You may not see much of me next year (not that you saw much of me this year, let's face it) as I think my blogging mojo is dwindling and will probably be hovering at around zero by the end of summer.
The reason I started this blog is now a faded and somewhat jaded memory. Just like me! Seriously, I'm an old fart now. I'm less inclined to tell any personal stories now because... I don't know.... Is "can't be fucked" a good enough reason? And every time I do, somebody unsubscribes...but that's ok. Even I bore myself sometimes.
However, if I still get the occasional opportunity to review a book or movie, I will be popping my head into your inbox/blog feed/subconscious to let you know about it, because everyone is entitled to my opinion. It would be rude not to share. So please stick around for that.
I hope you enjoy your festive season, whatever it entails.
For us, it's going to be all about Pimm's and pavlovas.
I don't plug my own home state often enough. And I should. It's wonderful. Beautiful scenery, amazing food and wines, excellent festivals, great people. I wouldn't live anywhere else.
So I was very happy and proud to be gifted Flavours of South Australia, a truly stunning book by Smudge Publishing, which is a culinary adventure showcasing what our state has to offer.
South Australia's produce has an excellent reputation locally and internationally, and it is no secret that our premium food and wines are a strong part of our proud identity. Our festivals are second to none, and we love to share it all with our visitors.
This mammoth book of more than 500 pages is a guide to some of the best places to eat, drink, relax, and take in the sights of this great part of Australia.
From farm gates to cellar doors and hidden bars to fab restaurants, from Adelaide city and Hills to the Barossa Valley, from Flinders Ranges to McLaren Vale, and Clare Valley to the Limestone Coast, and everywhere in between, you'll never be short of ideas for a culinary night out, weekend or holiday again.
The book shares information about every region of the state, a little history, and a lot of really beautiful photography by Amanda Davenport, Christina Soong and Alana Dimou.
You will also meet some of the growers, winemakers and chefs who fill our tables (and stomachs) with such skill and a shared passion for delivering delicious seasonal produce, creative dishes from a wide array of cuisines, and a glass...or three...of locally made wine to all who live in or visit this great state.
And your tastebuds will be tingling so much, you will want to try the signature recipes by the talented chefs which are included in the book.
As I turn each page, I am hit with either something familiar, or something with which I definitely want to become familiar. Basically, I've either been there, or want to go there. My "Must Visit" list is growing, and I can see our family and friends eating and drinking their way through this book for the next five years...and then starting all over again.
If you are looking for a gift for the foodie in your life, or you love discovering South Australia's wineries and restaurants, or you just have a thing for beautiful coffee table books, look no further!
Flavours of South Australia is available for purchase from most good bookstores or direct from Smudge Publishing's online bookshop.
*$5 from each copy of Flavours of South Australia sold on Smudge Eats bookshop will be donated to the SA Pinery Fire Appeal
Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned on a secured property with eight other girls. They have their heads shaved, are forced to wear uniforms, and are watched over by two guards and a 'nurse'. Initially strangers to each other, the women soon learn what 'crime' links them. Slowly, they realise nobody is coming to rescue them, that power and control can take many forms, and they have to use that knowledge to do whatever it takes to survive in this desolate hellhole.
I've taken a long time to write about this book for a few reasons...
1. I had the flu for three weeks, I've been away, I've been at cricket, and we've been putting some finishing touches to our renovations (there's always "one more thing to do", isn't there?).
2. It is such a compelling, thought-provoking novel that I didn't want to write a knee-jerk-reaction post, but wanted to mull it over, get my head around it, and know what I want to say.
3. I knew that whatever I say, my words will not do justice to Charlotte Wood's stunningly descriptive portrayal of a dystopian world of misogyny and victim-blaming.
4. I read some reviews that pissed me off. A couple used long sentences and big words for no real positive effect ("look at me, I can write too"), and another, while punchy and brief, gave away several plot points and even a hint at the ending. The ending!! WHO ACTUALLY GIVES AWAY HINTS ABOUT THE ENDING IN A REVIEW??
So, I will not use big words, or give you spoilers. I will say this story is powerful, engrossing, confronting and horrifying all at once. It draws you in, but may also push you away at times. But that is not a bad thing. Sometimes our comfort zones need challenging. Sometimes we need to read of despair and hatred, and how our survival instincts can rise above those feelings, and use them as fuel.
The writing is brilliantly vivid, and yet masterfully controlled. I'm not even sure I can explain that, apart from drumming out the old writing rule of "Show. Don't tell." And Charlotte Wood nails it.
You can see the isolated prison. You can hear the guards' contempt. You can feel the girls' fear and desperation. You can taste the rabbit (I never want to eat rabbit again, by the way).
The Natural Way of Things won't be for everyone...but if you're game, I highly recommend it as a remarkable novel you won't forget in a hurry.
I gave it four stars on Goodreads.
Charlotte Wood is the author of four novels and one non-fiction book, and has been shortlisted for many prizes, including the Miles Franklin and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.
Whenever the silly question arises of who I want to play me in a movie of my life, my answer has always been the same. Kate Winslet.
And then I think, "Oh, what a jaw-droppingly boring movie that would be. I'm so sorry, Kate, you don't deserve such mediocrity."
In the meantime, I'm happy to watch her light up the screen in other roles, such as her brilliant performance as Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, in The Dressmaker.
Based on the Rosalie Ham novel of the same name, The Dressmaker is set in 1951 in the tiny country town of Dungatar, where prejudices, gossip and secrets are rife. Tilly Dunnage's unexpected appearance after a 25 year absence causes an uncomfortable and somewhat hostile reaction from the townsfolk, not the least of which is from her own mother, "Mad" Molly (Judy Davis).
With an opening line of, "I'm back, you bastards", you know from the outset that Tilly has not returned to her childhood home meekly.
After working under expert tutelage as a dressmaker throughout Europe, Tilly's homecoming transforms the lives of her frumpy neighbours, who discover that clothes maketh the men notice the women. Whilst appearing to be happy enough, for a price, to help the women improve their wardrobes and in turn, their love lives, Tilly's ultimate reason for reconnecting with her ostracised mother and the eccentric Dungatar residents is to unlock the confused memories of her own past, and answer one question... Is she a murderer?
As her relationship with her mother improves, thanks to bonding over fabric and pins, Tilly finds she has two more allies in her quest for the truth; Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving), who has a secret of his own, and Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth), whose family looked out for Molly after the town had turned its back on her.
And if Tilly can exact some revenge while dismantling the town's web of secrets and lies, all the better...
I truly loved this movie. It made me laugh, and it made me cry. Director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, likens the movie to a "magical realism Spaghetti Western, kind of like Unforgiven with a sewing machine". She has stitched this quirky, funny, sad, unique, and dark story into a big screen success. It had slapstick, clever comedy, heartbreaking drama, excellent dialogue, and brilliant performances by a cast which read like a who's who of Australia's most talented actors; Shane Bourne, Rebecca Gibney, Shane Jacobson, Sarah Snook, Barry Otto, Sacha Horler, Julia Blake, Gyton Grantley... just to name a few.
Weaving is delightful, Hemsworth is warm and lovable (and genetically blessed, hubba hubba), but the key for me is the presence and chemistry of Kate Winslet and Judy Davis. Their scenes together left me breathless, either with laughter or tears, and with a lot of empathetic understanding. Their portrayal of the volatile, but ultimately loving relationship between an ailing mother and a frustrated daughter, both as proudly stubborn as each other, was pure gold and fabulous to watch.
And Kate's Australian accent was the best I have ever heard by a non-Aussie. Totally nailed it.
She SO HAS TO PLAY ME.
The Dressmaker opens Australia wide on October 29, check your local guides.
I'm getting old, grumpy, impatient and lazy. Yes, I know this comes as no surprise to regulars.
I want to simplify everything. I don't want to decipher instructions; I want them to be obvious.
I don't want to concentrate. Basically, I don't want to brain any more. Braining is exhausting.
I watch the weather report at the end of the news, (by 'watch' I mean stare blankly at the TV and sip my wine) and more often than not, I turn to The Husband and say, "Errr... I wasn't absorbing that, what's it going to be like on the weekend?"
I don't want all of this...
What might keep me interested is more straightforward words, with appropriate pictures.
"Get ALL your washing out on Friday morning, but make sure you bring it ALL in by 4pm. Yes, I know there's a lot, but you'll be thanking me for it by 5pm.
If you're staying home Friday night you won't quite need your fire on, but have your ugg boots on standby. If you're going out, take a jacket, because you'll freeze trying to catch a taxi at 2am. Remember last time? You almost took someone's eye out with your nipples... and you are no Jennifer Aniston.
On Saturday, don't even think about washing the car or mowing the lawn, take an umbrella EVERYWHERE, and check that your makeup is waterproof. Heath Ledger was the best Joker, don't try to compete.
Sunday is windy, wash your sheets, they'll be dry in ten minutes flat. Don't go wearing any billowing skirts or dresses unless you want everyone to see your undies. And tie your hair back, nobody wants to see that mess.
Monday will get warm and damp, like...well, you know. You may not need to go to the gym, as just getting your gym gear on will be enough of a workout. Your hot flushes are going to be BAD, so pack extra deodorant. The humidity struggle will be real. You will need your extra strength frizz-free conditioner and a really good straightener. We are no longer in the 80s.
I would totally pay attention to a weather forecast like that.
The Husband would be the one turning to me saying, "Errrr, I missed all that. What's the weekend going to be like?"
Because all he would absorb would be Jen's nipples.
Stay tuned for next week when I simplify washing machine instructions. You're welcome.
When I was young, I thought memoirs were written by old people. The ones who were approaching the end of their interesting careers or fascinating lives, had nothing left to look forward to, and spent their time looking backwards.
Now that I'm much older.... let's be kind and say middle aged... I know this isn't the case. There is much to share at every turning point of our life's journey, and this is particularly true of the two memoirs I read this month, thanks to Allen & Unwin.
Is this my beautiful life? By Jessica Rowe
Jess Rowe is many things; journalist, TV presenter, author, charity worker, mother, and wife among them. You see her stunning, smiling face on your screen and in magazines, and probably think life has been so glamorous and easy for her. That she has it all, and it has always been that way.
But what was supposed to be Jessica's beautiful, perfect life - successful career, marriage, babies - was thrown into complete disarray when her perceived "have it all" goals began to crumble; her television career was derailed in a spectacularly public way, she struggled to conceive and had to venture along the emotionally draining IVF path, she ultimately felt like a failure as a mother, and was eventually diagnosed with post-natal depression.
This is one of the most honest memoirs I have ever read. Jess doesn't hold back, describing all of her thoughts and fears during heartbreaking personal events with complete openness and humour, and how, with the help of her loving husband and family, she sought the medical help that has seen her regain her balance in her "messy, wonderful life".
If you've ever been touched by the pain of infertility, the IVF journey, or PND, you will feel a kindred spirit in Jess, and be encouraged by her message.
"Having it all" can mean something different to every individual, nobody's life is perfect, and it is absolutely okay to ask for help.
Jessica Rowe has worked as a broadcaster at all the major commercial television networks over the course of her career, written two books, is patron of the Mental Health Council of Australia, is an ambassador for beyondblue, and patron of its work on post-natal depression. She was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2015. Jess lives with her husband, journalist Peter Overton, and their two daughters, and is currently a presenter on Channel 10's morning show, Studio 10.
A percentage of the purchase price of every book sold will be donated to beyondblue.
What My Daughters Taught Me by Joseph Wakim
"I wear the pants. They choose them."
This probably sums up a lot of loving father/daughter relationships (our household is no different!), but never more so for Joseph Wakim than when he lost his lovely wife, Nadia, to breast cancer, and found himself raising their three young daughters in the new home that was meant to be for all of them.
There was well-meaning, but sometimes intrusive, advice from family, friends, and even strangers, but Joseph decided to let his heart and his daughters teach him how to get through the grief and celebrate life again. Together they navigated their way through everything, from how to do ponytails, be a 'dance mom', and event management for 16 year olds, to letting them, and himself, go on dates.
This is so well written, and another brilliantly honest memoir, sometimes hilariously so. Joseph's warmth and love for his daughters shines out from the pages as he shares their rollercoaster ride.
"We hung on tightly to each other and my arms became their seat belts."
Joseph Wakim has studied psychology and social work, he founded the Streetwork Project and the Australian Arabic Council, has written four comedies and produced a TV documentary. He was appointed Victoria's youngest Multicultural Affairs Minister, granted the Violence Prevention Award, and the Order of Australia Medal. His debut book was a finalist for Australian Christian Book of the Year, and he has had over 600 opinion pieces published across all major Australian newspapers.
Yesterday was one of those perfect end-of-winter days. Bright blue skies, warm sunshine, birds singing.
The dog playfully jumped on us in bed in the morning. Breakfast was lovely. A few chores were taken care of out in the glorious weather with no complaints. A bit of pleasant gift shopping completed. Lunch at a cafe we love was totally scrumptious, while enjoying even more sunshine. A bit of a stroll, a few photos were taken, and on to my favourite flower shop.
A stunning pot of flowers was bought as a gift, and as a gift to myself, a big bunch of stocks was also grabbed. The lovely salesgirl threw in a couple of large bunches of jonquils for free, and my day was made.
Back in the car, balancing these big bouquets on my lap, between my legs, and headed for our next destination....I felt something....wet.
"I think I've wet myself."
"Just kidding....the plastic wrap around the flowers has split and the water that was in the bottom has run out. Onto my seat. Between my legs. I'm wet."
"Enough to drown in."
"So we're heading home instead?"
"Duh. Unless you want to be seen in public with me, walking around like a toddler with a full nappy, doing that special legs-spread-wet-pant-walk."
And then we discovered those few chores that were accomplished in the morning required some follow up. The Husband had accidentally smeared paint over one of our sensor lights. Right where we want it to "sense" us.
Then those two small drops of green paint he had spilled onto the paving and "cleaned up", had turned into, now it had dried, two enormous green circles where he had spread it.
The dog jumped on us, covered in dirt, after she had dug a huge hole in the backyard. This followed us discovering she had chewed the Husband's electric toothbrush into 37 pieces.
We forgot to organise anything at all for dinner.
And all the stunning bunches of flowers I arranged throughout the house caused both The Husband and The Daughter to go into complete whinging, whining, itchy-eyed, sniffling hayfever meltdown.