BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

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BOOK REVIEW: THOMAS MULLEN – DARKTOWN

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Darktown is like a rose in the field of police procedurals. It deals with some thorny issues with respect to a vanguard group of African-American cops working in Atlanta in 1948. It’s a period in history where people were still reeling from the Second World War and it was before civil rights existed. This novel is ultimately a complex tale of morality that simultaneously feels like a TV series (especially one dealing with a murder investigation) and a classic story like To Kill A Mockingbird.

Lucius Boggs is the son of a preacher and one of the eight African-American men working in a special police force in Atlanta. He has a partner named Tommy Smith and together they walk and police their own unique beat. They have no squad cars, they do not work out of official police headquarters and they patrol their own native neighbourhood (it’s a different part of town to the one that is inhabited by the affluent white Americans.)

One night Boggs and Smith witness a drunken white man drive into a lamppost and assault his female passenger. These policemen call for help from some white cops. One of the men that turn up proves to be a corrupt and violent racist. The latter lets the perpetrator off the hook without even a slap on the wrist. Boggs and Smith become concerned and angry when they discover what happened that night and when they learn that the drunken criminal was the last person to see a murdered black woman alive.

Thomas Mullen constructs a rich and vivid tale about the ensuing murder investigation. It’s a tangled web where some crooked white cops despise and question the authority of their African-American counterparts. It’s also the scene of racial prejudices, a place where segregation is the norm and where it’s not uncommon for the characters to see race-related hate crimes. Some of these scenes make this book an uncomfortable one to read. But Darktown is also an important story and Mullen should be applauded for tacking this subject matter and for providing such a detailed backdrop for his characters. It’s obvious that this book has been meticulously researched.

Darktown is a gritty and raw murder thriller. It’s a page turner that will engage you and leave you guessing what’s around the next corner. This book is due to be adapted into a TV series starring Jamie Foxx and it should make for powerful viewing. Darktown describes a sad but true chapter in American history and Mullen has tackled some rather complex subject matter with great finesse. This novel is a well-written one that proves there is no black or white with respect to justice, just various shades of grey.

***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/darktown/9905939/

BOOK REVIEW: TIM COSTELLO – FAITH

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As the CEO of the World Vision charity, Tim Costello AO has often had to discuss faith. His latest book also deals with the topic of belief and how it can be used to highlight the things that humanity has in common as well as offering a vehicle for reconciliation and hope. This series of short essays is a mix of philosophy, morality, religion and inspiration as well as observations and quotes that seem more like pure memoir. Faith is not the kind of book you can skim through quickly. It is a disarming read where you need to pause, reflect and discuss the bigger issues with other people.

Costello is a Baptist minister who has had an impressive career in advocacy, social justice, charity and politics. He is the brother of Australia’s former Treasurer, Peter Costello but Tim’s ideology is more unashamedly Christian in focus. This collection of writings is not too dissimilar to Morgan Freeman’s The Story Of God documentary series in that it draws our attention to the things that individuals of different faiths have in common, even if it is little more than a belief in a higher being or power.

It is interesting that this collection is not too sanctimonious or preachy. Costello is honest and forthcoming in his admission that he is occasionally fed up with faith. He also says that he faces ire from the two opposing sides after speaking engagements because the secularists want him to dial down the spiritual elements while religious people think he should do more to emphasise his beliefs. What he does do well is talk about the importance of faith and inclusiveness while framing it through significant contemporary issues like: corruption, war, refugees, global warming and poverty.

In Faith, Tim Costello offers us some interesting food for thought about ideology, faith, human compassion and hope. He describes our first-world problems and the “soul sickness” that is permeating the affluent and manifesting itself in the high incidence of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and high suicide rates. But perhaps the most fundamental message is that instead of comparing up and trying to keep up with the Joneses, Costello tells us we should compare down and count our blessings. It’s an important idea in our blasé modern world and one that should resonate with people irrespective of their beliefs.

Originally published on 9 September 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-faith-by-tim-costello/

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BOOK REVIEW: GARY KEMBLE – BAD BLOOD

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Bad Blood is a dark and tense novel by Australia author, Gary Kemble. This super-charged thriller is the second to star investigative journalist, Harry Hendrick (who many readers would have been introduced to in Kemble’s debut novel, Skin Deep.) Bad Blood is ultimately a disturbing and challenging mix of crime and speculative fiction.

Harry Hendrick is a self-destructive character who is sniffing out his next big story. He begins probing an alleged paedophile ring and he looks into the affairs of a union official to uncover any signs of corruption. Kemble is also asked to investigate a number of bizarre suicides by the police. They are considered strange because the bodies all have identical scars and there are also similar suicide notes at the death scenes that feature some rather strange symbols.

The investigation leads Hendrick to a professional dominatrix by the name of Mistress Hel. But is there more to this seductress than meets the eye? What transpires is a graphic and intense story that has as many layers as an onion. Bad Blood will keep you guessing until the end. Ultimately this is one gothic thriller with some disturbing elements and some scenes that will chill you to the bone.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/bad-blood/10056171/

FILM REVIEW: SERENA

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Serena is an adaptation of a Ron Rash novel that at times is considered even too strange to be fiction. This period drama starts off as a sumptuous, romantic tale set in North Carolina during the Depression. It is a slow burn to begin with but in the final act it turns into a bizarre melodrama where a suspension of disbelief is not just recommended but essential.

The film is directed by Susanne Bier and sees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) working together again. The former plays George Pemberton, an ambitious entrepreneur who is building his own logging empire. The latter plays the eponymous lead character, a spirited and independent woman who was never going to sit on her laurels, much less sip tea in society or do needlework.

The two characters have a whirlwind romance and the actors also share a noticeable chemistry. Upon meeting, Pemberton says, “I think we should be married” and in the next scene they are. When Pemberton brings Serena to his home and introduces her to the business (where he also declares that she is equal to any man there) this upsets his business partner, Buchanan (David Dencik) who appears to harbour feelings for the boss. Tragedy then strikes but the various subplots involving a corrupt sheriff (Toby Jones), a business manager (Sean Harris), a crazed logger (Rhys Ifans) and the mother of an illegitimate child (Ana Ularu) feel very forced and convoluted.

There is no denying that Serena is a pretty picture. There are lots of sweeping shots of misty mountaintops and forests and the costumes boast the flash and pomp of the era. But this style cannot redeem a film that began as a realistic-enough period drama from descending into full-blown madness or a preposterous melodrama of epic proportions.

The themes in Serena are interesting- from betrayal to obsession and jealousy via greed, many human follies are examined. But despite some great power plays plus corruption, lies and tragedies involving love and loyalty, this film simply isn’t as good as it should have been.

In all, this disturbing tale seems to skip over some aspects of the plot while granting too much time to other elements. The result is something that at its worst is banal and strange and at its best is just plain ordinary. This movie may have boasted some fine produce for ingredients but something got spoiled in the cooking.

 

Originally published on 28 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/28/film-review-serena-usa-france-czech-republic-2014/

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