BOOK REVIEW: ANNA ROMER – BEYOND THE ORCHARD

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Beyond the Orchard is an Australian saga spanning multiple years, taking in different generations and perspectives. It seems to have a lot in common with the late Bryce Courtenay’s work insofar as it’s an epic slice of Australiana. The book is the third novel by Anna Romer (Thornwood House) and a rich and detailed tapestry where some different characters lives are all interwoven together through a series of secrets and lies.

The story stars Lucy Briar, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was just a young girl. Briar is now all grown up and has been living in London for the past few years. She is also newly engaged. Lucy left Australia for the UK a few years ago after a relationship with an older man (the father of a friend of hers) had gone awry.

Lucy is called back to her childhood home after she is invited to her friends’ wedding. Before Briar arrives in Victoria she receives a message from her estranged grandfather that is completely unexpected. He wants to meet her and set the record straight on a few things regarding the past. Sadly, Lucy’s grandpa does not get the opportunity to follow through with his promise. But little by little Lucy undertakes he own detective work and uncovers a rich and complicated family history and some life events that involve her relatives as well as love, loss, death, despair and redemption.

Anna Romer’s novel is a rather ambitious one that threads together the perspectives of various characters living at different points in history. She also adds additional textural flourishes in the form of extracts from a book written by Lucy’s father Ronald. These extra storylines add greater depth and meaning to the existing characters and their motivations because it is a case of art imitating life.

Beyond the Orchard feels like it’s a real story because it is so atmospheric and emotional. It’s a testament to Romer’s fabulous writing that the characters seem as rich and complex as real people. Romer’s prose is well-written and sometimes quite poetic and beautiful. This book is a well-constructed one where mystery and romance make for one haunting and intriguing family history.

***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-beyond-the-orchard

BOOK REVIEW: MOLLY MELDRUM & JEFF JENKINS – AH WELL, NOBODY’S PERFECT – THE UNTOLD STORIES

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John Lennon once sang that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. This idea rings true for Australia’s National Living Treasure and Lennon’s friend, Ian “Molly” Meldrum. The music journalist, talent coordinator, TV host, DJ and record producer has had a brilliant career spanning multiple decades. Ah Well, Nobody’s Perfect is a celebration of all of this, because it sees Meldrum spinning many yarns and anecdotes along with the help of fellow music journalist, Jeff Jenkins and a cast of famous friends and confidantes.

Molly Meldrum has already been the subject of a biography with 2014’s The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story: Life, Countdown and Everything in Between. His first memoir focused predominantly on his time working on ABC TV’s Countdown (a youth culture show). In the latest instalment of Meldrum’s biography, he includes anecdotes from this period (and dedicates the book to Countdown’s creator, the late Michael Shrimpton) as well as describing his work on Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Sunday Night. Meldrum has interests outside of music and this book also includes his love for the Australian cricket team, AFL’s Saint Kilda Saints and the NRL’s Melbourne Storm. The memoir is also named after a line from Meldrum’s favourite film, Some Like It Hot.

Meldrum’s early life is briefly covered in this second book. We learn that he was a country boy from Quambatook Victoria and about his first jobs. This information is interesting, but you get the sense that Molly is a private individual and that we are barely scratching the surface here. Instead, most of this volume is about Molly’s encounters with famous musicians and individuals from the music and TV industries. In some respects, Meldrum’s life shares things in common with photographer, Tony Mott in that both have met and worked with famous celebrities and they both have a swag bag full of great stories to tell. Both Meldrum and Mott would make excellent dinner party guests – you know that there’d never be a dull moment!

The book is a mixture of different anecdotes and stories. It bounces around describing different subjects, something that is very much like Molly’s spirited interview technique. It’s a haphazard approach where different tangents are explored and time is not a linear concept. This means that one chapter you can be reading the questions and answers from Molly’s appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (where he won $500,000 for charity) to moving on to recollections from Michael Gudinski and other important individuals, and then on to travel tips from Molly, that are very much inspired by real experiences. The stories are rich and vivid and they deal with the notorious parties, heated fights, amazing days and unmitigated disasters from Molly’s life. This man in a hat comes across as a lovely, enthusiastic music fan and self-deprecating character who is a practical joker at heart but also not precious about when people are laughing at his expense.

Ah Well, Nobody’s Perfect is a fun and entertaining book by a true music fan and a natural storyteller. It is easy to get lost in these entertaining yarns. The story is from a larger-than-life character who delivers his observations and opinions on the madness, mirth and most of all, the music. All that’s left to say is that any self-respecting music fan should do themselves a favour and immerse themselves in Molly’s Melodrama!

Originally published on 31 October 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-ah-well-nobodys-perfect-by-molly-meldrum-jeff-jenkins-is-about-the-madness-mirth-and-music-surrounding-mollys-melodrama/

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

BOOK REVIEW: KATE KERRIGAN – IT WAS ONLY EVER YOU

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She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah! It Was Only Ever You is a romantic story about three strong, young women and their relationships with one charming man living in New York City. It’s an engrossing, light and sweet tale that will leave you wondering how it will end and who will wind up with whom.

This story is set in an almost identical place to Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. It is the 1950s and a time when many Irish people made a passage in order to have a new life in America. Instead of focusing on one main protagonist, Kate Kerrigan frames the story though a group of young people. Her prose is quite light and whimsical at times and for this reason, it occasionally reminds me of Marian Keyes’s work.

Kate Kerrigan’s real name is Morag Prunty and she is a journalist and best-selling author. Her most famous novel is The Dress. In It Was Only Ever You Kerrigan provides a smoking soundtrack and backdrop that takes in jazz, ballads and early rock ‘n’ roll. It is a period when people were just learning how to rock around the clock and they did so with gusto. Kerrigan’s main character, Patrick is a dreamboat by all accounts and a fledgling singer.

Patrick was a poor boy from County Mayo in Ireland. He found love in the form of an artistic, rich girl and Doctor’s daughter named Rose. The pair were besotted but Rose’s parents did not approve of the relationship. Patrick’s head was also filled with big ambitions of his own. He leaves Ireland and goes to New York while his heart pines for Rose and he works a lowly job because he is indebted to his employer. This world is a very different one to that inhabited by a caring socialite named Ava. She is an idealistic girl who is aware that she won’t win any prizes for her looks. Ava remains optimistic however, and continues to frequent the dance halls in the hopes of finding a nice husband.

Shelia is the most interesting character of them all. The orphan of parents who died during the Holocaust, Shelia is the kind of girl who is determined and knows exactly what she wants. Shelia is a vanguard and an inspiration. She is trying to forge her own way in the music industry, a world that is almost exclusively controlled by men. It’s fortunate that Shelia has a nose for talent and she hopes she can discover music’s next big thing.

It Was Only Ever You is like a patchwork quilt of different emotions that show a group of young people falling in and out of love and discovering themselves. This is a story about love, loss and following your dreams and it is set amongst the glamourous New York nightclub scene of yesteryear. The story features some likeable and well-developed characters and the story feels very authentic. It Was Only Ever You is a pleasant book to read not least because it shows a group of fine characters marching to the beat of their own drums.

***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-it-was-only-ever-you

DVD REVIEW: INDIAN SUMMERS

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The chapter in India’s history when it was subject to colonial rule has been shown on our screens before. It was the theme in The Jewel in the Crown television series and there have been countless films and things about Mahatma Ghandi. Indian Summers is a TV series that covers this well-trodden path. It may not be the most original rendering of this story but it is one pleasant, beautiful and nostalgic drama.

The second series begins some three years after the first one left off. Some things have changed with respect to the characters in this time. The most noteworthy is that civil servant, Aafrin Dalal (the gorgeous, Nikesh Patel) has become a rebel and is promoting terrorism. The private secretary, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is married and has designs on the viceroy’s role. Whelan’s sister, Alice (Jemima West) is shackled by an unhappy marriage to one angry and careless man named Charlie (Blake Ritson) while her heart is somewhere else.

This series deals with a number of different storylines and threads including matters of the heart and the state. Club owner, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) is as manipulative as ever while Sooni (Aysha Kala) is the most inspiring. The plots also throws up a number of different moral dilemmas. Over the course of ten episodes there are a few deaths, one marriage and some reunions. The series is supported by a great cast who capture the full gamut of different emotions. Indian Summers also succeeds at chronicling an important chapter in India’s history and maintaining a certain pace while keeping the tensions high.

The setting is absolutely stunning. The story and series is set in Simla in the foothills of the Himalayas but Indian Summers itself is shot in Penang in Malaysia. We can forgive this artistic licence when we consider how much care and detail has been applied to the creation of props and the wonderful costumes. All of these things add up to make a sumptuous period drama that is like pure eye candy. The special features include an adequate making of featurette that reveals some good insights into how this show was made, but there was also room for more information.

Indian Summers is a colourful drama that is brimming with some spice and so many different threads that at times it feels like a tapestry. This is not the most crucial series you’ll ever watch but it does cover a significant part of India’s history as it seeks independence from the British rule. This serial is an interesting look at the politics and the personal proclivities of the locals and individuals living abroad as they face all manner of different challenges that life throws at them. In short this is a sprawling story told in a way that is as pleasant as a stroll through the English countryside.

Originally published on 24 October 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/indian-summers-season-2-dvd-review/

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

FILM REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

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Woody Allen’s latest film should be renamed “High Society.” This beautifully-shot comedy is a nostalgic but throwaway look at the glitz and glamour of some halcyon days in Hollywood and the smoky nightlife of New York. It’s ultimately like a pleasant and lightweight dream that celebrates money even though the thirties was synonymous for some with the great depression.

Café Society is like most of Allen’s films in that it is full of snappy dialogue and features the famous director as a sleepy narrator. One of the best pieces of advice this film offers is to “Live everyday like it’s your last because one day you’ll be right” as well as other existential points and jabs at religion. This may be a romantic tale but in true Allen style this romance is one where your head is in charge, not your heart.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg doing his best Woody Allen impression) stars as a wide-eyed kid who is initially seduced by the bright lights of Hollywood. Bobby’s Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood hotshot. He takes pity on his nephew and offers the kid some odd jobs. Bobby seems to enjoy elements of La-La land (his encounter with a first-time prostitute is hilarious) but he soon comes to hate the excess and fakery of it all. It’s a sentiment that is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who proves she doesn’t need to pout her way through every film.) Stewart puts in a fine performance where the chemistry with her former cast mate, Eisenberg is particularly obvious.

Vonnie is given the job of showing Bobby around town. The two youngsters bond over Mexican food and Bobby becomes completely smitten. But Vonnie holds her cards closely to her chest. The reason she does so is because she’s smart and savvy and because she also has an elusive boyfriend that she started dating a year before meeting Bobby.

Eventually Bobby returns home to New York. He takes a job working in a nightclub with his gangster brother. Bobby meets a divorcee at the club (an effervescent Blake Lively) and romance blossoms. The pair seem happy until Vonnie shows up at the club with someone Bobby knows all too well.

Café Society is like The Great Gatsby in that it celebrates youth, beauty and jazz. The story itself is quite flimsy and predictable but it’s a film that offers entertainment and enjoyment, pure and simple. This depiction of love triangles and professional dreams is one opulent ride and a fun look at a brief but rich period in the thirties in America. In Café Society’s world the depression never happened and everyone was free to enjoy themselves, rambling through the richness and splendour that was the society set. This is ultimately fun for audiences to watch but don’t expect it to change your life or your riches.

Originally published on 18 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-woody-allens-latest-cafe-society-usa-2016-offers-a-nostalgic-but-throwaway-look-at-the-great-depression/

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: FIONA HIGGINS – FEARLESS

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Fearless could be the plot of a reality TV show. You take six wealthy individuals with first world problems and fly them to Bali under the guise of “helping” them overcome their fears. But instead you endanger their lives, sit back and watch what happens. It’s an interesting drama about courage, friendships and the decisions we make.

This novel is the third one to be written by the author of The Mothers’ Group. Fiona Higgins has also penned her memoirs and she has spent the last couple of years living in Indonesia. It’s clear from reading Fearless that Higgins knows the cultural landscape of Bali and she offers us an engaging look at what many of us Australians consider an attractive holiday destination.

The fears that Higgins describes in this novel are all common ones: flying, heights, public speaking, intimacy, death and failure. This book is broken up into each of these parts and is told in the third person. Higgins slowly reveals why each of the characters have chosen to participate in this retreat before something big happens. For Australian visitor, Janelle it was to inject change into her boring life while Italian tourist, Lorenzo is hoping it will cure his infertility problems. Another Aussie, Cara is drained after the death of her child while Englishman, Henry arrived at the proceedings by luck or sheer accident, you can decide.

Fiona Higgins has done an excellent job of developing her characters and managing their rich stories both in the past and in the present. This book is easy to read and an interesting one that is part self-help book and part survivor story. It’s the kind of tale that will make you stop and think about your own life while you question what you would do if you were faced with life-threatening circumstances. At the end of the day will you sink or be fearless?

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/fearless/10246880/

BOOK REVIEW: MICHELINE LEE – THE HEALING PARTY

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Micheline Lee’s debut novel, The Healing Party is so intense and personal, it almost feels like a memoir. The story is about a dying mother and how her evangelical, Christian family rally around to support her while they wait for God to grant them all a miracle. The book is ultimately quite a rich and complex one about grief, hope, faith and love.

The story’s narrator is Natasha Chan, a creative 25-year-old who was raised as a Christian Charismatic. The devotees of this particular religious order pray, preach, sing and speak in tongues. Once Natasha finished high school she became estranged from her family and fled from Melbourne to Darwin. While she is spiritual in a new age sense, she rejected the faith that she was brought up to believe as gospel.

Natasha receives a phone call from her elder sister Anita that will change her life. Their mother has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Natasha said she would return to Melbourne immediately to face her family and the conflicted emotions she had about individual members and their obedient senses of faith.

The Chan family is made up of the strong and steely mother, Irene, who is adored by many for being straightforward and a natural beauty. There is her husband, Paul, a convert to the Charismatic faith and one enthusiastic and unrelenting devotee. He is also an intense artist, manipulator and womaniser. It is hard for Chan’s daughters to reconcile all of these contradictory elements to his personality and Natasha finds this the most difficult of all. The Chan girls are made up of the bossy elder sister, Anita, the fanatical, Maria and the reserved and anorexic, Patsy.

One day Paul Chan declares that he has received a message from the Lord. Irene will be healed of her cancer thanks to a miracle, provided that everyone believes and does not question this. The family plan a fabulous healing party with their friends in order to celebrate. But Natasha is left reeling, her relationship with her family was already quite fractured and fraught. She also can’t help but think that their belief in the miracle is a denial of the inevitability of death.

The Healing Party has gorgeous, evocative prose. Micheline Lee uses a deft hand to navigate some rather complicated topics and for the most part makes the story feel like a real emotional rollercoaster. While some readers may find the religious elements a tad over-bearing, preachy and tiresome, the story is ultimately a warm and raw reflection on some rather difficult subjects like death, dying and forgiveness.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28797084-the-healing-party

BOOK REVIEW: SIMON DE PURY – THE AUCTIONEER

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The man dubbed the “Mick Jagger of auctions” sounds like he should have some interesting stories to tell. Simon de Pury also has had a career that has spanned over 40 years as an auctioneer and curator and different roles in the art world where he got to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. But the memoir, The Auctioneer does not have many exciting anecdotes. Instead it’s a dry and slow book that oscillates between self-importance and being a shopping list of record-price setting auctions.

Simon de Pury had had a distinguished career. He learnt the rewards of buying and selling art from Art Basel’s Ernst Beyeler. Simon de Pury was also the former chair of Sotheby’s Europe and the former owner of Phillips de Pury. He is a man who is not short on experience and his memoir could have been an insightful look into the inner-workings of the (hidden) art world. But the core message here is that greed is good and it’s a clumsy mix of gossip and vain name-dropping and descriptions of the irritating world of the 1 percenters.

It’s very hard to empathise and connect with such an elitist snob. At the very least de Pury is ambitious, driven and passionate about his work. Some readers may enjoy his take on the art world but personally I felt like he barely scratched the surface of his life’s story and the formal prose and stories were so lacking in depth and colour, they were like a monochrome painting.

***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/auctioneer/9900103/

BOOK REVIEW: ALYSON NOËL – UNRIVALED

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Unrivaled is not your typical book. It’s supposed to be a suspense/thriller set in the bright lights of Hollywood and told from four different perspectives. The premise is ultimately a good one but the writing is overly simplistic and the characters are too stereotyped and clichéd to appeal to adults (although this could be perfectly pitched at the young adult readers the novel was designed for).

Alyson Noël is a successful author of over 20 books and is a New York Times best-seller whose work has been translated into multiple languages. Her latest offering, Unrivaled is the first in a new trilogy called, “Beautiful Idols.” It’s a young-adult novel and I think this may be why I had trouble engaging with the story. As a 32 year old Australian woman with only a passing interest in celebrity (and a distinct hatred of anyone that is famous for the sake of being famous) I found this story to be too vapid, slow and superficial.

The story begins with the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood It-girl, Madison Brooks. She is someone that is harbouring a number of secrets but she is certainly not alone on this front. The story then turns back time to a month prior where we meet three young, hungry teens who have agreed to take part in a contest run by a Hollywood heavyweight called Ira Redman. The competition will see an aspiring entertainment journalist named Layla, a wannabe musician called Tommy and a bratty would-be actress named Aster competing with other desperate teens to become a full-time promoter for one of Redman’s clubs. To do so they must get people through the door of one of his establishments and the more famous the guest, the better.

The book is a slow-burner and it spends a lot of time detailing the competition and the lengths the characters will stoop to. Even with all of this information, the characters still feel rather hollow and not fully formed, especially when they do things that are completely unexpected. The story of the competition also lacks suspense and it merely unfolds amidst the expected world of hidden agendas, dirty laundry, secrets, lies and the like. The book really hits its stride when it manages to catch up with the part of Brook’s disappearance but it ends in  such an unsatisfying and abrupt way in order to leave things open for the sequel that some readers may walk away feeling cheated by this turn of events.

Unrivaled is a dark novel that shows how ambitions can turn poisonous with a bunch of unlikeable and self-absorbed characters that seem like a reflection of today’s society. Noël is a good writer but this novel is a flat one, as it details some beautiful people’s competitive natures in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. It was a book that wasn’t to my liking but the kids may enjoy this easy-to-read tale of celebrity thrills and spills.

***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-unrivaled

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

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