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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FILM REVIEW: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB

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A Street Cat Named Bob is the heart-warming and feel-good true story about a young and homeless recovering drug addict living in London with his cat.

James Bowen (played here by the occasionally whiny Luke Treadaway) is down on his luck, busking in Covent Garden and living in public housing until a chance meeting with a ginger tomcat changes his life. The pair become inseparable, with Bob the cat sitting by James’ side as he faces up to his heroin and methadone habits, becomes a Big Issue seller and looks to turn his life around.

Bob plays himself in the film (along with some stunt cats), and he steals the show. Cat enthusiasts will love the fact he has many close-ups and mishaps to enjoy, and that scenes are even shot from his perspective at times.

A Street Cat Named Bob is not a particularly gritty film, but it does include some funny moments and some interesting and well-realised dramatic subplots with James’ estranged father (Anthony Head) and a fun but contrived romance with his kooky vegan neighbour (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Named Bob is a Hollywood take on addiction, for James’ struggles are often downplayed in service of getting the story moving. But if you can overlook this sanitation, and you’re after a film about hope, companionship and redemption, then this biopic ticks many of the right boxes.

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/street-cat-named-bob

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

BOOK REVIEW: NADIA MARKS – AMONG THE LEMON TREES

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Love is a wonderful thing. We all want to experience it. Many musicians, artists and writers have used it as inspiration, but it was perhaps Darren Hanlon who put it best when he sang, “Love is just a lazy generalisation that we use for a hundred different feelings and as many situations.” Journalist and author, Nadia Marks knows a lot about this kind of love, as she proves in her debut novel for adults, Among the Lemon Trees. She says that the Greeks have no fewer than four different types of love: Agápe is the big love, storgé the tender other love, philia friendship, and éros sexual love.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201701/218733

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DVD REVIEW: ROSEHAVEN SERIES ONE

rosehaven

 

Rosehaven is a comedy show that finds the funny in lots of things. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, a buddy comedy and a sitcom set in rural Australia. This eight-part series debuted on the ABC in 2016 and it was a hit with audiences. This is because it’s a funny show about two rather unlikely friends and their lives in the fictional town of Rosehaven.

The show is written and created by Australian comedians Celia Pacquola (Utopia) and Luke McGregor (Luke Warm Sex). It’s not the most original premise for a program but it is one that has a big heart. This could be because Rosehaven manages to find the comedy in the characters’ adventures and misadventures.

McGregor stars as Daniel McCallum, a character that you sense is not a huge stretch for him to write or play. McCallum had previously left his childhood town of Rosehaven in Tasmania to work on the mainland of Australia. But his mother’s ailing health means that her shy, anxious and nervy son must return home to help run the family real estate business. Cue a lot of the local townspeople greeting the grown-up Daniel by his childhood name, “Danny” and making the assumption that he couldn’t “Hack it on the mainland.”

Pacquola stars as McCallum’s vivacious and confident best friend, Emma Dawes. You get the sense that the pair’s friendship has survived an awful lot, not least Emma’s marriage. The series opens with McCallum playing the bridesmaid for his best friend but the marriage doesn’t last much longer than the actual ceremony. Emma is left abandoned by her new husband on her honeymoon in Bali. So she goes to Tasmania to seek refuge and new opportunities with her best friend, Daniel. It helps that Emma is a fast-learner and a natural talent at the real estate game and that she’s not fazed by the town’s eccentrics (think a hoarder, some vigilante neighbourhood watch members, a 24-hour emergency butcher and more).

The series pokes fun at the shenanigans the pair encounter while trying to run the small real estate office owned by Daniel’s mother (an powerful and occasionally scary, Kris McQuade) in the quiet and idyllic, eponymous town. McGregor and Pacquola have a wonderful chemistry and it’s obvious that they’re close friends in real life. The pair also have great lines that really bounce off the other quite well with McGregor’s reticent straight man often proving to be the comedic foil because he is a pushover for the more devilish, quick-thinking and enterprising Emma.

Rosehaven’s first series proved to be a charming and likeable one. The show has some clever jokes and wonderful laughs and it is a testament to the exciting writing by Pacquola and McGregor that they did not have to resort to cheap jokes about the local townspeople who to be fair are a bunch of eccentrics. Instead this is a fun comedy program that will have you cheering on these adorable adolescent-like adults and their blooming business because it will make you want to sit back and hope that this little family enterprise and friendship becomes hot property.

Originally published on 29 December 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-rosehaven-series-one-australia-2016-is-a-funny-comedy-misadventure-about-two-unlikely-friends/

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

Visit The Iris’s homepage at: http://www.theiris.com.au

BLU-RAY REVIEW: VINYL SEASON ONE

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A story clouded by lost brain cells, self-aggrandisement and bullshit. This is what the TV series, Vinyl sells you. It’s a heady dramatic turn through the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and hedonism that was the music industry in New York in 1973. This ten part TV series is a slow-burning, nuanced one that feels like a love letter to the period and the genre and a celebration of the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll.

This program has got a pretty impressive pedigree to say the least. The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger is a creator and producer along with Martin Scorsese (who also directs the pilot). Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos) is also a creator and executive producer and the series stars Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire). Vinyl takes in both fictional and real-life events and artists and it is clear that it has been meticulously researched as it is very true to the period. While the series starts off a tad slowly, the later episodes really hit more of the right notes and will hook the viewer in.

Cannavale stars as the record executive, Richie Finestra and the principal owner of the fictional label, American Century. He is a liar and coke fiend but despite these vices has also managed to maintain a friendship with his business partner and the head of promotions, Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano who puts in a strong, dramatic performance). Finestra is married to Devon (Olivia Wilde) a former model and associate of Andy Warhol’s (John Cameron Mitchell). Devon is now sober and a restless mother to two young children.

The fortunes of the owners of American Century looked set to change when Polygram wanted to buy the company. But at the eleventh hour Finestra sees The New York Dolls and his interest and enthusiasm in music is restored. The deal is off, he decides to keep the company and attempt to turn their fortunes around for the better. The label is home to some jocular A & R reps and an ambitious coffee/drug girl Jamie Vine (an enchanting, Juno Temple) and she discovers a young, punk outfit The Nasty Bits (lead by Jagger’s son, James).

The soundtrack to this series is fantastic with David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”, “Life On Mars” and “Jean Genie” played alongside tracks like “Hey Joe” (made famous by Jimi Hendrix), The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pink Floyd’s “Money”, The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In a Black Dress” and two Eddie Cochran hits that Led Zeppelin liked to cover, “Somethin’ Else” and “C’Mon Everybody”. In some instances the original track is used, in others it is a live version or a cover. The series also portrays some famous musicians in their youth- like Bowie (Noah Bean), John Lennon (Stephen Sullivan), Elvis Presley (Shawn Wayne Klush), Bob Marley (Leslie Kujo) and Peter Tosh (Aku Orraca-Tetteh), among others.

The series is not a perfect one. Some of the sub-plots are not satisfactorily explored (many of the female characters feel like quick punctuation marks to the whole tale), the flashbacks are sometimes a tad confusing and the pilot was overlong (at 113 minutes). But once you sit back and immerse yourself and get into the groove there is a lot to enjoy in this vibrant series. The individuals navigate through difficult marriages, a murder investigation, creative issues, brushes with the law and the mob, sexism and the tragedies of drugs and more. Vinyl is an enthusiastic look at the seventies but it’s not hagiography, the filmmakers are happy to show the real and raw grittiness of the environment, and this is especially important when the story is told through the eyes of the troubled main character and particularly as we follow his downward spiral.

The visuals in this series – like the soundtrack – seem quite true to the era. The colour palette looks like it could have come from an old video from the seventies and the costumes, scenery and props are also fitting for the decade. The special features on the Blu-ray are satisfactory and include audio commentaries, a featurette and some “Inside the episode” looks at the program with Terence Winter.

Vinyl is a sprawling TV series and a rich look at an exciting chapter in music. It stars a bunch of mad misfits and details their manic misadventures through friendship, booze, drugs and other excesses from this colourful period. In all, this is one fun and nostalgic look at the grit, glitz and glam that was the seventies New York music industry. Rock on!

Originally published on 13 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/vinyl-season-one-blu-ray-review/

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

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: JOSEPHINE MOON – THE BEEKEEPER’S SECRET

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The Beekeeper’s Secret marks a slight departure in style for Australian author, Josephine Moon. In her third novel the writer has once again put together a vibrant and easy-to-read story about love, loss, family and friendship but this time around also manages to thread in some extra twists of suspense and mystery to the tale, as well tackling some dark and topical subject matter.  This was ultimately an enjoyable book boasting some well-realised characters and hopefully this is not the last that readers will hear from this diverse and intriguing lot.

The story stars a kind-hearted and well-meaning former nun named Maria Lindsey. The latter likes nothing more than her solitary life tending to her honeybees and making honey-based products that she can sell at the local markets in order to raise funds for an orphanage in Cambodia. Maria is a likeable character who is also harbouring a number of terrible secrets. She is plagued by a sense of guilt and feels like she needs to continue in her quest for atonement.

Tansy Butterfield is a successful 30-year-old interior decorator and the estranged niece of Lindsey. She is suffering a mid-life crisis because she must reconsider her feelings and make some big decisions with respect to child-rearing and following her husband overseas. At the same time she also wants to establish a relationship with an aunt she’s never met and knows nothing about. If that’s not enough, Butterfield also has a tight-knit immediate family and they are battling a number of their own issues like loss of faith, infidelity, sick children and regrets about the past.

Moon’s story was a little slow to begin with but it really hit its stride in the middle and towards the end. The characters are rich and realistic ones like those found in Marian Keyes’s novels and the story is an interesting and relevant dramedy that contains added messages, meaning and metaphors thanks to the vivid descriptions of honeybees. In all, this book shows a dysfunctional family negotiating their way through rights, wrongs, cover-ups, lies and betrayals in a story that is like a pot of amber gold and a rather sweet family tale.

 

***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/28509498-the-beekeeper-s-secret

BOOK REVIEW: DANI ATKINS – OUR SONG

our-song

 

Dani Atkins may not be the world’s most famous author but her third novel, Our Song, looks poised to change that. This emotional, family drama is a slow-burning and nuanced tale that looks at fate, friendship, love and other dilemmas. It’s a poignant tale that will give you cause to sit back and reflect and this will happen long after you’ve finished the book’s final words.

The story is about two women and former friends who are suddenly hit by individual tragedies. Ally is the mother of a gorgeous, seven year old boy named Jake and wife to the kind-hearted and sweet, Joe. The latter finds himself in a sticky situation early on. Joe discovered a young boy in distress who had fallen into a frozen lake while attempting to save the family pet. Joe is an admirable man and he saves the kid and the dog but he also falls into the frozen water himself and is rushed off to intensive care.

David is Ally’s old flame and a jet-setting, rich man who is now married to the equally ambitious, Charlotte. The former is about to surprise his wife with a surprise trip to New York but he is struck down with a mysterious illness in a department store. David winds up at the same hospital as Joe and the doctors soon discover that David has a very serious heart condition.

Our Song has a great premise- it throws two strong women in the same waiting room as their husbands are in intensive care, lying in limbo with different ailments. Atkins has done an excellent job with the characterisation and telling of the story. She expertly weaves together flashbacks and scenes in the present day, which cover Ally and David’s courtship and break-up as well as when David and Charlotte get together and when Ally meets and falls for Joe. The story is a little simplistic at times but it is not lacking in sentiment or feeling. There are also a lot of rich details offered in the prose so the reader gets a good sense of the different individuals, especially when the same scene is retold from the other person’s perspective.

This novel is a well-told, beautiful and moving one but it does have some minor flaws. Part of the plot is predictable (but thankfully there are enough twists thrown into the mix to keep things interesting). The other issue is that sometimes the level of coincidence will require a major suspension of disbelief, which is a shame as the characters themselves feel rather authentic. But despite these small quibbles, the story is a veritable rollercoaster that is jam-packed with different emotions and lots of drama and tension. In sum, it will ultimately tug at your heartstrings and make you stop and realise how important your own loved ones are in the grander scheme of things.

***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-our-song

FILM REVIEW: BLINKY BILL: THE MOVIE

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Blinky Bill may be a small koala but he has a big imagination. In the eponymous new film, this koala also embarks on a grand adventure through the Australian outback with a host of different animal friends. In all, this is a pleasant kid’s film that should appeal to some old and new fans of the iconic Aussie bear, good old Blinky Bill.

The character, Blinky Bill was originally created by Dorothy Hall in 1933. He was also the star of a 2D animated series and a film in the 1990s. These days, the hand-drawn animation has been replaced by some bright and colourful CGI. It gives Blinky a modern feel that is not unlike a Pixar or DreamWorks character. The animation itself is decent but not as good as the output from those aforementioned companies.

Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) stars as Blinky and does an excellent job in capturing the innocence and naivety of this beloved bear. Kwanten is just one member of a stellar voice cast, which includes Toni Collette as two emu sisters and Robin McLeavy, Barry Humphries and David Wenham as Blinky’s friends Nutsy the zoo koala, Wombo the wombat and Jacko the anxious frill-necked lizard, respectively. Deborah Mailman also plays Blinky’s mother and Barry Otto is Mayor Cranklepot.

Blinky Bill The Movie is about the adventure our favourite koala embarks on when he decides to go looking for his lost father (Richard Roxburgh). The latter had gone missing during walk-about. It means that Blinky has to leave the safety and comfort of his small town of Green Patch and tackle the dangerous Australian outback. But Blinky has the best intentions and some good mates (even if they engage in so much Australian slang and different stereotypes that you think you’re watching Austen Tayshus’ “Australiana”).

This film is pitched at young children but it also overreaches a little and tries to appeal to everyone. There are a few jokes that the adults will enjoy but there aren’t enough of these (and certainly not enough consistent ones) for this to really cut through the simplicity of the story or the silly slapstick humour. In many ways, Paddington was a far superior film, as it appealed across the board to both adults and kids.

Blinky Bill The Movie has a big heart to match the even larger adventure on which this little koala and his friends embarks. The voice cast is first-rate and it reads like a who’s who of the Australian film industry. They do an excellent job but it is also a little sad that the actors from the original TV series did not get a cameo or two. In all, Blinky Bill The Movie is an engaging and fun romp that offers up some good lessons about friendship, determination, responsibility and it should inspire viewers to go off and do some excellent things. Ultimately, it’s great to see such a sweet film recasting a beloved Aussie icon in a fresh, modern light.

Originally published on 17 September 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/blinky-bill-the-movie-film-review/

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

BOOK REVIEW: SARAH WINMAN – A YEAR OF MARVELLOUS WAYS

marvellous ways

 

Sarah Winman’s A Year of Marvellous Ways has a lot in common with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Both novels are beautifully written and blend fantasy with a kind of understated realism. And in Winman’s case, there may be some nice writing to be savoured but it is also a frustrating read overall.

Marvellous Ways is an old woman who lives in Cornwall and is waiting for something to happen. That something is a chance meeting with Francis Drake, a returning solider from the Second World War who is determined to fulfil a dying man’s wish. The two form an unlikely friendship and Marvellous recognises Drake’s sadness. She sets out to try and lift his depression and reignite his passion for life by telling him stories about her three great loves.

There are other characters in this story but this is the crux of it all. In this novel, Winman uses a similar style to her debut, When God Was A Rabbit but there is very little going on. The story is a long and slow character study about friendship, loss and grief.

Winman’s prose is lovely and she treats her characters with a sweet and gentle hand. But the lack of quotation speech marks, difficult character names and the non-linear plot where fragments of the tale are revealed are absolutely frustrating. This means we are introduced to one important character during the home stretch and there are other aspects of the book that seem needlessly added or tacked on.

Sarah Winman is an excellent writer who would make an amazing poet but as it stands A Year of Marvellous Ways seems like a novel filled with lost promise. A far meatier story would have been more exciting than this floating and dreamy, experimental one. In short, this is a sentimental tale boasting lots of lush writing, but having to navigate the quirky world of Marvellous and her strange ways is a slog of a journey.

***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/year-of-marvellous-ways/9381402

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