him as a bodyguard. But the pair soon get more than they bargained for.

This film is directed by Cold Turkey’s Will Slocombe and is written by Brandon A. Cohen and Doneger. It could have been terrible but it’s actually not that bad. It’s a nicely shot little number with scenes of LA and a spectacular mural providing some real highlights. The performances by Fonseca and Doneger are good as the two bring a certain vulnerability to their characters and the pair also share an obvious chemistry. The same praise cannot be said about Bruce Campbell who plays and acts like a caricature of a seventies, has-been rock star.

The Escort is a light-hearted and emotional rom-com that touches on important issues like cyberbullying, technology, sex, love and addictions. The two main characters are quite sweet and easy to root for (no pun intended) and the whole thing is surprisingly tasteful and charming. The film may not be the funniest or the most original rom-com out there but The Escort is saved by its big heart and some lighter moments.

 

Originally published on 21 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-escort-itunes-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

BOOK REVIEW: CAM BARBER – WHAT’S YOUR MESSAGE? PUBLIC SPEAKING WITH TWICE THE IMPACT, USING HALF THE EFFORT

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Cam Barber knows how to walk the talk. A professional public speaker and speaking coach, he has written a very engaging and useful book titled, What’s Your Message? It promises that it can allow readers to make twice the impact using half the effort. On this count it delivers thanks to its practical and logical approach that can be adapted for different audiences and situations.

In this book Barber dispels a number of myths about public speaking. Barber traces the original instructions about public speaking back to actors where there was an emphasis on rules regarding body language and performance. Barber claims that this often confused people and made them even more anxious. He also says that a natural delivery can make a speaker seem more relaxed and credible. This guide uses rich, real-life case studies about people like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Anita Roddick and more in order to prove that good public speakers are not necessarily born but they can be made with good practice and instruction.

In addition to the examples, anecdotes and case studies, Barber also describes “The Vivid Method.” It’s one he has devised himself with respect to offering guidelines and ways to prepare for public speaking. There are handy hints, tips and suggestions as well as some easy-to-follow examples and templates that can be used every day. The key point Barber makes is that the message needs to be clear, consistent and concise.

What’s Your Message has summarised a lot of complex information and elaborated on some key concepts. It also demystifies a lot of myths and offers practical insights that can be used in almost any situation. In short, What’s Your Message is a handy guide that is engaging, rational and fun and will allow readers to speak in public in a rather simple, effortless manner, which should be commended.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer thanks to a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27315152-what-s-your-message

FOOD REVIEW: FOOD SERVICE AUSTRALIA 2016

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Food glorious food- the Food Service Australia event celebrated all of that and more. In 2016, this trade show was held in Sydney at the Royal Hall of Industries and the Hordern Pavilion from May 22-24. It was specifically targeted at professionals from the food, beverage and hospitality industries and drew together an impressive line-up of events, presentations, masterclasses and over 200 exhibitors.

 

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The inaugural National Restaurant Conference was also a big drawcard where 4Fourteen’s Colin Fassnidge, Catalina’s Judy and James McMahon, Gault & Millau’s Mark Dorrell and others came together with other industry luminaries to discuss important topics like: social media, pricing, tourism, global food trends, technological developments and food allergies. Fassnidge was a very interesting speaker in particular, he joked that he once used a producer that was so good at tracing the origins of a pig he could tell you its name. He also described how his chefs cook regular meals for the homeless and that this has helped to reduce food waste in his restaurant’s kitchen.

 

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The Café School was another important spot where people could learn about coffee, sandwiches, burgers, wraps and gelato. Emily Oak of Sensory Lab was one of the speakers. She has over 20 years  experience (or the equivalent of around 1 million coffees) and she did a very informative talk about coffee that included the following points:

  • Coffee is the seed of a coffee tree meaning it’s a fresh product that is best consumed within one month of purchase.
  • The coffee, machine, milk and barista all matter in order to make a good coffee.
  • Coffees are not hard to make but they are difficult to make well.
  • Bitter coffees are often the result of a dirty machine, not the barista.
  • You should learn as much as you can and practice as much as possible.
  • Milk has an optimal temperature of 55-58 degrees Celsius. The texture and temperature need to be correct for the latte art to work.
  • You need to tamper firmly and consistently in order to avoid channeling.

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Food Service Australia also played host to the Unilever Food Solutions’ Chef of the Year. The competition attracted over 150 applicants where a total of 32 chefs competed in heats over the course of the three day event. The entrants had one hour to produce their best dish from a black box of ingredients and were judged by John McFadden (Pittwater RSL), Karen Doyle (Le Cordon Bleu), Sam Burke (Meat & Livestock Australia), Philippe Mouchel (President, Bocuse d’Or Australia), Mark Baylis (Unilever Food Solutions) and Gary Farrell (Competition Director). The competition was fierce and the title was won by Matt Weller of the Royal Canberra Golf Club.

 

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The World’s Greatest Pie competition had entrants supply one pie to judge hot, one to judge cold and one to be judged the next day. Victoria’s Kaa Pies made history by being the first non-meat pie to win in the history of the competition. They took out the main title with their vegan pie, a Thai vegetable curry one and also amassed a total of four other medals for their tasty creations.

 

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The exhibitors were all extremely knowledgeable and passionate about their food. This was particularly evident when we chatted to La Coppola chef, Steven Scopelliti at the Good Lady Imports equipment stand. Steven whipped us up a fresh margherita pizza that was so fresh and tasty. He told us that the secret to his pizzas was that he uses a wood fire oven to “barbeque” the dough but in the chain stores like Dominos they “fry” the base because they use deep dishes that require a lot of oil to stop the pizza from sticking.

 

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Some other highlights from the exhibitors included:

  • Whisk & Pin: a Blue Mountains-based business where they create innovative and original products like cookies, muesli, baking mix, chocolate and conserves from premium Australian produce. Their white chocolate dessert road (a twist on Rocky road) was heavenly.
  • Chocolate 5018- award-winning chocolate creations that see exquisite ingredients like freeze-dried nuts, spices, edible flowers and gold mixed with fine Belgian couverture.
  • The Fudge Man: offers up 25 different flavours of gourmet fudge including some varieties that are free of sugar, gluten and preservatives.
  • Groenz: a leading manufacturer of condiments in New Zealand and Australia, their mustards, sauces and salsas offer an extra punch and compliment for any food.
  • Bakers & Co and Bakery Fresh: a Melbourne-based company offering tasty breads, pizza bases and cookies.

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The Food Service Australia 2016 event was another successful show drawing together a diverse range of professionals to talk about all things food, beverage and service. The show had been a very informative one where people could learn lots of handy tips, tricks and titbits from people in the know, which they could then take away to enrich their businesses and lives. Bon appetit!

 

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Originally published on 18 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/406/#23

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

DVD REVIEW: DESTINATION FLAVOUR – SCANDINAVIA

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Since winning MasterChef Australia in 2010, chef Adam Liaw has gone from strength-to-strength. The host of Destination Flavour, the show is a series that has seen interviews with famous chefs, cooks, providores and producers from Japan and Australia. The latest instalment sees Liaw visit Scandinavia or specifically the countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to learn about the history and culture of the region and see why the restaurants in these countries have more stars than a Hollywood A-list party.

This seven-part series is a beautifully shot one where Liaw learns new things and cooks some of his own dishes (while keeping with Nordic tradition and culture.) The first three episodes see Liaw in Denmark meeting Noma’s Claus Meyer, drinking Danish filtered coffee, interviewing Meik Wiking (CEO of the Happiness Research Institute) and talking to the only Michelin Starred chef with organic certification, Relae’s Christian Puglisi. Liaw also learns Viking survival and cooking skills before making his very own salmon on a plank in a replica of a ninth century Viking house.

Liaw is one enthusiastic and passionate presenter. He clearly relishes the visit and his warm personality is obvious. In Sweden Niklas Ekstedt demonstrates old Nordic cooking techniques (i.e. ones using no gas, electricity or coal) and Liaw samples different kinds of Swedish meatballs (including wild boar) and smoked reindeer. In Malmö, Titti Qvarnström – the first female chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Sweden – takes us through her restaurant, Bloom In The Park. It’s an establishment that has almost zero food waste thanks to its lack of menu and wine list.

In Norway Liaw eats a 200 year old clam, cooks brown crabs in beer with a brown butter mayonnaise and also gets to know the local indigenous people known as Sami. The series concludes with visits to the Global Seed Vault and Huset, a fine dining restaurant that is at the end of the earth (1000km from the North Pole.) The special features include extended interviews with Meyer, Wiking and Qvarnström as well as a tour of a Stockholm market and more in-depth footage about the Samis and Vikings.

Destination Flavour- Scandinavia is a fun romp through some refined, artistic and traditional Scandinavian cuisine. Liaw presents an informative cooking program and his natural charm and charisma really shine through. This series is an absolute pleasure to watch and will make you realise that there’s more to Scandinavia than Vikings, Abba and Princess Mary’s relatives.

Originally published on 20 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/destination-flavour-scandinavia-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

BOOK REVIEW: SIMON DE PURY – THE AUCTIONEER

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The man dubbed the “Mick Jagger of auctions” sounds like he should have some interesting stories to tell. Simon de Pury also has had a career that has spanned over 40 years as an auctioneer and curator and different roles in the art world where he got to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. But the memoir, The Auctioneer does not have many exciting anecdotes. Instead it’s a dry and slow book that oscillates between self-importance and being a shopping list of record-price setting auctions.

Simon de Pury had had a distinguished career. He learnt the rewards of buying and selling art from Art Basel’s Ernst Beyeler. Simon de Pury was also the former chair of Sotheby’s Europe and the former owner of Phillips de Pury. He is a man who is not short on experience and his memoir could have been an insightful look into the inner-workings of the (hidden) art world. But the core message here is that greed is good and it’s a clumsy mix of gossip and vain name-dropping and descriptions of the irritating world of the 1 percenters.

It’s very hard to empathise and connect with such an elitist snob. At the very least de Pury is ambitious, driven and passionate about his work. Some readers may enjoy his take on the art world but personally I felt like he barely scratched the surface of his life’s story and the formal prose and stories were so lacking in depth and colour, they were like a monochrome painting.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/auctioneer/9900103/

DVD REVIEW: DAVID BOWIE: THE MAN WHO STOLE THE WORLD

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Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

 

David Bowie: The Man Who Stole The World is the first documentary to be released since the legend’s passing. The back cover of the release’s DVD claims that the feature has exclusive footage and interviews but in reality it takes the bulk of its material from other sources (namely the Sound & Vision documentary.) This latest Bowie special is a short portrait about the rock star chameleon but one can’t help but feel like this is the tip of the ice-berg and that we have seen most of this story told once before.

One positive of this documentary is that the interviews with English DJ, Paul Gambaccini and former NME photographer, Kevin Cummins appear to be new ones. The latter was an interesting interviewee at the recent Vivid Sydney and he offers some good insights here about Bowie. Unfortunately, the bulk of the other talking heads have been sourced from the Sound & Vision documentary. These films include sound bites from Bowie’s childhood friends Geoff McCormick and George Underwood (AKA the man responsible for Bowie’s permanently dilated pupil) as well as band members: Mike Carson and Carlos Alomar and famous collaborators: Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Trent Reznor andTony Visconti.

This documentary features very little original music by Bowie and only short clips from his videos and old interviews with the man himself. The visuals are inconsistent at times; the new footage is played alongside what is clearly borrowed footage (it’s a different aspect ratio for a start) and archive material that does not appear to have been updated or remastered for the current format. It’s a pity because while this documentary has some good moments it could have been a much better and more detailed one (perhaps if a bit more care had been taken and if it hadn’t been rushed out to be the first documentary released since the musician’s passing.)

David Bowie: The Man Who Stole The World is told in a straightforward, linear way. It presents the Bowie story from his birth in Brixton and unsuccessful early singles to his name change and forays into different characters like Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke. There is information about his successful albums, Berlin period and drug abuse to his ill-fated Tin Machine record (where it makes the questionable claim that it spawned the grunge genre) to his final swan song, Black Star. David Bowie was a one of a kind and a truly gifted artist but this documentary fails to do this amazing man justice because it barely scratches the surface on the brilliance that was Messer David Bowie.

 

Originally published on 19 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/david-bowie-the-man-who-stole-the-world-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

FOOD ARTICLE: SWEET ADDICTION @ THE CALYX, ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDEN SYDNEY

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Most people love it but what do people really know about chocolate? The team at The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney look set to change all that with a fun and informative new exhibition. Sweet Addiction allows people to experience chocolate as a botanical adventure that fuses together art, education, theatre and flora.

 

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The exhibition is the inaugural one for the recently-opened centre, The Calyx in The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. A “Calyx” is an outer casing of a flower bud and the structure replaces the previous pyramid-shaped, Arc Greenhouse. The new doughnut-shaped space was opened to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the gardens and is a flexible, multi-purpose space that can be adapted for functions, exhibitions and more.

 

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Sweet Addiction was curated by Jimmy Turner, the Director of Horticultural Management for the gardens. It boasts the Southern hemisphere’s largest green wall with over 18000 plants. These shrubs have been arranged to spell out hidden words and symbols and it can take three people an entire day to change. The wall is efficient in terms of water consumption because taps at the top allow the liquids to flow through little trays and anything leftover is collected again at the bottom for re-use.

 

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The chocolate display is designed as a self-guided, 45 minute experience. Patrons will wander through a tropical rainforest and learn interesting facts like the relationship between chocolate and orchids and how many cacao pods are required to produce a single chocolate bar. They can then trace chocolate from its beginnings and as something that was only consumed by the upper class through to the different techniques that have been employed to make it more accessible. There is also a fun guessing competition where one lucky winner will receive a year’s supply of chocolate.

 

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Chocolate is loved throughout the world. The average Australian will consume around 5kg per year while the Swiss eat around 12 kg. Exhibitions like Sweet Addiction will educate us about all things chocolate and allow us to experience it like never before. Patrons will be able to learn about chocolate in nature’s answer to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and to touch, see, smell and taste all things chocolate in the picturesque surrounds of the beautiful new space, The Calyx.

 

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Sweet Addition is open daily and runs until April 2017. For more information and tickets please visit: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/Visit/Sweet-Addiction

 

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Originally published on 17 June 2016 at the following website: http://food.theaureview.com/news/the-calyxs-sweet-addiction-in-royal-botanic-gardens-natures-answer-to-willy-wonka/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to dining and food at: http://food.theaureview.com/

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