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: JASON ARNOPP – THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS

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The Last Days of Jack Sparks boasts one unique and clever premise for a story. The book is written by British journalist and author, Jason Arnopp but is also presented as being the “final” book or epitaph by a controversial journalist and broadcaster named Jack Sparks. This is an unnerving and mysterious tale that throws up a lot of questions.

The story goes that Jack Sparks has carved out an illustrious career as a pop culture journalist and non-fiction author with the tales, Jack Sparks on Drugs and Jack Sparks on a Pogo Stick. Sparks has been labelled and lauded as a “rebel “and dismissed as a “hack”. He certainly has the ability to divide people and in some ways there seems to be a whiff in common between Sparks and the late Hunter S. Thompson. The two would make firm friends – if they were both still around.

It was with some trepidation that Sparks’ brother, Alistair learns about his brother’s latest work, Jack Sparks on the Supernatural. This all begins with Jack Sparks witnessing an exorcism. But he is also a disbelieving cynic who can’t control himself. His YouTube channel has a bizarre video uploaded to it and this could actually prove the existence of ghosts. But Sparks will suffer from an untimely death and this leaves some suspicious online fans suggesting that the writer had been a victim of foul play.

This book pieces together “Sparks’” draft book as well as interviews, emails and other material. This extra stuff shows that there is more than one side to the narrative and it will make the reader stop and question a few things, not least the veracity of Sparks’ own account. While the book starts off with a bang and it has a great idea, it does loose itself a little in the final act. The end does feature some slow pacing and some bizarre curveballs and some readers will find it hard investing time in such a disagreeable lead character.

Jason Arnopp’s debut novel is a quirky one boasting an excellent idea. The whole story is a refreshing take on the comedy thriller genre. Ultimately this is one creepy, weird and unsettling tale which is told in a clever way. Hopefully this is not the last you hear from Arnopp or Sparks because here, Arnopp proves he is bright spark indeed.

***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/the-last-days-of-jack-sparks/9610094/

DVD REVIEW: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (AUSTRALIAN EDITION) SERIES 7

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Who Do You Think You Are? is such a personal TV series you almost feel like you’re sitting in someone’s lounge room having a cuppa. The Australian edition is modelled on the original one from the U.K. Both shows see prominent personalities retracing aspects of their family tree/history. It’s ultimately a fascinating program and in Australia’s case it can occasionally be a multicultural one.

The program is now in its seventh series and once again you see celebrities playing detectives to the lives of themselves and their ancestors. There are stories about challenges and struggles and these form a rich tapestry illuminating and celebrating identity and culture. It’s also the kind of program that can make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

The first episode of the seventh series stars the actor Geoffrey Rush who is in for a few surprises. He’d previously figured his family were all a bunch of farmers but in reality his German ancestors were part of a long dynasty of musicians. Toni Collette has easily one of the most complicated family histories out of the lot. Her grandma died shortly after giving birth to her mother’s sister, which meant her grandfather would abandon his children. Then there’s her paternal grandfather whose identity remains unknown.

This series is very entertaining and educational. Dawn Fraser learns she had a South American freedom fighter in her family while TV chef Luke Nguyen discovers there are other refugees among his ancestors (and not just his immediate family). Ray Martin gets back to his Aboriginal roots while Peter Rowsthorn (Kath & Kim) learns about the convicts in his family’s past. Greig Pickhaver (HG Nelson) and actor David Wenham can look with pride at their ancestor’s roles in the Australian Defence Force and in the World Wars.

Who Do You Think You Are? is one intimate program that is a fascinating watch and leap through the history books. The stories are universal and relatable as they show how people overcame various trials and tribulations in order to succeed. In all, this is one revealing and incredible observational documentary that holds up a mirror for every day Australians to gaze upon and celebrate in all its glory.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/think-series-7-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MARY-ROSE MACCOLL – SWIMMING HOME

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Mary-Rose Maccoll is a very versatile writer. She is a regular contributor at the QWeekend Magazine, her non-fiction book, Birth Wars was a finalist in the Walkley awards and she’s also worked as a corporate writer and has now released her fifth novel, Swimming Home. This book is a celebration of two women achieving remarkable things in 1925 and finds the right balance between drama, tension, love and life in a post-war setting.

The story is mostly about Catherine Quick, a talented 15-year-old swimmer who has grown up in Australia. But tragedy strikes and she is left orphaned at this young and difficult age. Her new legal guardian is her Aunt Louisa, a successful career woman and surgeon who lives in London and at first glance is someone who does not appear to be particularly maternal. This event means that Catherine must leave her idyllic island home where she was previously cared for by Florence; an indigenous woman and where they lived happily with the latter’s son, Michael as well as Catherine’s father.

The move from Australia to London is tough on Catherine. The culture shock is huge and it takes some time for this young woman to realise what she really wants: to be free to swim. One day an American investment banker, Manfred Lear Black realises Catherine’s potential and offers her the chance to go to America to train with a professional swim team. He hopes that Catherine will one day be the first woman to swim across the English Channel. But things don’t always go according to plan.

Swimming Home is an excellent character study where Maccoll does an exceptional job of crafting some complex and relatable characters and examining their relationships with one another. It also looks at how some lies (some which may have seemed like innocent little white ones to those telling them at the time) can snowball and have devastating effects on other people around them. It’s ultimately an absorbing and well-researched tale that successfully dips between the past and the present.

Mary-Rose Maccoll’s Swimming Home is a novel that engages the reader thanks to its good use of tension and drama as well as a personal and intimate style of telling the character’s stories. It’s a celebration of women as they pioneered for their own rights and challenged the social expectations of the time. There are lots of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and while the ending felt a little rushed this was still a well-constructed, inspiring and wonderful read about some women who set their sights high and achieved the extraordinary.

***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/swimming-home/9529760

BOOK REVIEW: SUSAN JOHNSON – THE LANDING

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In Susan Johnson’s latest novel, The Landing, the journalist and writer shows that she is very accomplished at her craft. Johnson has a way with words and the ability to observe and write about things that other people take for granted. The only problem is that this slow-burning, nuanced book could do with some improvements to the structure to ensure it is a tighter and more cohesive read overall.

The novel begins when we are introduced to Jonathan Lott, a man whose wife of decades has left him for another woman. The blurb even imitates Jane Austen by asking the following question: “Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife?” Lott has returned to the coastal Queensland town of The Landing, where a tight-knit community of eccentrics like to know everything about each other’s business.

The other characters in the book are Penny Collins, a divorced art teacher who is forced to care for her elderly French mother, Marie after the latter is kicked out of her umpteenth nursing home. Penny’s daughter, Scarlett is also causing problems because she ran off with an older man and is now a mother to two young children. There is also a neighbour named Gordie and his adult daughter, Anna who has returned home and leaves a trail of broken marriages in her wake. There is also a seven-year-old named Giselle who likes caring for young children even though she is quite young and innocent herself.

These characters are all quite different and quirky and some will resonate more with different readers than others. At times Johnson’s writing style is very reminiscent of the UK TV series, The Office in that it revels in everyday life situations and occasionally makes funny and pithy observations amidst monotony and tedium. This will be a joy for some readers while others will find the pacing a tad too slow and boring, while the large cast can also makes things feel rather disjointed, lightweight and incohesive at times.

Susan Johnson has a keen eye for writing about relationships and family dramas as well as adding in some interesting and wry observations. Her book is a quaint and easy read that feels rather honest and relatable in parts. While it is by no means perfect it does manage to charm readers with the adventures of a bunch of small-town eccentrics and their seemingly quiet and ordinary private lives.

***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/landing/9497046

FILM REVIEW: HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD

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It is only in 1970s Canada where an over-abundance of hippies, draft-dodgers, Buddhists, vegans, nudists, musicians, writers and tree-huggers could meet and create an organisation like Greenpeace. The documentary, How To Change The World looks at the origins of this grassroots, activist movement and shows how it became the enduring institution it is today. The film is a fascinating and inspiring look at some idealistic, clever and eloquent people and their hope, successes and failings.

The film is directed by Jerry Rothwell who is no stranger to the documentary genre, having previously made Heavy Load and Donor Unknown. The story is mostly about the larger-than-life, Bob Hunter, a former columnist for the Vancouver Sun-turned-eco warrior. Hunter passed away in 2005 but left behind a treasure trove of excellent diaries which form the basis of this story (and are narrated by Barry Pepper). It chronicles how a modest man became the unlikely, inaugural president of Greenpeace.

The story goes that in 1971 a group of ragtag friends decided to go to Amchitka Island in Alaska to protest Richard Nixon’s nuclear bomb tests. The group’s efforts did not stop this from happening but they succeeded in creating global awareness for this issue and spawning the environmental movement. From here they would expose the inhumane whaling methods by the Soviets (they captured on film a whale being harpooned and dying) and the horrific clubbing of baby seals in Canada.

Hunter and his fellow Greenpeace officers understood the power of visual imagery with the leader even coining the term “Mind bomb” to represent an image that is picked up by the media and that goes “viral”, long before the internet even existed. This film uses excellent editing to cut between the graphic images the group captured back in the day as well as Hunter’s beautiful writing, other archive material and new interviews with those early Greenpeace members. The latter are an eclectic bunch that range from an old hippie who prefers to use the name Walrus (David Garrick) to Patrick Moore, a former environmental activist who is now a climate change denier. There is also Paul Watson, who was an angry man who left Greenpeace to form Sea Shepherd and who chose vastly different methods in his activism (which included ramming ships). The Sea Shepherd has now taken Hunter’s activist daughter, Emily under its wings.

How To Change The World is a vibrant film that marries up many different elements (including a fabulous soundtrack). The story holds nothing back and even goes into the power struggles and lawsuits that ensued when the organisation grew too big. This film makes for one exciting, cautionary tale that celebrates the motley crew of pioneers who helped create the green movement and who made a difference through some unlikely successes. Excellent.

Originally published on 15 June 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2015/06/15/sydney-film-festival-review-how-to-change-the-world-canada-uk-2015/

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BOOK REVIEW: MALCOLM KNOX – THE WONDER LOVER

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Malcolm Knox is an award-winning journalist and author who has proven that he is adept at writing both fiction and non-fiction pieces. His fifth novel, The Wonder Lover is an adult fable and cautionary tale about secrets and love. It is ultimately a bold book that hits some high notes as well as some flat ones.

The story stars an unlikely protagonist named John Wonder. This is a man who is meticulous and pedantic in his work as an authenticator and information verifier at the Guinness Book of World Records. Yet his personal life is a bizarre love triangle and mess that is based on lies and betrayal.

The bland and sexless Wonder is a bigamist with three different wives and six children (three lots of two named Adam and Stevie). He is a difficult man to like and engage with. And he is very hard to read and it’s even more difficult to get inside his head.

Here, Knox is very ambitious as he writes a story from Wonder’s children’s perspective. It’s a first person, plural voice that is all-seeing, non-judgemental and all-knowing. John Wonder’s women are very interesting. His three wives come to be known as his “true love”, “soul mate” and “redeemer”. There is also a young woman named Cicada who makes Wonder come undone after he falls in love with her.

It’s a shame that Wonder is such a bland, washed-out and pale character. It’s like all of the scaffolding in this book has been devoted to his women. It means that what was a good premise occasionally fails because the prose can be dry at times (to reflect the central character) and at other moments contain some excellent and insightful observations about humans and their folly.

The Wonder Lover is a strange tale that does have some similarities to Knox’s other work in that it explores the inner life of a man. It’s a unique and energetic story with a fresh voice and Knox really does toy with the idea of fiction and conventional storytelling here. But this book does make you wonder exactly who the victim is and at some points question why the reader should even care. It’s sad because the plot itself is completely original and vibrant, meaning the novel could be so much more than what it currently is.

***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/wonder-lover/9184241

BOOK REVIEW: REBECCA STARFORD – BAD BEHAVIOUR

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Bad Behaviour is Rebecca Starford’s debut book and memoir. Starford is well-known as the co-founder of the Kill Your Darlings journal. She is also a publisher at Affirm Press, a current contributor to The Age and The Australian newspapers and the former deputy editor of the Australian Book Review.

 

This book is a series of chapters from Starford’s life and it is primarily set in Geelong Grammar School’s Timbertop campus in 1998. In Bad Behaviour, Starford is brutally honest as she chronicles the time she spent in boarding school in regional Victoria. It was here that she lived with 14 other teenage girls in a largely unsupervised and occasionally rather dramatic environment.

 

For Starford, life at Silver Creek started off happily enough after she found herself in a friendship group with the most popular girls in the house. But this circle of friends was also headed by some aggressive bullies who were hell-bent on misbehaving and ignoring the teachers. At first Starford joined in with these disobedient acts because she longed to feel included. But things took a turn for the worse when these queen bees turned around and then started bullying and picking on Rebecca.

 

This story is told via the use of two main threads, one sees Starford remembering various incidents from her time at Silver Creek. The other is rooted in the present day and examines how this formative year at school affected and shaped her subsequent relationships. It is fascinating to see how a school, which had such utopian aims (for example, to instil confidence and build resilience and independence in its charges) in some cases had the opposite effect, especially on the most socially vulnerable girls who constantly struggled to find their place in the clique.

 

Rebecca Starford’s writing is very honest and readable but there are moments where the reader is left wanting to know a little bit more detail about the characters involved. This is particularly important in the more current scenes where Rebecca forms new love interests and friends but these are not as fully fleshed out as characters as the ones from when she was a teen. In spite of some minor flaws, Bad Behaviour is a good and relatable book that should inspire readers to take stock and consider how their teenage years shaped their adult lives.

 

This review originally appeared on The Reading Room and was received for free from the publishers as an advance copy. To view the original review please visit the following website: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/bad-behaviour/9195398

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TV REVIEW: THE MOLLY MELDRUM STORY

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If he’s not the King then Ian “Molly” Meldrum is undoubtedly the Queen of Australian music. The broadcaster, raconteur, producer, TV presenter, journalist, band manager and passionate music fan has seen and done it all. To celebrate some 50 years in the music industry as well as his upcoming induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame,Music Max have put together a special and biography that celebrates the mirth and madness that is The Molly Meldrum Story.

This two-hour special will soon premiere on Max. The producers of this were fortunate in that they had unprecedented access to the subject as well as Jeff Jenkins, Meldrum’s biographer. This means the story is often told in Molly’s own words and is accompanied by a huge archive of footage, photos and recent interviews that document his periods as the host of Countdown and star of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, among other things. There is a great wealth of fabulous anecdotes and legendary stories about this colourful character, as well as some funny bloopers, which keep things light and joyous.

The list of interviewees is enormous and reads like a who’s who of Australian music. There are music industry heavyweights, Michael Gudinski and Michael “Chuggy” Chugg. There are also artists from the Countdown period including: John Paul Young, Todd Hunter (Dragon), Brian Mannix (Uncanny X-Men), Greg Macainsh (Skyhooks), Ross Wilson, Leo Sayer, Marcia Hines and more.

Then there are the younger artists who loved the show and Molly too, like: Kasey Chambers, Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate) and Kram (Spiderbait). There’s also Russell Morris because Molly produced his biggest hit, “The Real Thing” as well as Glenn Wheatley because his band, The Masters Apprentices were produced by the man in the hat. Heck, even people that didn’t benefit from Countdown like Midnight Oil and Mark Seymour even stop by!

The Molly Meldrum story doesn’t descend into pure hagiography which is commendable as Molly is an icon that is loved by lots of different people. This was evident in the outpouring of support that he received after he had a bad accident in 2011.This special doesn’t hold back in revealing Meldrum’s partying ways; his manic and experimental methods for doing things; his melodramatic personality all-round; and even his propensity to have things descend into a bout of fisticuffs. After all, this man was once punched in the head by Jimmy Barnes’ wife, Jane!

The Molly Meldrum Story is insightful, fascinating and a relatable tale of rags-to-riches. From his identity struggles as a teenage Beatles fan to his becoming an accidental critic and TV presenter, this shows that a lot of ground is covered. There is even time to address his obsession with Egyptian paraphernalia and his famous rock star friends (his little black book would be enormous). This special is entertaining, fun and a must-see for any self-respecting music fan. And as the man in the hat would say: “Do yourself a favour!”

 

Originally published on 25 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/25/tv-review-the-molly-meldrum-story-music-max-australia-2014/

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

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