David Stratton is the doyen of Australian cinema. He is a respected film critic who has watched in excess of 25,000 films, peed on Fellini and entertained Australians for decades through his movie reviews with sparring partner Margaret Pomeranz. David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is a documentary about his life and brilliant career and is not unlike the Roger Ebert documentary, Life Itself in that they’re both personal and engaging looks at two influential men with an infectious passion for the silver screen.

This documentary is directed by Sally Aitken (Getting Frank Gehry, Streets of Your Town) and is a companion piece to a longer mini-series about Australian cinema, which will air on television later this year. Perhaps as a result of this, A Cinematic Life proves to be an ambitious undertaking, as it attempts to tell a number of different stories. It’s about Australia’s best known film critic as well as a brief history of Australian cinema and both of these stories are enough to fill several films or books.

A Cinematic Life focuses on some key facets of Stratton’s history and personality. There was his childhood spent in Britain where he wrote his first review as a boy (he has these and the ones he penned for Variety and The Australian on file in a card system that is reminiscent of libraries prior to the advent of computers.) He cultivated a love for cinema and immigrated to Australia in 1963. Stratton is candid in talking about his estrangement from his father and the feeling that he was the black sheep in his family (he likens this feeling to Muriel Heslop’s character in Muriel’s Wedding). Stratton’s brother, Roger appears here and says he’d die happy if he never watched another film and their father was furious when David failed to return to England to help head the grocery business, which had been in the family for generations.

When Stratton arrived in Australia in the sixties the local film industry was virtually non-existent but people like Stratton helped to build it up. He served as the director of the Sydney Film Festival for 17 years, championed local films and was vocal in his opposition against draconian film censorship rules. This outspokenness did not go unnoticed; during the Cold War, Stratton was under surveillance by ASIO when all he was doing was obtaining visas to attend the Moscow International Film Festival.

This documentary weaves together scenes from important Australian films (from the 1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang to recent hit, The Dressmaker and many in between) and it also has Stratton visit some important settings like Hanging Rock and the site of the house from The Castle. A veritable who’s who of Australian entertainment are interviewed, including actors: Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Eric Bana, Sam Neill, Judy Davis, Jacki Weaver, Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving as well as directors: Gillian Armstrong, George Miller, Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford, among others.

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life can be a little disjointed as it crams in as much as possible into its 110 minute runtime. But it remains a personal and fascinating documentary and a celebration of both Stratton’s legacy and Australian cinema as a whole. For people like David, cinema isn’t just celluloid it’s a way of life and it’s something that should be part of your day-to-day (Stratton tries to see at least one film every day.) A Cinematic Life is quite simply a love letter to our home-grown talent and one that will make you want to sit down and watch all of the films included here plus so many more. And with Stratton as the narrator and guide, we know that we are in for one hell of a time at the movies.

Originally published on 3 March 2017 at the following website:

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It’s interesting that in her debut novel specifically written for adults, award-winning Young Adult author Gayle Forman has picked such a mature and relatable topic. Leave Me is the story of an over-stressed, over-worked and under-appreciated mother of four-year-old twins who is forced to stop and re-evaluate her life. It’s a book that is easy-to-read and is likely to strike a chord with audiences who can see a little something of themselves in the main protagonist, even if they don’t always agree with her actions.

Maribeth Klein is a woman in her mid-40s. She is stuck in the rat race and continues going about her hectic schedule while ignoring the pains in her chest. This eventually develops into a full-blown heart attack and Klein subsequently requires emergency bypass surgery. Her mother flies in to join the family and assist with her recuperation. But instead of concentrating on her respite at home, Klein decides to pack her bags and run away/abandon her family.

This story is a very engaging one, particularly at the beginning where it is easy to relate to Klein’s role as a busy Mum working at a glossy magazine. She is a brave woman but she’s not always the most likeable or logical character. There will be some readers who will fail to understand how she could just get up and leave. Klein does embark on a journey of discovery of sorts thanks to spending time with her new young neighbours and having a flirtatious relationship with an older cardiologist. These supporting characters could have been a little more developed.

Leave Me is an interesting book about love, success, failure, dislocation, regret, fear and redemption. There is a little something we can all take away from this book, even if we don’t always agree with things or if we’re left a little dissatisfied with the questions left unanswered at the end. In all, this is one swift read that readers can connect with because at the end of the day this story is simply just a sign of the times.

***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:




It Ends With Us is a title that hints at a certain sense of finality or ending. But in reality this novel is only the beginning. This bold book from New York Times bestseller, Colleen Hoover is an important one that slowly reveals itself to be a rather hard lesson in love, told by an excellent storyteller with a deft hand and a sensitive heart.

The cover of this book reminds me of Charlotte Woods’s The Natural Way Of Things. Both books are works of fiction but they are also so raw and honest that they often feel as though they could be real stories. They also deal with some difficult subjects that are hard to discuss or raise, so hopefully this gets readers talking about them.

Colleen Hoover has offered us a story about an engaging young woman named Lily. At the beginning of the story she is reeling from the recent death of her father. It’s a bittersweet moment for her because their relationship had been a rather fraught one.  At the same time she also meets a handsome neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. The two connect and he literally sweeps her off of her feet. But the honeymoon doesn’t last forever because Lily also has to process some stuff to do with a previous relationship. It is material that will make her reassess things and challenge what she previously thought. It’s also something we can all learn from.

This novel is a bold one from Colleen Hoover and a very personal story. In her author’s note (which you should only read after finishing the book) she reveals her true connection to this tale. This intense book will tug at your heartstrings and thrust you onto an emotional rollercoaster that will take you through every emotion on the spectrum of feelings. To reveal anything more would ruin things but suffice to say the naked truth is that this is one excellent book full of depth, pathos and grit.


***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:


promising azra


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:




Better Than Sex may have a big title but it’s ultimately a bit of a misnomer. The book is actually a collection of essays by 16 female writers who discuss sex, love and romance in this modern, digital age. This is the third book about and by contemporary women to be compiled and edited by author and journalist, Samantha Trenoweth. It offers some interesting and engaging discussions about a range of topics and offers a number of different perspectives.

The point of this book was to see whether women have more or less choice in the current landscape of love or one that incudes Tinder, internet dating, selfies and internet porn. A number of the authors (Zan Rowe, Maggie MK Hess and Van Badham) try internet dating with varying degrees of success. Other writers like the happily married, Zoe Norton Lodge and Emily Maguire examine topics like desire and how they keep the spark alive. Roxane Gay offers us a moving piece of short fiction about grief and guilt but it feels like it belongs in a different anthology altogether.

Catharine Lumby looks at how teenagers are navigating the minefield of internet porn, sexting and dating that is played out on social media while Rosie Waterland describes naked selfies. Lena Dunham offers a fabulous piece on marriage and her own ambivalence towards it. And Celeste Liddle offers us some insightful ideas about the clash between individuality and community that often affects Aboriginal women and what they do to reconcile these rather disparate elements.

This volume will challenge you and make you think differently about some ideas and will have you nodding or disagreeing with others. The book is a very direct, no-holds barred look at love in the digital age. It’s also a rather personal and engaging read by a number of female writers. It also allows you to walk a mile in their shoes. Excellent.

***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:




Watching Cinderella – The Pantomime was like stepping into a wonderful world of magic where your inner child could run free. This panto is the third one to be brought to Australia by Bonnie Lythgoe Productions and it looks poised to follow in the success of Snow White and Aladdin. Cinderella was ultimately a light and fun show full of colour and splendour and was an adaptation of the classic fairy tale and rags-to-riches story.

Pantomimes are traditionally a mix of music, theatre and dance and they typically encourage the audience to interact with the actors. The latter often break down the fourth wall and encourage everyone to boo and hiss at the bad guys and to support and cheer on the good guys as well as keep a watchful eye out for ghosts and the like. The show is traditionally pitched at children but there are enough jokes and fun things so that it can appeal to anyone aged 3 to 103.

Jaime Hadwen — who recently starred in Xanadu at the Hayes Theatre — was beguiling as Cinderella. She was humble, kind and showed real heart, even when her father Baron Hardup (Peter Everett – Ready Steady Cook) decided to remarry and chose an evil witch of a woman.

Gina Liano (The Real Housewives of Melbourne) made her stage debut as the horrid and manipulative stepmother, but she was also frequently drowned out by her cast mates, especially those who had a background of performing in front of kids. Craig Bennett and Josh Adamson were the mean stepsisters and were dressed in drag and acted in a very over-the-top way, which suited their parts. There were lots of risqué jokes about fairies and their characters being like “men” (they even played Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel like a Woman” to introduce them.)

Hi-5’s Tim Maddren was an absolute sweetheart as Prince Charming while Jimmy Rees (AKA Mr Giggle) often held fort as the Prince’s servant. The lovely Lara Mulcahy occasionally spoke in rhyme as the fairy godmother and Kev Orkian was ebullient as Buttons. A “12 Days of Winter” song was mostly held together by Rees, because Everett and the others often forgot their cues or their lines. But the shambolic nature of this really added a silly looseness to the proceedings. The four male leads also performed a popular panto song involving ghosts and the kids screamed as much as the girls did for The Beatles back in the day. They also had some children from the audience volunteer for a nice rendition of “I Am the Music Man.”)

Cinderella told a classic story but it also managed to keep things quite topical and relevant for Australian audiences thanks to its script by Christopher Wood. The jokes were a mix of tongue-in-cheek humour and slapstick and included asides about the Parramatta River, the Shire and Malcolm Turnbull, to name a few. Australian hits like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” the Vanda and Young-penned, “Love Is in the Air” and Kylie Minogue’s “On a Night like This,” were threaded into the story and sat seamlessly among the gorgeous costumes and the fine scenery.

Cinderella – The Pantomime was an engaging and charming show, which left many guests remarking that all theatre should be delivered this way. This modern day fairy tale with an Australian slant was a charming and glittery rags-to-riches show that was a real joy to watch and experience. In fact, it was so easy to sit back and have a ball!


Originally published on 3 July 2016 at the following website:

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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:




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:




Maeve O’Meara is playing with fire in her latest series of Food Safari. The show is now in its seventh season and this time around its dedicated to “fire”, that is braising, steaming, smoking, grilling, roasting and barbequing using fire, wood, charcoals and different ovens. The show is ultimately a visceral one that is brimming with recipes from all around the world and includes lots of different techniques and tools, some of which have been passed down for generations.

O’Meara is a vibrant and enthusiastic host who has honed her experience over two decades of presenting food shows. She also picks a number of interesting guests including top-class chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda, Guy Grossi, Cheong Liew, Somer Sivrioglu and Frank Camorra. It’s funny that in a number of cases the chefs take a back seat and almost have to be apprentices when their parents are the ones cooking. It proves that the techniques are old and practiced ones that are well-revered. It also means that age definitely comes before beauty in this instance.

Two episodes of this series are dedicated to the wood fire oven and the tandoor oven, respectively. In the former we see award-winning margherita pizza being made as well as whole baked fish and Greek filo pie. In the latter it’s all about aromatic prawns, spicy kebabs, tandoori chicken and different sorts of flatbreads including naans and Afghan or Persian bread.

The other instalments include ones dedicated to Asian and American barbeques (where the technique “low and slow” is preached) as well as street foods and different smoking and grilling techniques. In episode one we learn from Firedoor Chef, Lennox Hastie about how different kinds of woods used in the cooking process can help perfume the food and create subtle differences in the flavour. But perhaps the most fun and interesting segment is watching Jerry Uesele and his extended family cooking in a traditional Samoan Umu oven. The way they make caramel using volcanic rock is ingenious.

The special features on the DVD are very disappointing and are just two segments/recipes that failed to make the final cut. While these look tasty (a grilled fish in banana leaf with a tamarind salsa and a suckling pig cooked in a caja china) it would have been better to see more behind-the-scenes stuff. The program is an engaging one and these finishing touches would have helped with the overall presentation to ultimately make a better collection.

Food Safari Fire is a warm and informative program that features some passionate home cooks and chefs in a series that is perhaps their most sensual, raw and mouth-watering one to date. The recipes cover a lot of different cultures and techniques but predominately include preparing meats, breads and fish. In all this is an understated food/cooking program that celebrates the simple pleasure of cooking with the powerful medium known as fire. It’s a good throwback to ancient times and it’s a fun way to reconnect with your food.


Originally published on 5 March 2016 at the following website:

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When it comes to matters of the heart and love in general it’s often complicated. Never is this idea more apparent than in the fine, Leo Tolstoy novel, Anna Karenina. The classic book was written some 150 years ago and it still manages to resonate today thanks to its universal themes. The new Australian TV miniseries, The Beautiful Lie uses this rich piece of literature as scaffolding for a modern and complex romance set in contemporary Melbourne.

The Beautiful Lie was written by Alice Bell (The Slap) and Jonathan Gavin and is produced by the same team who made the TV series Offspring. This production stars the brilliant and versatile Sarah Snook as Anna Ivin (modelled on the eponymous, Tolstoy character). Ivin is a former tennis star who initially seems happy in her seven year marriage to fellow, former athlete Xander (Rodger Corser). The pair live together with their young son (Lewis Fletcher). But a chance meeting with a young music producer named Skeet Du Pont (Benedict Samuel) threatens to unravel this domestic bliss.

Anna and Skeet witness a horrific accident but they also share a powerful moment of electricity or a romantic spark. For Anna this fuels the realisation that she is restless and dissatisfied with her safe marriage, career and life. She is seduced by the potential of a passionate love affair with a handsome, young stranger. Unfortunately, this dalliance proves to be an extremely destructive and volatile one.

This series also looks at family dysfunctions and some other issues involving relationships between the supporting characters. Skeet was briefly engaged to the flighty Kitty (Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate)) who also has an eating disorder. Over the course of the program Kitty matures and falls in love with her childhood friend and initially a rather unattractive farmer named Peter Levin (Alexander England).

Anna’s brother, Kinglsey Faraday (Daniel Henshall) also has a transgression in his marriage. He sleeps with the family’s au pair to the dismay of his wife Dolly, a well-cast Celia Pacquola. Gina Riley (Kath & Kim) also stars as the family matriarch and offers us some lighter moments in a series that can be quite dark and tense at times.

The Blu-ray’s special features include a series of short featurettes. These include interviews with the cast and crew as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot. There are also a few scenes where some of the lead actors read the amazing source prose or the translation of Tolstoy’s fine words. This will give viewers an added appreciation of the great writer.

The Beautiful Lie is an epic saga and family drama that sees a beautiful web of falsehoods constructed in order to mask various infidelities, passions, tragedies, emotions and jealousies. The story is a relevant and cautionary tale that will warn people to be careful what they wish for. This is a well-acted and gorgeous, contemporary production showcasing some grand and complex romance. Ultimately this is one engaging and seductive tapestry of love and deceit.

Originally published on 27 December 2015 at the following website:

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