A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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NSW Australian of the Year, Deng Thiak Adut, is nothing short of an inspiration. A lawyer with a keen interest in social justice, Adut was born in Southern Sudan and conscripted to fight for the rebels at the age of seven. Songs of a War Boy describes his amazing life as a child solider as well as his arrival as a refugee in Australia and how he used education and knowledge to become a community leader and forge a great career.

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The story of Sachiko and other hibakusha are important, as they chronicle a fundamental part of history. This book also supports Yasui’s work as an activist for peace, as it is a cautionary tale about nuclear weaponry, but also one of hardship and human resilience. At 144 pages there were elements that could have been elaborated on further, but it remains a well-researched piece of narrative non-fiction and essential reading for anyone interested in learning from the perils and tragedy of war.

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Most people were introduced to James “Jim” Foley when he appeared in a bright orange jumpsuit and reports (and video) confirmed that he had been the first American citizen to be murdered by ISIS. It was a moment where the Islamic State had stripped away his humanity and reduced Foley to a casualty. In the film, Jim: The James Foley Story, those closest to him set about reclaiming Foley’s story and offering us a glimpse into his complex and good-natured character.

The documentary is directed and co-written by Foley’s childhood friend, Brian Oakes, who is making his directorial debut here. The story is like a labour of love for Jim, who is shown as a restless and principled guy. Foley was a disorganised man but he believed in the importance of his work in capturing the plight of those individuals who were displaced and affected by war and conflict zones, first in Iraq and Libya and ultimately in Syria.

This film is by no means a perfect one. It does gloss over and omit some things, like Foley’s relationship with British photo journalist, John Cantlie (who was captured with Jim and remains so) is not explored. There is also little airtime given to the work that was undertaken by governments in order to negotiate with the captors for the release of prisoners (several journalists from Continental Europe were released but how this was achieved is not explained here.) The addition of some of the key facts would have made for a more comprehensive and complete tale.

Jim: The James Foley Story does succeed in creating a good portrait of Jim. The film utilises some archive footage of Jim speaking at his alma mater as well as family photos and Foley’s work from the frontline. The latter contains harrowing images of deceased and injured Syrians. These images are graphic and hard to watch but it is what Foley wanted the world to see. The filmmaker of this documentary did make the right decision however, to show only a short excerpt of Foley’s video with ISIS and it thankfully left out the gruesome beheading.

This story also contains a series of re-enactments to give the audience an idea of the brutality Foley and others experienced while in captivity. The interviews with Foley’s fellow prisoners are particularly striking and illuminating. Like Foley’s friends, colleagues and family members, they describe Jim as a caring and self-less creature who put other’s needs before his own.

Jim: The James Foley Story is an important documentary that shines a light on the late conflict journalist, James Foley. It also make us stop and appreciate what journalists and civilians caught up in war and other conflicts have to deal with on a daily basis. This story is ultimately one that will make you pause as it tugs at your heartstrings and makes you want to cry over the darkness in the world. But if there is some hope to be had here it means that it will also make you want to reach out and embrace your loved ones.

Originally published on 11 October 2016 at the following website:

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As the CEO of the World Vision charity, Tim Costello AO has often had to discuss faith. His latest book also deals with the topic of belief and how it can be used to highlight the things that humanity has in common as well as offering a vehicle for reconciliation and hope. This series of short essays is a mix of philosophy, morality, religion and inspiration as well as observations and quotes that seem more like pure memoir. Faith is not the kind of book you can skim through quickly. It is a disarming read where you need to pause, reflect and discuss the bigger issues with other people.

Costello is a Baptist minister who has had an impressive career in advocacy, social justice, charity and politics. He is the brother of Australia’s former Treasurer, Peter Costello but Tim’s ideology is more unashamedly Christian in focus. This collection of writings is not too dissimilar to Morgan Freeman’s The Story Of God documentary series in that it draws our attention to the things that individuals of different faiths have in common, even if it is little more than a belief in a higher being or power.

It is interesting that this collection is not too sanctimonious or preachy. Costello is honest and forthcoming in his admission that he is occasionally fed up with faith. He also says that he faces ire from the two opposing sides after speaking engagements because the secularists want him to dial down the spiritual elements while religious people think he should do more to emphasise his beliefs. What he does do well is talk about the importance of faith and inclusiveness while framing it through significant contemporary issues like: corruption, war, refugees, global warming and poverty.

In Faith, Tim Costello offers us some interesting food for thought about ideology, faith, human compassion and hope. He describes our first-world problems and the “soul sickness” that is permeating the affluent and manifesting itself in the high incidence of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and high suicide rates. But perhaps the most fundamental message is that instead of comparing up and trying to keep up with the Joneses, Costello tells us we should compare down and count our blessings. It’s an important idea in our blasé modern world and one that should resonate with people irrespective of their beliefs.

Originally published on 9 September 2016 at the following website:

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DVD REVIEW: Suite Française



Loving thy neighbour can be complicated in times of love and war. And World War II is the setting for the romantic, period drama, Suite Française. The film is a subtle and unoriginal story about an unlikely couple and their acting out of some forbidden love.

The film is directed by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and he doubles as the script-writer along with  Matt Charman (Bridge of Spies). The story is an adaption of a novella by the late writer, Irène Némirovsky who was originally born in Russia and was of Jewish origin. The story of the book’s author is actually an interesting one as she would eventually move to France and convert to Catholicism. She penned a few books and stories but she would die in 1942 from typhus at Auschwitz. Her manuscript for Dolce or what would later become, Suite Française was not discovered until years later by her daughter and became a best-seller in the naughties.

Suite Française is a work of literary fiction about World War II and tells the story about the good-hearted and well meaning, Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams). She is trapped and living with her icy and ruthless mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) at the latter’s country estate in France. Their domestic bliss is shattered when Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) a German soldier moves in after the invasion and subsequent occupation of France. The Lieutenant proves to be a sensitive and cultured man who plays the piano.

Lucile and the officer fall in love with each other and are characters you can easily empathise with, but questions about collaboration and compassion abound. There is also a strong sub-plot where Sam Riley (Control) plays a poaching and injured farmer who kills a horrible German solider and is subsequently forced into hiding. The supporting cast also includes Ruth Wilson and our very own, Margot Robbie.

Suite Française is certainly not the most original story in a film genre that is already burgeoning with different ideas and stories. It’s also a tad confusing to see the actors speaking in English accents whilst portraying French people, especially as the German characters are allowed to speak in their native tongue. If viewers can get past these minor quibbles they can enjoy one intense and engaging romance and adaption. It’s a film that is suspenseful and engaging and boosted by a great cast and some good performances. In all, this is a fine period drama and tragedy showing how unfair life can be in love and war.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website:

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soldier's wife

The Soldier’s Wife is an intimate tale about World War I. The book is the 30thone to be written by NSW Premier’s Award-winner, Pamela Hart (who has also published children’s and adult fantasy novels under the name, Dr. Pamela Freeman). This is ultimately an emotional story about love, change, hope, grief and longing.

The narrative is mostly told from the perspective of Ruby Hawkins. She is a naïve girl who used to work in her parent’s shop in Bourke. After a whirlwind romance to the dreamy Jimmy she decides to relocate to Sydney so they can get married and she can see him off before he goes over to fight at Gallipoli.

In Sydney, Ruby undergoes a massive transformation after she takes a job in a timber merchant’s yard. It’s a man’s world but Ruby is determined and she learns a lot of lessons along the way. Eventually she blossoms into a smart and strong, independent woman who seems before her time.

The war wages on and Ruby is comforted by Jimmy’s letters that are mostly filled with love and yearning. There is some grief and tragedy along the way and it is interesting to see how the characters deal with this. Hart does an excellent job with the characterisation here, as she really gets at the underlying emotions felt by all of the individuals. She also excels in providing historical context to the setting because it makes us understand what women could and couldn’t do and Ruby’s journey and internal struggle is very much framed by all of this.

The ending to The Soldier’s Wife is a little too swift. But that said, the rest of the book is very detailed and engaging as it really gets at the true cost of war. The Soldier’s Wife is full of characters that feel real and are easy to relate to. It’s a beautifully-written romance and historical fiction book that is entertaining and hits more high notes than low.

***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:


atthewater's edge


On paper, Sara Gruen’s novel, At The Water’s Edge holds a lot of promise. The book is by the same, famous author who penned Water for Elephants and Ape House. Plus, the plot itself has an original premise, three socialites travel to Scotland to find the Loch Ness Monster during World War II. Unfortunately at its worst, the book can be as disappointing as an unsuccessful attempt to find ol’ Nessie.

The story begins with three smug and entitled rich kids disgracing themselves on New Year’s Eve in 1942. These actions result in the couple- the witless Ellis, the weak, Maddie along with their friend, Hank being cut off by the former’s father, the bank-rolling Colonel. The latter is disappointed in his son, not least because the young man cannot serve in the war because he is colour blind.

The trio hatch a plan, if they can survive U-boat attacks and make it to Scotland, they can attempt to do what the Colonel failed, to find the Loch Ness Monster. Along the way they encounter an interesting cast of Scottish characters who teach Maddie real humility and allow her to gain a greater appreciation for ordinary things and the harsher realities of war. It is through these lessons that she discovers that her marriage is a sham, her husband is a drunk and an addict and she gets the courage to become her own, independent woman.

Gruen’s writing is excellent, there is some very vivid imagery and descriptive prose. The characters could have been made a little more likeable or they could have had some extra weight added to them (at times this book feels like little more than three fish out of water). Some of the elements in the plot require a major suspension of disbelief while other parts are plodding and predictable.

At The Water’s Edge is pleasant and it knits together some different genres, like historic fiction, a gothic romance, a tale of redemption and at times even an adventure story. But there are points when things are a little too subtle and aimless which prevent things from really sticking, overall. There are some people who may like this dark and unusual tale that is set in a lush verdant environment, but one can’t help but think that there should’ve been a little something more here, but perhaps this was lost in the depths of a Scottish river.


***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:




Nomanslanding is a world first, a 120m interactive floating artwork installation on Sydney’s Cockle Bay. It is part of public program of events commemorating the centenary of the ANZACS that was produced by Australian, Dutch and English artists: Robyn Backen, Andre Dekker, Graham Eatough, Nigel Helyer and Jennifer Turpin. Darling Harbour is also the host to a poppy remembrance wall and is holding workshops enabling you to make your own poppy as well as exhibitions of historic images and timelines and a contemporary portrait exhibition by Turkish-Australian artist, Mertim Gokalp.

The AU Review spoke with Michael Cohen, the co-curator of Nomanslanding and Creative Producer for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to learn more about this fascinating exhibit and some of the important historic details relating to the famous war port, tourist attraction and family-friendly destination known as Darling Harbour.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself like what was your involvement in Nomanslanding? How long have you been working in this capacity?

Well actually I think I’m the one who started the whole ball rolling – I guess in a producer capacity. About 3 years ago I started fishing around for international partners to work with on a big installation to float on the waters of Cockle Bay. It’s one of the really special features of Darling Harbour and doing something special there provides visitors with an experience they can’t have anywhere else. But I knew such a big project needed collaborators because it’s of a scale that would be very difficult for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to accomplish on its own. So I managed to secure some great partners and since then we’ve been working as co-curators to seek out the artists, gestate the project concept and then develop the work for each of our locations.

2. Can you tell us a little about Nomanslanding?

Nomanslanding provides visitors with an extraordinary experience of this part of the city. You’re ushered out onto the waters of the harbour along some narrow walkways and you enter what is effectively a floating wooden chapel with about 40 other people. It’s a moment out of time for people – some quiet contemplation floating in the harbour of a busy city. And in the context of the Centenary of ANZAC, visitors get to take this time for a very personal experience in a work that contemplates loss across all different cultures.




3. Nomanslanding is in place to commemorate the centenary of the ANZACs. Were there any stories or things in particular that inspired this exhibition?
In our creative development for the project, the artists were very struck by the fact that in WW1 the people on opposing sides of the war were often from (the) same professional background and the same social background – they often had the same diets and social habits. And yet there they were shooting each other across this divide of terrain that came to be known as no man’s land. So the notion of confronting the enemy and potential death is effectively about confronting yourself and your own mortality.

4. Nomanslanding is a world-first, 120m interactive floating artwork. How did this installation come about?

It’s a massively ambitious project building a floating structure and walkway – and it’s a kind of engineering impossibility really! So Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority could not have undertaken something like this without some solid partnerships. We secured two European partners who will also show the work later this year. (Nomanslanding will tour to the Merchant City Festival in Scotland and Germany’s Ruhrtriennale Festival of Arts).So between us, we were able to dream big and deliver something that we all think is quietly extraordinary.

5. What are some of the highlights of the Nomanslanding installation? What are some of the highlights of the talks program?

One of the highlights is really seeing how people from all different walks of life are introduced to the historical jump-offs for the work (WW1, ANZACs, Darling Harbour as a war port) via what is really an abstract and ‘feelingful’ kind of experience. It’s not a telegraphed through interpretation of war – people go on a quiet experience with a group of other people and they are left to ask their own questions – about war, about death and dying, about loss by all peoples.

The talks program gave people a chance to get behind the scenes and dig in for some finer detail on the making process.




6. Why do you think it’s important to have this artwork? Why should people visit it?

I think it doesn’t happen often enough that we are encouraged to ask our own questions about history. And artworks like this enable that kind of questioning in an interesting way that is free of the usual stuff that can accompany some commemorative projects. It’s not a jingoistic, flag-waving exercise at all. It actually makes that subject of WW1 commemoration a kind of personal experience that you can interpret in your own way.

And really it gives people an opportunity to experience the harbour in this part of the city in a way that they cannot do in ‘everyday life’.




7. Darling Harbour has been a significant port in terms of its involvement in the military and industry. Can you tell us more about this?

We know it was a loading port for departures and that some people also arrived back home from WW1 here.

We also know that a lot of German internees (many were Australian citizens) were sent off to Germany from here during the war.

8. What is the most interesting fact or thing about Darling Harbour that most people wouldn’t know about?

• When Europeans arrived there were cockle shells piled up for metres and metres and metres all around the foreshore – this was traditional cockle-eating place for Aboriginal people – that’s where the word Tumbalong comes from (in reference to Tumbalong Park within the Darling Harbour precinct).
• The world’s first refrigerator was invented at Darling Harbour.

9. What other events or things are coming up at Darling Harbour?

• Vivid Sydney starts in May
• A really cool celebration of winter, called ‘Cool Yule’ during the NSW winter school holidays – (to include a massive floating ‘ice-berg’ on Cockle Bay)
• An assortment of cultural festivals – check out ‘Culture Beats’ on for more details.




Nomanslanding is a free exhibition open daily from 11am at Darling Harbour. It will remain there until 3 May 2015 before it travels to Scotland and Germany. For more information please visit:


Originally published on 20 April 2015 at the following website:

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Vera Brittain was a feminist trailblazer, pacifist and activist. Her memoir about World War I, Testament Of Youth, was a detailed account of her coming of age and experience as a volunteer nurse on the frontline.

Her story has recently received its second adaptation (the first was as a TV series decades ago), and while it’s not a seamless transition to the silver screen for director James Kent, it is still a good and worthy story.

This period drama stars Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) as the rebellious, headstrong and determined Brittain. Vikander absolutely shines in this role and encapsulates the heroine’s extraordinary spirit with a classy but respectful air as well as showcasing the full extent of her emotional struggles. Brittain is no saint but thanks to Vikander she is portrayed as an amazing, independent woman and role model.

The costumes in this film are quite sumptuous at times and the cinematography is warm and beautiful during the periods of peace, and raw and gritty during the war. Brittain had had a promising career awaiting her after she passed the Oxford entrance exam but she puts this all on hold after her brother Edward (Taron Egerton); his friend, Victor (Colin Morgan); and Brittain’s fiancé Roland (Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington) enlist and are sent to the Western front.

Testament Of Youth offers a unique, complex and female perspective on the devastation of war. It shows the life of an upper-middle-class British family and lovers struck by tragedy (and the Swedish-born Vikander does a great job with the accent). The film is well-crafted and mostly true to the memoir, and elegant and restrained in its telling. In short, this film is something that will continue to haunt and resonate; a touching reflection on the human suffering and misfortune that is typical of war.


Originally published on 8 April 2015 at the following website:


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