BOOK REVIEW: GARY KEMBLE – BAD BLOOD

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Bad Blood is a dark and tense novel by Australia author, Gary Kemble. This super-charged thriller is the second to star investigative journalist, Harry Hendrick (who many readers would have been introduced to in Kemble’s debut novel, Skin Deep.) Bad Blood is ultimately a disturbing and challenging mix of crime and speculative fiction.

Harry Hendrick is a self-destructive character who is sniffing out his next big story. He begins probing an alleged paedophile ring and he looks into the affairs of a union official to uncover any signs of corruption. Kemble is also asked to investigate a number of bizarre suicides by the police. They are considered strange because the bodies all have identical scars and there are also similar suicide notes at the death scenes that feature some rather strange symbols.

The investigation leads Hendrick to a professional dominatrix by the name of Mistress Hel. But is there more to this seductress than meets the eye? What transpires is a graphic and intense story that has as many layers as an onion. Bad Blood will keep you guessing until the end. Ultimately this is one gothic thriller with some disturbing elements and some scenes that will chill you to the bone.

 

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/bad-blood/10056171/

DRINK REVIEW: AROMA FESTIVAL

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It may seem strange to have a coffee festival set amongst bars and hotels claiming to be the oldest ones in Sydney, but Aroma Festival is a popular one in our calendars. The festival is the largest of its kind in the Southern hemisphere and it has been held on the last Sunday in July for almost two decades. It’s an event that sees boutique coffee roasters, chocolatiers, tea-sellers and gourmet providores coming together to celebrate their love of coffee and the stuff that goes well with it.

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In 2016 over 60 stallholders were selling their wares in First Fleet Park, Circular Quay West, George St, Tallawoladah Place and the Overseas Passenger Terminal forecourt. Visitors could sample a variety of different coffees like single origin, organic and fair-trade kinds, by family-run and speciality roasters alike. There was a stall selling Ethiopian coffee claiming that this was where the humble bean began through to Southern Indians brewing special filtered coffee and a lot of Italian cafes selling your standard lattes and espressos. It was almost like a meeting of the United Nations!

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The Festival also played host to a number of food trucks and pop up bars (where the espresso martini was a must!) There were also roving performers, DJs in First Fleet Park and a special La Toosh stage set up on top of a small French creperie. Local indie artists- Microwave Jenny, All Our Exes Live in Texas and Lolo Lovina provided a perfect soundtrack to compliment the drinks and the beautiful view of Sydney harbour. There was also a special stage where latte art competitions between home and expert baristas took place. The aim was to design the best picture in chocolate, in just under 3 minutes.

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Melbourne is renowned for its café culture and it has recently played host to ideas like rainbow lattes and deconstructed coffees. At Aroma Festival in Sydney these new fripperies were not available. Instead it was all about good quality and great tasting coffee made by experts in the area. For those wanting to learn more, there were lots of different workshops available for home baristas and coffee aficionados to learn about cupping, brewing and the like. The Aroma Festival was all about enjoying a humble little bean in its perfect, liquid gold form so let us all stop and raise our mugs to toast coffee in all its finery…

 

Originally published on 26 August 2016 at the following website: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/408/#45

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

 

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FILM REVIEW: DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD

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We all know a David Brent. The original Brent (played toe-curlingly well by Ricky Gervais) was the major reason for The Office’s success, and though it’s been over 13 years since the program’s Christmas special aired and tied up all those loose ends, Brent the “entertainer” has resurfaced. The world might have changed, but Brent hasn’t.
Life On The Road takes the lead from the mockumentary style of the TV series, but it’s not The Office: The Movie. The film features none of the original cast of characters save for Brent, and Gervais’ fellow writer and The Office’s co-creator Stephen Merchant played no part in this project. However, despite the trouble that such a dearth suggests, thankfully the film is not the disaster it could have been.

Mr. Brent is now a sales rep at Lavichem, a company that sells cleaning and personal hygiene products, but he’s still an idiot clutching at dreams of rock stardom. Eventually, following his dreams, he cashes in his pension and assembles a group of hired guns to perform as his backing band for a tour of Slough. The only problem is his bandmates hate him (he even has to pay them to drink with him) and the tour is a shambles and whirlwind of humiliation for the former manager of Wernham-Hogg.

This film sees Gervais continuing to straddle the lines between cheeky jokes and gags that are plain spiteful and mean-spirited. If you weren’t a fan of the TV show then this is not a film for you. Brent has not grown as a character: in fact, he’s more of a caricature than ever, and his affected immaturity is still easily his defining character note.

Ultimately, the film has some strong gags, and is filled with songs that are enjoyably bad. Brent’s backing band, the Foregone Conclusion, are slapdash in all the right ways and their folk/rock stylings are enjoyably middle-of-the-road. A tune like ‘Lady Gypsy’ is a crystallised version of Brent’s character: all swagger and stiffness.

That said, the supporting characters are underwritten, and there are moments that feel loose, and not properly thought out. There are still times when the original wit and humour of the television show feels lacking: gaps that may very well leave you wanting to go back and enjoy the original show in order to get your entertainment fix.

 

Originally published on 24 August 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/david-brent-life-road

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

BOOK REVIEW: COLLEEN HOOVER – IT ENDS WITH US

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

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

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

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

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-it-ends-with-us

ALBUM REVIEW: ALEX THE KID – SPEAK UP

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If the words “Alex The Kid” only make you think about an old Sega game then you have some homework to do. This is also the name of a tight, punk rock band from Geraldton in WA. The group recently won the triple j One Night Stand Unearthed competition and they’ve also just released a smouldering, debut album called Speak Up.

The record includes 13 fast and furious tracks. It basically sees the boys crank it up to eleven in just seconds and play with this kind of crazed intensity until the final moments of the album. The only exceptions to this rule are at the start of “Let’s Blow This Joint” and “It Ain’t Over” where some talking parts get in-between the rawk goodness. In the case of the former, it’s all about finding fuel for the munchies because later on they’ll be putting out a call to arms and screaming, “Let’s get high! Let’s get high tonight!” – a phrase poised to be as popular with enthusiastic punters as the Ramones’ “Hey hos” in “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

The record features triple j favourites “Vinyls” and “Skate or Lie.” The latter is one of many songs that see the “good-looking” Ken McCartney trading vocals with the screaming, “foul-mouthed” (according to the artists’ website) banshee, Dale Barker. It’s something that is reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Interzone” but with a heck of a lot more bile and bite.

 Alex The Kid are also one darned melodic band to listen to. Despite some dirty riffs, howling bass and the mayhem that ensues thanks to a cacophony of drums, they will occasionally keep you on your toes and add a catchy melodic line or two. A song like “Tenderloins,” for example, is a short, sharp thrill but they also manage to throw in some cheeky harmonica into the mix.
 Speak Up is a promising debut from a group of young men who know how to rock and party. They clearly have a love/hate relationship with their small hometown because some of the songs seem to rally against it, while others seem to embrace it and just want to get the party started.

These 13 fist-pumping corkers will strike a chord with anyone who has ever wanted to jump around and mess some shit up. This is definitely a band that we should keep an eye on as they grow up and hone their talent for crafting snarling punk rock. Yeah!

 

Originally published on 22 August 2016 at the following website: http://musicfeeds.com.au/album/alex-the-kid-speak-up/

Visit Music Feed’s homepage at: http://musicfeeds.com.au/

FOOD REVIEW: JEFF DE BRUGES 375G ASSORTED BALLOTIN BOX

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They say that good things come in small packages. This is certainly the case for the 375g ballotin box by chocolatier, Jeff de Bruges. This little gift box packs a whopping 32 different chocolates in one handy spot. This means there is a little something for everyone in a prism that can only be described as chocolate heaven. This bundle features chocolates of all different shapes and sizes in the milk, dark and white varieties.

Jeff de Bruges is an acclaimed confectioner who is well known throughout Europe for his chocolates. Now it’s Australia’s turn with the first store in the country to be opened in Bondi. The chocolatiers use old French recipes but there are also some modern twists thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. Ultimately the emphasis is on quality as there are no hydrogenated vegetable fats, palm oil or genetically modified organisms used in the production of these chocolates. It is mostly just cocoa butter, pure and simple and this is how it should be.

The chocolates fit five broad types. There are the “intense” ones for the extra-strong dark chocolate pieces and the “creamy” for the soft and smooth ones that are typically milk chocolate. There’s the fruity variety for the often soft-centred ones that are paired with a tart fruit like a lemon or a raspberry while the spicy variety include ingredients like coffee, tea or other spices. The final “type” is the “gourmet” one and the bulk of the chocolates fit this category. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is de Bruges’s speciality as this draws together lots of crisp and nutty pieces.

A highlight of this collection is the gianduja. This is one for lovers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. It’s a very creamy one that tastes like hazelnuts and is also the basis for quite a few of the chocolates in the ballotin. Another stand-out is the amande milk and dark chocolates that are the size of chocolate sultanas but are actually a kind of scorched almond with a sugar coating. In lesser hands this could be sickly sweet and overpowering but one thing that is noteworthy about Jeff de Bruges’s chocolates is how balanced all the flavours are, it’s like they’re all in perfect sync with one another.

Jeff de Bruges chocolates look poised to become a new favourite with Australians who love their high-quality chocolate packed with a dash of chic and modern sophistication. The ballotin box has a little something for everyone and the premium ingredients mean that these chocolates are far better for you then the chemical-ridden slabs on our supermarket shelves. We may not need another excuse to eat chocolate but Jeff de Bruges has given us at least 32 reasons why we should sit down and savour every morsel of his creations and bask in their glory. Yum!

 

***Please note: a free box of chocolates was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://living.beautyandlace.net/user-reviews-jeff-de-bruges-sydney

BOOK REVIEW: HELEN THURLOE – PROMISING AZRA

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Promising Azra is a book about torn loyalties told from the perspective of an amazing 16 year old girl. The story’s eponymous protagonist is an intelligent, ambitious and determined young woman who wants an education while her family feel indebted to her uncle and decide to adhere to an old cultural practice of arranged (and forced) marriage. This book is an important one that highlights an issue that most people would have thought was dormant but is in fact affecting many young people today.

This novel is the debut one from the award-winning writer, Helen Thurloe. The story is fictional but it is based on real-life events. It is obvious that Thurloe has completed lots of research for this because the whole thing feels quite “real” and raw in parts. It will also leave you empathising with the main character.

Azra has a few things in common with Josie Alibrandi in Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi. Both girls are studying at high-school. The two girls are also searching for their identity in contemporary Australia while also negotiating the influence of their heritage and culture and its impact on their teenage lives. In Josephine’s case the stakes weren’t very high but Azra’s is a different story. The latter is faced with a forced marriage at the humble age of 17. If Azra agrees to this arrangement then she will not realise her academic dreams and the marriage will be one that makes her family happy. But if she refuses then she can receive an education but the cost will mean that she is cut off from the people that she loves.

Promising Azra could have been a very intense and dry book. But Thurloe has done a fantastic job of telling a good story in an engaging way. She has also dealt with some tough issues in a sensitive and direct manner. Azra is an excellent character that you will instantly warm to and her conflict and struggle is utterly engrossing. This book is essential reading for anyone that wants to know about familial traditions and obligations and the hard choices that some of us are forced to make. In short, it can be quite heart-wrenching stuff.

 

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-promising-azra

FOOD REVIEW: MARGHERITA’S VINOTECA @ WORLD SQUARE, SYDNEY CBD

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The word “Margherita” is normally synonymous with pizza. It could also be mistaken for a cocktail, as this could be how you would spell it after drinking one too many. But “Margherita’s” is also the name of a new restaurant, vinoteca and charcuterie in the heart of World Square in Sydney. It is located in a laneway beside that large bull statue and it’s a seamless transition to a gorgeous Italian piazza where you could relax and enjoy the finer things in life, like hearty, good quality Italian food and wine.

 

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The restaurant is the second one to be opened in the precinct by restauranteur, Jim Kospetas. The first was the casual eatery/café, Margherita & Co. which is just a stone’s throw away (or literally just across the way) from the vinoteca. Both of these restaurants specialise in pizzas and pastas but Margherita’s Vinoteca is like the suave, older sibling to its baby sister. This is because Margherita’s Vinoteca allows patrons more options with its mains and drinks as well as a large bar, booths and sit-down tables.

 

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The menu for the vinoteca is designed by former Swine & Co chef, Robert Taylor. The ingredients are more exquisite than its sister store with Margherita’s Vinoteca ultimately feeling more like a trattoria or high-end wine bar that allows patrons to eat their way through premium quality salumi and cheese as well as various antipasti, stone-fired pizzas and mains. The menu – like the decor – seems fresh and contemporary but it also doesn’t turn its back on the best aspects of the past. The black and white artworks and projections give the setting an old-school glamour and take you back to little Italy while the produce and dishes are elegant and with a twist of modern Australian aspects thrown in as well.

 

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The array of salumi ($9 per 30g) and cheese ($12 per 50g) is impressive and feels like it should be written on a blackboard in an old, Italian deli. These meats and cheeses come served with “bread” and “accompaniments” read: grape chutney, quince paste, grissini and flat bread. We sampled the San Daniele prosciutto (a highly-sought after cured meat from the Udine province in the North of Italy) and the bresaola (a dry-cured fillet of beef.) This was served with truffle honey ricotta and some hard Italian cheese, testun di Barolo. Ricotta is already a rather sweet and soft cheese that is sometimes used in desserts and the honey truffle added some extra saccharine to the cheese. This went really well with the chilli tones found in the grape chutney and the fruity, sparkling bubbles of the white wine, La Gioiosa prosecco ($10).

 

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The lemon baked mozzarella with basil, dried chilli and white anchovies ($6 each)proved an interesting little entrée. This was made by scooping out most of the flesh of half a lemon and baking the cheese in it. This gave the filling a very tart, lemony flavour.

 

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The Yamba king prawns with chilli, lime and garlic butter sauce ($26) were a real highlight. They were butter-flied and served in the shell (which sometimes proved challenging to eat in respectable company) but they were also so succulent and mouth-watering. They were everything you have ever wanted from a prawn and more.

 

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To accompany the mains we had an Italian red wine produced by fattoria la Braccesca. The grape variety was the Sabazio rosso di Montepulciano ($60 per bottle) and is a native grape from the Abruzzo region. Italy has over 500 different grape varieties and while it can be a little daunting for people that only know about Shiraz, Pinot Noir, etc. it is great to sample something from a different region and to consume it as it was intended, i.e. alongside fine Italian food.

 

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The pasta we tried was the linguine nero ($26.) This was a squid-ink linguine accompanied by a sauce made up of swimmer crab, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, chilli and bottarga (a salted, cured fish roe.) This sauce had a strong citrus flavour and this complimented the saltiness of the crab and the squid-ink that flavoured the pasta. The linguine was also quite delicate and the overall feel was of a deceptively simple yet flavoursome sauce.

 

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The ocean trout with braised chickpeas and pinenut crust ($26) was a feast for the eyes and the mouth. It was dressed with some crispy, fried kale and the deep green colour popped against the dark and fragrant orange puree. This was a hearty and earthy dish and the fish was cooked to perfection and boasted a crispy, nutty crust. This dish was something I could eat again and again.

 

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For dessert we had a moist and fluffy tiramisu ($14.), the famous Italian dessert made with coffee, mascarpone and fingers of sponge cake. We also followed this with a shot of limoncello ($10-15.) Margherita’s Vinoteca has an impressive four different types of limoncello on the menu as well as lots of dessert wines, cocktails, spirits, wines and beers. It means this is a venue that you could easily enjoy a sneaky after-work drink or two as well as a relaxed, sit-down dinner in the company of good friends and be supported by staff who are passionate and knowledgeable about great food and drink.

 

Margherita’s Vinoteca
Address: Shop 15, 91 Liverpool St, Hordern Arcade Sydney NSW 2000
Contact: (02) 92838634
Website: http://www.universalhotels.com.au/margherita-cos-vinoteca/
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday: 11am – late; Saturday: 5pm – late (private functions/event bookings also available).

 

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Originally published on 15 August 2016 at the following website: http://food.theaureview.com/dining/review-margheritas-vinoteca-cbd-sydney/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to dining and food at: http://food.theaureview.com/

DVD REVIEW: QUEEN VICTORIA’S LETTERS

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The thing about famous people is that you should probably leave your expectations at the door. The royal family is no exception. The two-part series, Queen Victoria’s Letters attempts to show a more intimate and personal view of this long-reigning monarch and the quote, “Grandmother of Europe.” The show is ultimately a rather intriguing one that may not be the most essential viewing but it will at least challenge your thinking.

The program is hosted by A.N. Wilson who has written a biography about Queen Victoria. He pores over exclusive letters and the Queen’s personal diaries in order to show a different view of the monarch. The result is not a completely unadulterated view because her daughter, Princess Beatrice censored the diaries and left out some of the more scandalous things at the time. But what does survive is a look at the Queen’s oppressive childhood and marriage as well as the controversial alliances and friendships she formed with her highland servant, John Brown, British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne and the young Indian servant, Abdul Karim.

The letters are narrated by Anna Chancellor. They show the Queen as a romantic and sometimes a rather naïve and idealistic woman. In the course of the writings we learn that she seeks out lots of male attention and this could be chalked up to her losing her father at such a young age. She was also not amused by the successive pregnancies in which she bore Prince Albert’s children. This ultimately meant she had to confer more power upon him and in doing so lose some of her very own.

Queen Victoria’s Letters could have been as dry and staid as a dusty, old book. Instead, they are quite eloquent, intense and personal. Even though they have been censored, there is still a sense that this is the most intimate and raw look you will ever get at Queen Victoria. And at the end of the day it’s an image that is at complete odds with the mourning matron that so many people consider her to be synonymous with.

 

Originally published on 10 August 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/queen-victorias-letters-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/how-to-make-an-american-quilt-dvd-review/

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