BOOK REVIEW: LEE ZACHARIAH – DOUBLE DISSOLUTION – HEARTBREAK & CHAOS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

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The combination of a political analysis and a memoir about the dissolution of a marriage could be considered similar to oil and water.  But in the hands of Australian author, Lee Zachariah, this book is quite a funny and rather seamless slice of gonzo journalism. Zachariah draws parallels between the Liberal party’s entry into office in 2013 and his marriage to his girlfriend as well as the aftermath of 2016, which saw Australians starring down the barrel of an uncertain election and Zachariah also facing an ambiguous future with respect to his relationship and life in general.

Double Dissolution is based around Zachariah’s series of articles for Vice Magazine about the 2016 Election, although none of his pieces are included here. Instead, diarised accounts of the highways, bad coffee and campaign bus are included as well as vox pops and interviews with volunteers, voters and politicians like: Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young and senator and leader of his own political party, Nick Xenophon. This book is pitched at all readers with political fans being able to enjoy the commentary while those less enamoured with politics can at least get enough context to understand Zachariah’s perspectives and encounters with those vying for power. Zachariah does a fabulous job of this, providing just enough information to be educational while never being dry or boring.

Some of the funniest parts of this book are Zachariah’s little asides and extra thoughts that can be found in the footnotes. He draws parallels between what is transpiring before him and various slices of pop culture. These links are never forced or tenuous. Zachariah has previously cut his teeth on TV shows like The Chaser’s Hamster Wheel and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and he certainly knows how to craft and tell an entertaining yarn or ten.

Double Dissolution is not the most deep or comprehensive look at Australian politics or the 2016 federal election and nor does it purport to be. Instead it is perhaps the most entertaining look at these topics. Zachariah is an interesting, gonzo character and his perspectives and commentary are quite intelligent and well-put. Perhaps this foray onto the campaign trail will see Zachariah run for office some day? Because as this book proves, he can’t be as bad as what we’ve previously had!

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/double-dissolution/10478633/

DVD REVIEW: PETER KURUVITA’S COASTAL KITCHEN

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Peter Kuruvita’s Coastal Kitchen shares a few things in common with recent cooking shows like Poh & Co. and River Cottage Australia in that he uses the local neighbourhood for food inspiration. Kuruvita is no stranger to TV screens with the restaurateur previously presenting series about his homeland, Sri Lanka, as well as Mexico. For Coastal Kitchen Kuruvita uses his sea-change from Sydney to Noosa as inspiration for many of the culinary treats on display here.

This six-part series is all about celebrating local produce and flavours from Queensland and the areas surrounding the Sunshine Coast, with the featured destinations, including: Noosa, Gympie, Maleny, Kenilworth, Mooloolaba, the Glasshouse Mountains and Kin Kin. Each episode has a different theme or focus with instalments about indigenous foods or bush tucker, seafood, locally-grown farm produce and food for health, to name a few. Kuruvita is a laid-back and calm presenter, an enthusiastic interviewer and a passionate foodie. These things are all apparent in his bubbly, on-screen presence and technique.

Each episode features recipes that Kuruvita has devised and some of these are Sri Lankan in origin (i.e. curries and dahl soup.) There are also other dishes where he has adapted the traditional recipe to add a twist of Sri Lankan flavours to the mix. Examples of these include the Sri Lankan egg curry pho and the pippies with Sri Lankan XO sauce. Over the course of the series Kuruvita learns how to make cheese, goes fishing, discovers artisan bee-keeping, and learns about tempeh, a bi-protein soya bean.

Kuruvita often offers handy tips and tricks in his cooking demonstrations. One useful piece of advice is when he tells viewers to soak shellfish overnight so that you can remove any excess sand if this has not already been done. The extras are good and include lessons in how to fillet and scale raw fish and how to serve a cooked fish. The only complaint is that there should have been more of these because not everyone is a MasterChef or a cook for that matter.

Coastal Kitchen demonstrates how beautiful and peaceful Queensland is and how it is poised to become an important foodie destination. Kuruvita’s relaxed delivery and passion for the local food and produce makes for a refreshing and entertaining watch. Coastal Kitchen is such a pleasant and enjoyable show it might convince others to embark on their own sea change because it encapsulates all of the benefits of coastal living. Divine.

Originally published on 22 January 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/peter-kuruvitas-coastal-kitchen-dvd-review/

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

BOOK REVIEW: TRICIA STRINGER – A CHANCE OF STORMY WEATHER

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A Chance of Stormy Weather was originally self-published in 2004 by Australian, rural romance writer, Tricia Stringer. It was also one of her most requested books, as some readers thought it was good at distilling what life in the country is really about. This fictional story is not Stringer’s best work but it is still a well-written and pleasant-enough novel.

This book is about the marriage between a Sydney girl named Paula and a farmer from South Australia named Dan. The two had a whirlwind romance and got married not long after they initially met (and why this was the case is not properly explored.) This then sets things up for a fish-out-of-water tale as the book takes in the events that surround their first few months of marriage.

Paula is a naïve city girl when it comes to her new life. She doesn’t know much about the country (even basics like what kind of meat mutton is allude her) and she’s not used to driving along dirt roads. Paula is sometimes a difficult character to warm to. She is pretty idle when she initially arrives at her new home (granted some of this could be chalked up to the culture shock that she experiences) and she is sometimes quite silly (it’s hard to believe that she was burned in a previous relationship only to rush into the arms of another man.)

Dan on the other hand is an easier person to like. He’s a hard-working guy who’s trying to forge out a living and be self-reliant. But he is also hiding some secrets from the past, most importantly the present status/nature of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Katherine. There is also Dan’s meddlesome aunt, Rowena who is always on hand to offer her two cents worth and Paula’s parents are occasionally present to interfere with their daughter’s relationship under the guise of “meaning well.”

A Chance of Stormy Weather glosses over some important elements in the main characters’ romance (as well as their lives before they met one other) and it is ultimately a rather predictable story of a fish out of water. It’s also a book where the characters are not the most endearing or easy to warm to. Stringer has a fine reputation for telling engaging stories about the lives of individuals living in rural Australia and while this book seems to tick some boxes well, there was also room in this vast country expanse for some additional improvements.

***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-a-chance-of-stormy-weather

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: JENN J MCLEOD – THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SEASON

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The Other Side of the Season is a mysterious, Australian novel set near Byron Bay. It’s the fourth book by Australian author, Jenn J McLeod and it’s basically like an onion. As you read the prose it’s like another layer is slowly stripped away to reveal something more and slightly different. The Other Side of the Season is a heart-warming tale that proves that there are often multiple sides to a story and that each perspective is often as valid and as important as the other.

The book begins in the present day with a strong woman named Sidney who is looking to escape her mother’s house in the Blue Mountains. Sidney found herself returning home to live with her Mum after a long-term relationship break-up. This character is named after the artist, Sidney Nolan and she is looking at discovering some information about the past. Sidney is a relatable and rich character who has never been told much about her extended family so she decides to go on a journey with her younger rapscallion brother to get some answers.

The second major thread in this novel has the reader immersed in a quaint town called Dingy Bay in Northern NSW in the late seventies. The main characters in this story are two young brothers, a 17 year old aspiring artist named David and his elder brother Matthew. The pair work on the family’s banana plantation. David is in love with the girl next door and Matthew looks poised to run the family business but one day a tragedy strikes and the decisions the characters make will have long-standing ramifications that shake their simple, rural lives.

McLeod has done a fantastic job of creating very real and interesting characters and revealing many facets of their lives so we know exactly what makes them tick. She also expertly weaves together two very different stories set in opposing periods in time. In the end the reader is offered a very vibrant, detailed and lush tapestry of life, love, family and friendship and a story that is told with a nostalgic view of the past and present. This novel is one that will tug at your heartstrings as it is so emotional. It will also make people stop and cherish life and realise that the choices we make are often more complicated than they initially seem and that you really shouldn’t live your life filled with regrets.

***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-the-other-side-of-the-season

BOOK REVIEW: HARMONY VERNA – DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA

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Daughter of Australia is an epic love story and slice of Australiana. But it’s also amazing to note that the author is not even an Aussie. The novel is actually Harmony Verna’s debut one and she has beautifully captured our land of boundless plains with her gorgeous and evocative prose. Daughter of Australia is ultimately a very easy-to-read book that is engrossing and hard to put down.

The story begins with a sweet little girl being abandoned in the West Australian desert. She is on the verge of death but luckily she is also saved by a passing miner named Ghan. This disabled and big-hearted man takes the child to a doctor and eventually she recovers and goes to live in a local orphanage. But she is so traumatised by this past experience that she becomes a mute.

At the orphanage the little girl named Leonora (after the town where she was found) is cared for by a well-meaning priest. Another orphan child named James also ends up befriending Leonora. James is a boy with a heart of gold because he abhors injustice and cruelty. The pair become firm friends but their relationship does not last because eventually Leonora is adopted by a rich American couple and James goes to live in country Australia with extended members of his Irish family.

The two children grow up having difficult lives in their own unique ways. Leonora is trapped by a brutal aunt and forced into an unhappy marriage with a mean and ambitious mining tycoon. James on the other hand has a life of hard graft on his aunt and uncle’s vast and unforgiving property. The pair are eventually reunited when Leonora’s husband purchases land and mines in rural Australia and James comes looking for work. This reunion will leave readers asking whether the two old friends will be able to rekindle their past affections or will the divide between two classes be a bridge too far?

Daughter of Australia has been likened to Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and it’s easy to see why. This novel is also worthy of comparison to Bryce Courtney’s Jessica. Daughter of Australia is ultimately a rich book that tackles a number of different threads and issues like: race, love, class, jealousy, work, grief and fear. The characters are vivid, engaging and feel like real people. This book is ultimately a delightful Australiana one and journey towards discovery and identity. It’s also one where beautiful language is juxtaposed against the harsh, Australian outback. It’s simply gorgeous!

***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-daughter-of-australia

BOOK REVIEW: LUKE DEVENISH – THE SECRET HEIRESS

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The Secret Heiress is a rich, historic fiction book set in Castlemaine, Australia in 1886 and 1903. The novel is by screenwriter, playwright, author and academic, Luke Devenish. The latter is no stranger to writing about history as his two previous books were set in Ancient Rome. His latest offering is a rather mysterious one set closer to home.

The novel is told in two separate, interwoven parts. Initially we meet Ida, a naïve farm girl who is offered an amazing opportunity to work as a housemaid at the exquisite, Summersby House. Ida accepts the job because it’s a great opportunity for a poor girl who has been told that she’s not very bright. It’s possible that her intelligence was not given its full credit because she is a rather inquisitive young lady nonetheless.

Ida has a rickety start at Summersby. Her mistress, Miss Gregory is found dead on Ida’s first day. But Ida perseveres because she hopes that someone at Summersby will still want to employ her. That somebody proves to be the charming and handsome gentleman, Samuel Hackett and the former fiancé of the late Miss Gregory who wishes for Ida to continue her work at the stately home. Things initially seem okay but then a serious of mysterious events start taking place and these contribute to a rather strange and vivid mystery entangling all of the characters.

The other main thread in this book stars Biddy MacBryde, a young lady with a cheeky disposition who works as a Reverend’s kitchen maid. Her big mouth sees her fired and eventually she is lured to the elusive surrounds of Summersby where she is employed as a friend/companion to one of the residents. She also possesses a natural curiosity for the house’s inhabitants and what she discovers is a rather complicated story entrenched in the past.

Luke Devenish’s prose is well-written but there are moments where it is a bit too detailed and flowery for its own good. The novel is a sprawling and ambitious one that is engaging. But there are some moments where it is a tad too confusing and difficult to understand- namely where the identities of the twin sisters, Margaret and Matilda Gregory are described. The characterisation is rich but the names are too similar and the structure is a little too messy and this can confuse some readers. Thankfully this is all resolved eventually in what is a rather neat and satisfying ending.

The Secret Heiress is a complex book filled with layers of lies and deceit. It’s an interesting story and Devenish should be commended for setting a dark and gothic tale in Australia. There are some minor problems that let this book down but ultimately it is quite a dark and stirring read set in an opulent house and grounds. Nice.

***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-the-secret-heiress

FOOD REVIEW: TRE BICCHIERI BY GAMBERO ROSSO WINE DINNER @ THE RESTAURANT PENDOLINO (21.03.2016)

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The Sydney instalment of the Tre Bicchieri World Tour concluded with a scrumptious dinner at the restaurant Pendolino. The dinner came after a long afternoon of wine tastings and a masterclass lead by Eleonora Guerini, the editor of Gambero Rosso’s comprehensive, Italian Wine guide. It proved the perfect opportunity to eat, drink and be merry and enjoy 12 award-winning, Italian wines.

Italy boasts over 500 different grape varieties and Gambero Rosso’s guide is like the bible because it offers a detailed look at grapes and wines that can seem rather foreign to Australians. The evening started with a glass of Bortolomiol ‘Prior’ Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato Glera 2015. It is a grape grown in the Dolomites where the environment has its own unique microclimate. This provides impeccable growing conditions for Prosecco and it’s a light and fresh drop with a high acidity and hints of apple and almond. The second glass, an Altemasi ‘Riserva Graal’ Brut Trento DOC was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero and had hints of orange blossom.

 

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Pendolino Restaurant has long been a supporter and importer of Italian wines. In recent times they have played host to their own series of masterclasses, which allow people to sample and learn about different wines from overseas. The first course from Pendolino chef, Nino Zoccali’s team was a beetroot salad with burrata, fresh mint, beetroot jelly, crisp breadcrumbs, Pendolino nebbiolo vinegar and King Island Ligurian honey dressing. This entrée saw the creamy, snow white cheese complementing the tart cubes of beetroot and Pendolino’s own special vinegar dressing. This dish also went well with the soft and fruity Zorzettig ‘Myò’ Friuli Colli Orientali DOC Pinot Bianco.

The primi course of traditional handmade ravioli with spinach ricotta, Parmigiano reggiano, gruyere, mozzarella, burnt butter and sage was grand. These large, thin ellipses were positively bursting with flavour. They were full of strong and powerful cheeses and proved an interesting match when paired with the fruity, sparkling wine, Ferghettina Extra Brut Franciacorta DOCG Chardonnay and Pinot Nero blend. This was quite a complex and tropical drink and like Italy’s own answer to champagne. The Le Marchesine ‘Secolo Novo’ Millesimato Franciacorta DOCG Chardonnay offered structure and elegance with its hints of raspberry, violet and wild strawberries.

 

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The main course featured some ten hour, slow-cooked British-bred beef with organic buckwheat ragú,Polegnano style heirloom carrot, parsnip and parsley root puree, burnt grain and organic Nero D’Avola sauce. This dish was absolutely divine- the meat just feel apart when you looked at it and the quinoa grains were tasty after having been caramelised to offer the right mix of crunch and oil. The carrots and puree also offered a certain sweetness to the dish and this went well with the Velenosi ‘Roggio del Filare’ Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC from Central Italy. This had refreshing grapefruit notes and it brimmed with different flavour profiles thanks to its being made up of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese grapes.

 

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The night had been a decadent one filled with rich and bold flavours. It also offered the chance to learn a lot from some representatives from some stellar Italian vineyards and the Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide. It was a fitting way for Gambero Rosso to celebrate some 30 years in the industry while in the company of friends from Sydney.

 

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For more information on Gambero Rosso’s Italian Wine Guide and the Tre Bicchieri world tour please visit:http://www.gamberorosso.it/it/eventi-internazionali

For more information on the restaurant Pendolino please visit: http://pendolino.com.au/

Originally published on 4 April 2016 at the following website: https://theplusones.com/sydney/2016/04/04/pendolino-wine-dinner-gambero-rosso-tre-bicchieri/

Visit The Plus Ones’s homepage for the city of Sydney at: https://theplusones.com/sydney/

THEATRE REVIEW: THE RABBITS @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE WALSH BAY (14.01.2016)

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Photo by: John Green

The Rabbits is an Australian opera adapted from a picture book that is anything but child’s play.

The original story was written by John Marsden, who penned the Tomorrow series, and was illustrated by Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing). It’s an allegorical tale that examines the colonisation of Australia with the titular characters playing the invading British settlers, and a group of native marsupials representing the Aboriginal people and their subsequent plight.

The original book is less than 300 words long but it’s a powerful story. For the live setting this has been expanded with the addition of a new character, a narrator called Bird, performed by the show’s composer – the classically trained soprano and pop singer, Kate Miller-Heidke. Acclaimed playwright Lally Katz provides the libretto and Iain Grandage offers the superb musical arrangements.

The show has already won several Helpmann Awards and in some ways it’s easy to see why, because the story is an emotionally poignant one and a sad reflection on our nation’s history. It depicts the invasion, colonisation and the Stolen Generation, but does end with a glimmer of hope. That said, it is not perfect, and there are some scenes that fall a little flat or feel a little long and drawn out (and the show itself only goes for one hour).

The artists do an excellent job performing the material. The marsupials are played by Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock, Marcus Corowa and David Leha – led ably by Lisa Maza – and prove incredibly charming and emotive. The rabbits (Kanen Breen, Nicholas Jones, Christopher Hillier, Simon Meadowsand Robert Mitchell), on the other hand, are more like pantomime villains and everything is delivered in a flamboyant and over-the-top manner. This actually works in this strange environment where the show is already a hybrid of opera and musical theatre and the soundtrack is a mash-up of pop ballads and experimental and classical styles.

The Rabbits is a dark and ambitious piece that doesn’t pander to the audience. It tells a tragic and uncomfortable chapter in our history and stays true to the essence of the book. This is particularly the case in the rendering of the set and costumes by designer, Gabriela Tylesova. The Rabbits is one nuanced and atmospheric tale that commands the viewer to sit up and listen, without leading them down a rabbit warren.

 

Originally published on 19 January 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/rabbits

Visit The Brag’s homepage at: http://thebrag.com/

DVD REVIEW: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (AUSTRALIAN EDITION) SERIES 7

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Who Do You Think You Are? is such a personal TV series you almost feel like you’re sitting in someone’s lounge room having a cuppa. The Australian edition is modelled on the original one from the U.K. Both shows see prominent personalities retracing aspects of their family tree/history. It’s ultimately a fascinating program and in Australia’s case it can occasionally be a multicultural one.

The program is now in its seventh series and once again you see celebrities playing detectives to the lives of themselves and their ancestors. There are stories about challenges and struggles and these form a rich tapestry illuminating and celebrating identity and culture. It’s also the kind of program that can make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

The first episode of the seventh series stars the actor Geoffrey Rush who is in for a few surprises. He’d previously figured his family were all a bunch of farmers but in reality his German ancestors were part of a long dynasty of musicians. Toni Collette has easily one of the most complicated family histories out of the lot. Her grandma died shortly after giving birth to her mother’s sister, which meant her grandfather would abandon his children. Then there’s her paternal grandfather whose identity remains unknown.

This series is very entertaining and educational. Dawn Fraser learns she had a South American freedom fighter in her family while TV chef Luke Nguyen discovers there are other refugees among his ancestors (and not just his immediate family). Ray Martin gets back to his Aboriginal roots while Peter Rowsthorn (Kath & Kim) learns about the convicts in his family’s past. Greig Pickhaver (HG Nelson) and actor David Wenham can look with pride at their ancestor’s roles in the Australian Defence Force and in the World Wars.

Who Do You Think You Are? is one intimate program that is a fascinating watch and leap through the history books. The stories are universal and relatable as they show how people overcame various trials and tribulations in order to succeed. In all, this is one revealing and incredible observational documentary that holds up a mirror for every day Australians to gaze upon and celebrate in all its glory.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/think-series-7-dvd-review/

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

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