BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

When we think of an “Australian story” the ones that typically spring to mind are predominantly about the country, bush or the past. So what is a reader to do when they want something that reflects their own modern life in the Western suburbs of Sydney? Thankfully, Peter Polites has answered this in his debut novel, Down The Hume, one that seems like a likely successor to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.

Polites is the associate director of SWEATSHOP, a literary movement based in Western Sydney which is devoted to empowering marginalised communities. Polites was also a co-writer of the Sydney Festival show, Home Country, an epic story about culture and identity that was performed in a Blacktown carpark. When we consider Polites’ previous work it is unsurprising that he also brings his experiences as a young, homosexual man of Greek descent to his debut novel. The book’s main character Bux also has these same character traits, but Bux also loves a violent, abusive drug-enabler and gym-obsessed man named Nice Arms Pete.

Down The Hume is a little like a car speeding at full force along our nation’s famous highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The book is a complex one that negotiates important topics like machismo, hedonism and a deep sense of existential yearning. The text itself is also quite raw and confrontational. The story is told in the first person and you very much get the sense that you are along in the passenger seat for the ride with Bux, come what may.

We follow Bux through addiction to prescription medication, as well as some tender moments where he bonds with his mother (another person who had a “vanishing” and abusive man in her life) and a friendship with an elderly gentleman who he cares for at his nursing home job. Bux is a paranoid and jealous lover who takes to stalking his boyfriend Pete, whom he suspects of cheating.

Each of the chapters of the book are named after places in Sydney and sometimes these moments read like little vignettes or discrete episodes; Bux grapples with the implications and ideas of culture and identity as a man of Greek descent wearing an outfit typically worn by Middle Eastern men. In another moment he has to reconcile his position as a homosexual man with the weight of familial expectations on his head (in one flashback his family had assumed that he’d want to settle down with a nice girl and have a family.)

Down The Hume is a dark noir story. It uses sharp, street-wise language to create a multifaceted tale that reads like urban poetry. Peter Polites is ultimately a refreshing new voice in contemporary literature and his dynamic prose proves that there is so much more to Australian stories than the expected bush gangs, convicts and farms of yore.

Originally published on 13 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-peter-polites-down-the-hume-shakes-our-expectations-about-australian-stories/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: MEREDITH JAFFÉ- THE FENCE

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The characters in Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel The Fence may live in the pleasant-sounding, Green Valley, but the neighbourhood is far from idyllic. It’s actually the setting for two feuding next door neighbours. At times some parts of this story would not be out of place on A Current Affair or Today Tonight with the title, “Shocking neighbours.” This novel ultimately shares a few things in common with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap in that it is a well-written family drama set in suburban Australia.

Jaffé is a writer and former book critic for The Hoopla. When you consider these experiences and her writing in The Fence, it is obvious that Jaffé knows how to tell a good story. This novel starts off a little slowly and it does contain some unlikeable characters but it does hit its stride as the tension mounts between the two households.

Gwen Hill is an elderly lady who has lived in the same street in Green Valley for decades. She and her husband were the first residents in this cul-de-sac and it is here that she raised her children and made a life for her family. Hill also created an immaculate garden that she is immensely proud of and she also forged a close relationship with her next door neighbour, Babs.

Michael is Babs’s son and after both of his parents pass away he and his wife decide to sell the family home. Gwen is shocked and she takes an immediate disliking to her new, young neighbours. At first it is hard to warm to Gwen and her stubborn and opinionated ways.

The neighbours are the Boyd-Desmarchelliers family. Francesca Desmarchelliers is the mother of four rowdy young children and the family bread-winner in a highflying, corporate role. Her husband, Brandon Boyd stays at home and looks after the children and the house. It is immediately obvious that Gwen and Francesca are quite different in terms of their opinions but they also share a determined doggedness. When Desmarchelliers decides to build a large fence for privacy and to keep her children and the family pets safe, this sets off a series of chain reactions that soon escalate out of control.

The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between Gwen and Francesca’s perspectives in monthly increments. As a result of this the reader becomes absorbed in this tale of two women and will often find themselves choosing an allegiance with one of these neighbours. For some it will be a case of oscillating between both sides while others may be left sitting on the fence.

Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel is a clever and witty one where she captures what could have been quite a dark and territorial part of Australian society but injects this with a lightness and humour. The story seems quite simple but it’s actually quite a complex social comedy and layered family drama. This is one very promising debut that shows that even the simple idea of a home among the gum trees with a husband, kids and a white picket fence can actually be more than what it seems.

***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-fence

BOOK REVIEW: ANTHEA HODGSON – THE DRIFTER

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If Anthea Hodgson’s debut novel were a song it would be John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The story is a rural romance set in Western Australia and it’s about two free-spirited individuals and a wise old aunt. The two former characters could be classed as “drifters” and they are thrown together and forced to confront their demons and re-evaluate life.

 

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website:

website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201609/202013

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FILM REVIEW: SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR

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It’s frightening to think that the events that are depicted in the documentary film, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four happened at all, never mind as recently as in the 1990s. The film is a damning look at the trial and convictions of the San Antonio Four, a group of low-income homosexual Latina women who were accused of gang rape. The story is ultimately an important one about homophobia, prejudice and a miscarriage of justice.

In 1994 a pregnant Elizabeth Ramirez cared for her two nieces for one week at her apartment. The girls were Stephanie and Vanessa Limon and they were aged just seven and nine years old. The pair were looked after by their aunt and their aunt’s friends: Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera. Vasquez and Rivera were in a committed relationship and had been parenting the latter’s two children for some time.

The two Limon girls made allegations of rape against the four adult women. It was a rough time in America where homophobia was rife and the public were fascinated by stories of satanic worship, witchcraft and abuse. In some cases allegations of abuse were made against homosexuals and this film has some brief scenes about two other individuals who were charged with abuse around this same time and seems to indicate that they were charged for a large part because of their sexual orientation. After the bizarre trial of the San Antonio Four, Ramirez was sentenced to an eye-watering 37.5 years for multiple convictions while her friends received 15 years in prison for sexual assault and 10 years for indecency.

This film is a little like the Making A Murderer series in that it attempts to look at the lives of these four women before the alleged crime as well as the case and sentencing. The Netflix series is by far a more comprehensive and better organised one, but it is important to note that the 90 minutes here constitute the debut feature documentary by director and broadcaster, Deborah Esquenazi.What Southwest of Salem does do well is focusing on the heart-wrenching ramifications of the events (as two of the women were separated from their biological children and all of them from their families) and it allows the group to tell their story and maintain their innocence through candid interviews. In spite of being informative and providing some background, it does leave some questions unanswered.

The women were subsequently released (Vasquez in 2012 and the remaining three in 2013) after over a decade in prison. They were released after one of the alleged victims, Stephanie Martinez (née Limon) recanted her testimony. There was also new evidence from one of the expert witnesses Dr. Nancy Kellogg who admitted that advances in medical science had rendered her previous statements as false. The women were free but their rights are still curtailed and they are seeking exoneration. Their case is currently in the hands of the Texas Court of Appeals.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four is a powerful documentary about a system that failed a marginalised group of four women. It’s a story that is demanding of your attention, particularly as it seemed to have alluded much of the media’s attention for some time. This film is ultimately a very emotional and visceral one where you will be angry about the past but hopeful about the future…

Originally published on 14 September 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/queer-screen-film-festival-review-southwest-of-salem-the-story-of-the-san-antonio-four-usa-2016/

Visit The Iris’ homepage at: http://iris.theaureview.com/

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BOOK REVIEW: HELEN THURLOE – PROMISING AZRA

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Promising Azra is a book about torn loyalties told from the perspective of an amazing 16 year old girl. The story’s eponymous protagonist is an intelligent, ambitious and determined young woman who wants an education while her family feel indebted to her uncle and decide to adhere to an old cultural practice of arranged (and forced) marriage. This book is an important one that highlights an issue that most people would have thought was dormant but is in fact affecting many young people today.

This novel is the debut one from the award-winning writer, Helen Thurloe. The story is fictional but it is based on real-life events. It is obvious that Thurloe has completed lots of research for this because the whole thing feels quite “real” and raw in parts. It will also leave you empathising with the main character.

Azra has a few things in common with Josie Alibrandi in Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi. Both girls are studying at high-school. The two girls are also searching for their identity in contemporary Australia while also negotiating the influence of their heritage and culture and its impact on their teenage lives. In Josephine’s case the stakes weren’t very high but Azra’s is a different story. The latter is faced with a forced marriage at the humble age of 17. If Azra agrees to this arrangement then she will not realise her academic dreams and the marriage will be one that makes her family happy. But if she refuses then she can receive an education but the cost will mean that she is cut off from the people that she loves.

Promising Azra could have been a very intense and dry book. But Thurloe has done a fantastic job of telling a good story in an engaging way. She has also dealt with some tough issues in a sensitive and direct manner. Azra is an excellent character that you will instantly warm to and her conflict and struggle is utterly engrossing. This book is essential reading for anyone that wants to know about familial traditions and obligations and the hard choices that some of us are forced to make. In short, it can be quite heart-wrenching stuff.

***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-promising-azra

BOOK REVIEW: KELLY DOUST – PRECIOUS THINGS

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Oh you pretty things… Kelly Doust’s debut novel is a celebration of all things precious. It’s a rich, historic fiction book that intricately threads together the stories of the owners of a beaded coronet. This fashion piece is like a cat with nine lives because over the course of the book we learn that it has lived in different countries and continents and has enjoyed being reinvented as a choker, headband, collar and artwork.

Doust has previously written five non-fiction books about craft and fashion. For Precious Things the author tapped into her love of vintage clothing by offering a vibrant account of the different people that wore the collar and their own individual stories. This begins with a woman that is about to get married to a man she barely knows in Normandy and then to death-defying acts with a trapeze artist at a circus. There are dancers in Shanghai and an artist’s muse and model in Italy and eventually it was used by a different model during a now-famous magazine shoot. The main thing is the piece belonged to some very strong, independent and important women through time.

The flashbacks are evocative and lush but there are also a lot of different stories and these could have been fleshed out a little more or at least visited more than once (in some instances). It is often the case that the reader may find themselves getting into the groove of a particular voice or character only to be drawn into a new life of the collar or into the present day. The current owner of the collar is Maggie, an auctioneer working in London and juggling the busy demands of family, a career and being a loving wife and mother. Her character is the one that features the most prominently through the book.

Kelly Doust should be applauded for coming up with such a creative idea and for crafting such an ambitious novel that threads together so many different elements. In addition to all of this, Doust has also managed to capture one important common thread and that is the insatiability of the human spirit and how love and family should prevail and be considered more important than our wants and desires. This novel is for anyone who has ever looked at something and thought, “If only it could talk” because it offers a very vivid, romantic and imaginative tale that celebrates life, love and lust through the ages.

***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: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27429391-precious-things

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: CATH FERLA – GHOST GIRLS

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Cath Ferla has taken the road less travelled in her debut novel, Ghost Girls. The book is set in contemporary Chinatown in Sydney and holds nothing back in its depiction of foreign students caught up in illegal prostitution and sex work as well as visa fraud. This novel feels quite real and is a promising mystery/crime book that contains a very interesting star in protagonist, Sophie Sandilands.

The author of Ghost Girls has worked professionally as a writer for 15 years in a variety of different platforms. Ferla has also contributed to TV Series like Sea Patrol and Special Rescue Ops. She is also a qualified teacher and is interested in Chinese culture. Ghost Girls draws upon some of her knowledge and experience while also being utterly believable.

The novel begins with ESL teacher, Sophie Sandilands returning to Sydney from China in order to escape the ghosts of her past. One of Sandilands’s students will commit suicide by jumping off a tall building. This is sad enough in and of itself but the language school soon learn that the student was an imposter. This discovery leads Sophie on a wild investigation into Sydney’s very own underbelly.

In Ghost Girls Ferla’s prose is efficient and descriptive but not too flowery. The ways she describes food is a particular highlight because it is so evocative you can almost imagine sitting down and sharing a dish or two with her. There are some moments however, when some further explanation would have benefited the narrative, especially when the reader is trying to understand Sophie’s motivations and why she is so tenacious in solving the mystery. The book does answer many of the questions raised, but some elements are not resolved as neatly as they could have been.

Ghost Girls is a compelling mystery book that lifts the curtain on a dark side of Sydney that is not often discussed. Ferla’s book is vivid at conjuring up these raw and dark elements and readers will no doubt want to hear more about the strong lead character, Sophie Sandilands. In all, this book may not be perfect but it does offer a fresh and fast-paced tale that should challenge the reader to think twice about what things may be happening under their own eyes and in their very own backyards.

 

***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/ghost-girls/9599495/

LIVE REVIEW: ALBERT HAMMOND JR. & GUNNS @ OXFORD ART FACTORY, SYDNEY (19.02.2016)

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Albert Hammond, Jr. arrived for his debut solo headline tour in Australia, despite it being a decade since his first record was released. The Strokes guitarist had a fair swag of material to draw on – with three albums and an EP to boot – and his band played a tight set to a largely lethargic crowd, with a sound eerily reminiscent of the group that made him famous.

The support slot was filled by young Fremantle quartet Gunns, who sound like they should be wearing paisley shirts and mop tops. The group performed a series of pretty, psychedelia-tinged tunes with an added rock punch. ‘Death Of The Sun’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Be Your Dog’ from their new EP were aired during a promising set, in addition to ‘Live By The Sea’.

Albert Hammond, Jr.’s set gave his Australian fans the chance to see the guitarist step out of The Strokes’ shadow and play frontman. The songs sound a lot like The Strokes, and Hammond has a nice voice, but he is no Julian Casablancas. Some of the songs had a great idea, tone or riff, but there were other moments where the tracks sounded far too repetitive and familiar.

‘Everyone Gets A Star’ was a fun and exuberant way to start and ‘Rude Customer’ was a slice of dance-worthy rock that could have been a Franz Ferdinand cut. Hammond’s newer material certainly has a more mature and wistful air, and that was particularly evident in ‘Losing Touch’ and ‘Side Boob’. They were performed well, but the crowd was rather sedate, which could have been chalked up to the evening’s stifling heat or because some punters wanted Strokes songs (there were none).

The set was instead filled with upbeat tunes from his AHJ EP as well as some material from his debut album. ‘Blue Skies’ proved a nice diversion from the more energetic pacing elsewhere, a slower and stripped-back piece of balladry, before the night closed with ‘Holiday’. It had been a show that often hinted at a retro sentiment packaged up in a jaunty, contemporary feeling, and while it had been fun to party with Hammond, some punters were left hungry for a Strokes show.

Originally published on 22 February 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/albert-hammond-jr-oxford-art-factory

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

DVD REVIEW: THE HECKLER

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The Heckler is an Australian film that is not just a comedy but one that’s also about the genre, or stand-up in particular. It’s a body swap film that is a bit like Freaky Friday meets Ghost. It’s a low-budget satire that fills some rather large shoes by managing to stand-out from most other comedy films produced in our fair land.

The film marks the debut feature from The Comedy Cartel, or the same team that produced the Tropfest entry, The Unusual Suspects. It stars Simon Mallory as Steve Austin, the six million dollar man or one narcissistic, fame-hungry comedian. One day Austin is asked by an audience member named Mike (a fabulous, C.J. Fortuna) for some advice about how to break into the business. But Steve is too self-absorbed and proves really unhelpful.

An unfortunate incident occurs whereby Mike (who had turned into a heckler of Austin’s) dies and winds up in Austin’s body. Mike then sets about destroying Steve’s life by giving terrible performances as Steve as well as spending all of the comedian’s money and ruining his relationship with his ex-wife (Emily Taheny) and new girlfriend Bree (Kate Jenkinson (Offspring)). Unfortunately, all Steve can do is sit back and watch and hope that the damage isn’t irreparable.

The film features cameos by Tony Martin and Jeff Green. It’s also shot around Melbourne ad includes a scene filmed at the Palais Theatre. It’s not a bad little movie film full of madcap adventures and it’s quite pleasant to watch. The two main criticisms are that the jokes do get rather repetitive after a while and sometimes it is hard to imagine Mallory as a comedian (especially as Fortuna is the better comedic actor of the two).

The special features are good and include an audio commentary and the short film, Fists of Fury. The latter was made by the same group as they came together for pre-production. It’s fun, if a little raw. But the biggest highlight of the features is the C.J. Fortuna series, Comedians in Bars Drinking Beer, which is modelled on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee. There are just two episodes offered on this DVD release with Dave Hughes and Hung Le being the two subjects. But from the rushes we can see that Fortuna has interviewed other comedians so let’s hope these eventually see the light of day.

The Heckler is an adventure-driven film that is rather unique. This comedy about funny men is a pretty clever offering that manages to be both warm and bizarre. In short, this is one promising feature debut from The Comedy Cartel.

Originally published on 7 February 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/heckler-dvd-review/

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