A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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Loving is a film that shares a few things in common with A United Kingdom. They are both based on true stories and at the centre of each film you have a married, interracial couple who just want to live together as husband wife and leave the politics out of the bedroom. Loving is a beautifully-shot and subtle drama about one inspiring romance.

The film is named after the real-life couple, Mildred and Richard Loving. Ruth Negga is really sensitive and expressive in her Oscar-nominated performance as Mildred and she shares a noticeable chemistry with our very own Joel Edgerton who plays Richard. These two actors should be commended for their respectful and convincing performances.

The Lovings were married in Washington in 1958. They married here because they feared they would encounter problems by getting married in their home-state of Virginia. The latter state still had a draconian law that was a relic from a bygone period (where slavery was the norm) that banned mixed-race couples from marrying. The couple were dobbed in to the authorities and eventually arrested.

Mildred and Richard Loving were released without having to serve prison terms because they agreed to leave their home-state and extended families in order to live elsewhere. The pair initially agreed to this proposal and lived in Washington. But they eventually returned to Virginia because they were homesick and they just wanted to live a quiet life and not bother anyone.

The couple that were the inspiration behind this film were also rather reluctant civil rights activists and stars. Richard Loving was a man of few words. Joel Edgerton dons a blonde buzz-cut and portrays him as a quiet and devoted construction worker who has a keen interest in drag-racing. When asked what he wants his lawyers to say in court in the couple’s defence he simply responds, “Tell the judge I love my wife.”

The Lovings were also rather reserved and dignified throughout the entire ordeal. Mildred would write to the then Attorney General, Robert Kennedy seeking an intervention and eventually the American Civil Liberties Union took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Director and writer Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) script does not take cheap shots and nor does it play up the melodrama, the courtroom tactics or other histrionics involved in this case. Instead, Nichols leaves the audience to witness the quiet moments of tender domesticity between these two lovebirds as their love grows and they build a house, family and life together while also tackling the U.S. bureaucracy.

Loving is not a film that is filled with beat-up drama or other unnecessary bells and whistles, instead it is quiet meditation on true love, courage and commitment. This story about racism and politics remains an important one today as the government continues to try and wield power over who can marry (to think that Australia still does not have gay marriage is utterly deplorable). Loving is ultimately a subtle and nuanced domestic drama that is a study in the true power of love.

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website:

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The chapter in India’s history when it was subject to colonial rule has been shown on our screens before. It was the theme in The Jewel in the Crown television series and there have been countless films and things about Mahatma Ghandi. Indian Summers is a TV series that covers this well-trodden path. It may not be the most original rendering of this story but it is one pleasant, beautiful and nostalgic drama.

The second series begins some three years after the first one left off. Some things have changed with respect to the characters in this time. The most noteworthy is that civil servant, Aafrin Dalal (the gorgeous, Nikesh Patel) has become a rebel and is promoting terrorism. The private secretary, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is married and has designs on the viceroy’s role. Whelan’s sister, Alice (Jemima West) is shackled by an unhappy marriage to one angry and careless man named Charlie (Blake Ritson) while her heart is somewhere else.

This series deals with a number of different storylines and threads including matters of the heart and the state. Club owner, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) is as manipulative as ever while Sooni (Aysha Kala) is the most inspiring. The plots also throws up a number of different moral dilemmas. Over the course of ten episodes there are a few deaths, one marriage and some reunions. The series is supported by a great cast who capture the full gamut of different emotions. Indian Summers also succeeds at chronicling an important chapter in India’s history and maintaining a certain pace while keeping the tensions high.

The setting is absolutely stunning. The story and series is set in Simla in the foothills of the Himalayas but Indian Summers itself is shot in Penang in Malaysia. We can forgive this artistic licence when we consider how much care and detail has been applied to the creation of props and the wonderful costumes. All of these things add up to make a sumptuous period drama that is like pure eye candy. The special features include an adequate making of featurette that reveals some good insights into how this show was made, but there was also room for more information.

Indian Summers is a colourful drama that is brimming with some spice and so many different threads that at times it feels like a tapestry. This is not the most crucial series you’ll ever watch but it does cover a significant part of India’s history as it seeks independence from the British rule. This serial is an interesting look at the politics and the personal proclivities of the locals and individuals living abroad as they face all manner of different challenges that life throws at them. In short this is a sprawling story told in a way that is as pleasant as a stroll through the English countryside.

Originally published on 24 October 2016 at the following website:

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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.




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.




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.




Sweet Addition is open daily and runs until April 2017. For more information and tickets please visit:




Originally published on 17 June 2016 at the following website:

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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:




Quinn, the Rottweiler- A Story of a Dog Dealing with Cancer is a charming little book about a beautiful canine. The story is told from Quinn the dog’s perspective and is a nice, feel-good tale in parts (at least when you consider Quinn enjoying his new and happy life with Maryly Turner and her pets). Quinn was originally named Chong and was forced to live outside or in a shed and was regularly chained up. But once he was adopted by Turner (after his previous owner could no longer care for him) his life took a turn for the better.

The story of Quinn leapt off the page. You could imagine this dog with a big smile on his face and wagging his tail as he enjoyed meeting new people and animals and sleeping on a warm bed, eating treats and going for rides in the car. It is sad that Maryly – who was recovering from cancer treatment at the time – would discover a lump on Quinn’s foot that would prove cancerous. We follow Quinn’s treatment as he has painful surgery and chemotherapy and we can feel real empathy for what he endures.

This book is ultimately a warm and big-hearted story that should help us understand our pets that little bit more. It’s a great tale that shows the power of family and family and their ability to help and support others, through the good times and the bad. Quinn is an inspirational character that at times reminded me of Oddball and he is one that readers will come to fall in love with.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit:


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Terrence Malick’s seventh film, Knight of Cups is a completely forgettable piece of hoity-toity arthouse shlock masquerading as a kind of intellectual narrative. The story gets its name from the tarot card that depicts a romantic adventurer guided by his emotions. And that’s really all it is. For a long two hours.

Christian Bale stars as Rick, a Hollywood screenwriter who is difficult to like. He is dissatisfied with life (don’t we all experience this at times but it doesn’t mean we need to watch hours of it) and plays things out through encounters with different women. The film is divided into separate chapters that are shown as almost separate vignettes and this only serves to keep the audience at arm’s length. It’s really hard to empathise with such a disagreeable lead character and his lovely ladies when you are barely scratching the surface.

The film itself looks beautiful with the cinematography by multiple Academy Award winner, Emmanuel Lubezki. But its use of monologues delivered in hushed tones and lots of voiceover narration that doesn’t add any kind of cohesive sense to the proceedings means the film doesn’t feel atmospheric and ethereal as the director intended it, it just feels tedious and over-bearing. The soundtrack by Hanan Townshend is almost exclusively orchestral music and this adds a flowery element to the story. But the film is ultimately too experimental for its own good because one man’s navel-gazing and prolonged existential crisis does not a good film make.

The Knight of Cups does have some famous stars making cameos. Cate Blanchett plays Rick’s ex-wife while Isabel Lucas is supposed to be an innocent but she just wanders around looking gorgeous. Natalie Portman plays a woman who has been wronged by Rick in the past. But these stories could have been expanded on. The film is really just aimless and vapid with lots of scenes of a picturesque L.A. set in mansions, beaches, resorts and clubs that look fine but it doesn’t have anything of note to say. This film is full of fragments that hint at drama but amount to little more than naught. The special features are also quite disappointing because they simply include a short and unenlightening behind-the-scenes featurette.

In all, Knight of Cups is an ambitious film about one man’s philosophising amidst his own personal crisis. It could have been an insightful and interesting tale but it is instead filled with hollow montages and monologue that fail to truly capture his internal struggle. In sum, this is one tedious experimental film that would have benefited from a bit more direction and form being added to the brief.

Originally published on 9 April 2016 at the following website:

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. Jane Austen summed things up well for the menfolk but the question remains, “What is to become of a single, middle class woman living in New York in the roaring twenties?” The answer to that can be found in the third novel by Australian author, Natasha Lester where she writes about a strong and inspiring heroine who took the road less travelled.

Evie Lockhart is the star of A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, a historic romance novel set in the same era as The Great Gatsby. It’s a fictional drama that feels honest and authentic thanks to a series of complex and well-sketched out characters (and in some respects, Lockhart reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet). Evie is a lady who is determined to break down a few social barriers and prejudices so she can realise her dream of becoming New York’s first female obstetrician. The fact that she also supports herself by dancing as part of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway is remarkable.

The story is one you can easily imagine as a film. The writing is evocative and draws together a heady mix of speakeasy bars, gin and jazz. The costumes also sound beautiful and in one case even include a gorgeous little Chanel number. But A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald is more than just a pretty face, it also manages to have both style and substance.

There are a number of interesting threads to this story. At the outset it seems that the conservative Lockhart will be forced into a life of tea, sewing and looking after her wealthy husband. But the fact she eschews this cosy life of luxury for some hard toil in order to fulfil her own aspirations is just fabulous. The twists and turns in the plot also keep things exciting and you will be rooting for Lockhart every step of the way. She is an amazing heroine who was well ahead of her time.

A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald is a well-researched and exquisitely-written piece of historic fiction. The story is an inspiring and relatable one that will make you stop and appreciate that you’re living in the 21st century. In all, this is an intelligent and sensitive tale that is strong enough in depth, character and feeling to be considered a classic love story.

***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:




James Dean was one interesting character and legend. But the biopic, Life doesn’t always manage to convey this. The film focusses on a brief interlude in the famous actor’s life and while it’s beautifully shot and feels authentic thanks to a fabulous jazz soundtrack and great costumes, there are other parts where it all feels a tad hollow.

Life is directed by photographer, Anton Corbijn. He is best known for having shot Joy Division, U2 and Depeche Mode and for making the outstanding biopic Control about Joy Division’s tragic front man, Ian Curtis. It is pretty obvious that Corbin enjoys looking at the relationship between photographers and their subjects and that he is influenced by some of the iconic James Dean snaps that are portrayed here. But an appreciation for some excellent stills does not make a great film.

The script is written by Luke Davies, who wrote Candy. It focuses on the meeting between an ambitious, freelance photographer named Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson (Twilight) in his best and most mature performance to date) and a young, evasive and elusive star named James Dean (Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spiderman 2)). The pair each wrestle with their own unique set of issues- Stock has an estranged wife and young son that he hasn’t seen in ages, while Dean is a reluctant star who is grappling with doing things for art’s sake or for monetary gains.

Dean would eventually make three classic films East of Eden, Giant and Rebel Without A Cause. He would forever be immortalised as a movie teenager because his life was tragically cut short by a car crash when he was just 24. The images and movies are the only things that survive and keep his legacy alive. These also add to the mythology and the enigma and while “Life also attempts to add to all of this, it’s too slow to really cut through. It also takes liberties with the truth and fails to address some important issues (like Dean’s sexuality).

Life is a pretty, drama film about the time a photographer met an actor and created a phenomenon. It’s pleasant enough but the story is far too brief and inconsequential to sustain such a long movie. Life attempts to capture the complex and enigmatic spirit of the inimitable James Dean but one can’t help but think that his true essence was left on film that is yet to be developed.


Originally published on 13 February 2016 at the following website:

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Oh you pretty things. As Hyde Park’s Sydney Festival Village heaved with people paying their last respects to the one and only David Bowie, a little band from New Zealand played a nice venue called the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. They were The Chills and they played a set that was brimming with beautiful, indie pop music.

This little group that could have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years. For some time this was the primary vehicle for the final remaining, founding member and songwriter, Martin Phillipps. Their recent album, Silver Bullets has seen a return to form, with the current line-up having played together for approximately a decade and also managing to capture some of that magic, Dunedin sound that fans of the Flying Nun record label talk about with much admiration and respect.

This evening was as much about celebrating the strong new comeback album as it was about celebrating the old songs. There were some punters that would have been hearing all of these tracks live for the very first time. This is not a band that has toured Australia often which is a shame, as they put on a rather sweet show to say the least.

The set started with the lush “Night of Chill Blue”. It was one pretty and sublime song that set the tone for the remainder of the evening. Phillipps’ creations straddle the lines between shimmering love songs that echo with a bittersweet quality as well as having their fair share of moments where they delve into the deep and meaningful world of social issues and politics. It’s a heady mix that can see Phillipps declaring his ability to fall in love one moment in a song like “Wet Blanket”, and then take pot shots at the U.S. later on in “America Says Hello”.

The group were a tight one where the complex and jangly guitar riffs worked together with the keys and the violin played by Erica Scally. The latter created a very atmospheric tone, full of different textures and techniques. New songs “Aurora Corona”, “I Can’t Help You” and “Warm Waveform” were all well received and fitted well alongside older favourites like “House With A Hundred Rooms”. The music was very vibrant and youthful and could have been played by artists several decades younger than the front man. It also meant the tunes wouldn’t be out-of-place on a playlist alongside the likes of R.E.M., The Church or even Cloud Control.

The Chills played some great kaleidoscopes of swirling pop at Sydney Festival and more than one of their self-proclaimed ‘heavenly pop hits’. The set was a fitting batch of songs for a warm, summer night and while the group have never reached the upper echelons or levels of the Thin White Duke being celebrated nearby, they’d certainly found their niche and entertained one happy, sold-out Sydney crowd. The Chills finished up with “Rolling Moon” and left people feeling joyful and basking in their opulent pop tunes. It was just gorgeous.

Originally published on 18 January 2016 at the following website:

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