What a Time to be Alive by Mark Di Stefano

captureSynopsis: 

What a Time to be Alive: That and other lies in the 2016 campaign is the ugly and un-sanitised diary behind the curtain of the double dissolution election campaign. A poll fought between two wildly ambitious men who want to win their first election, whatever it takes. Mark Di Stefano finds out what is happening behind the scenes and how the two campaigns manufacture, massage and manipulate their parties, policies and principles.

What a time to be alive documents the daily ride of an historic election campaign, week by long week, taking you into the bizarre world of staged photo ops, booze-drenched regrets and dirty direct messages. The exposure of the unscripted moments with political leaders, their over-worked staff and secretive minders, shows how the sausage that is this Australian election, is made and reveals what is really inside.

Review:

I wouldn’t expect anyone but a political nerd or journalist to enjoy this book as much as I did. It was an even better read for me because I covered the election at a regional level for the majority of the campaign, including 12-hour shifts I pulled writing about visits by both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to our electorate.

Di Stefano had me hooked right from the start. I was fascinated not only by his frank and witty political analysis, but his commentary on the media coverage of the campaign and Australian politics in general. Di Stefano is a skilled journalist, whose work I really admire. Buzzfeed does some brilliant work in Australia and indeed worldwide, but is still seemingly stuck with the reputation of only writing listicles about cats. They’re doing much more and often beating the major traditional publishers to breaking stories. Of course this doesn’t always make them popular with other media, something Di Stefano also explores in the book.

For me, it was also intriguing to get an insight into the other side of the campaign. Working for a regional newspaper, we cover the election from a local perspective. That is until the big guns (or Bill’s campaign buses) roll into town. My job on these days was to get the story my editor and our readers wanted, something with real local significance. That requires yelling over the travelling press pack to get anything relevant to my story. This comes much to the annoyance of the national media, whose publications pay big bucks to send them on the campaign trail. Either way, it was certainly a new experience.

What a Time to be Alive is exactly what is says on the packet; a diary of Di Stefano’s time covering the campaign. It was compelling and so easy to read, but with plenty of depth. As a journalist, I know this is a book I’ll be returning to (even if only to remind myself it’s not my job to please media advisors after I’ve been yelled at for a provocative article). I’m already looking forward to the books Di Stefano will no doubt write in the future.

On Screen: Spotlight

I’m not usually one for watching movies over and over. But since it was released at the start of the year, I’ve watched Spotlight at least five times. That is definitely a record for me. This film, this story, is incredible. In all my re-watching, it’s never failed to leave me feeling completely inspired.

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The movie follows the Boston Globe’s Spotlight reporting team as they delve into reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. What starts out as an investigation into whether the church knew of one or two priests abusing children soon uncovers hundreds of cases of abuse who had gone unreported for years. The subsequent reporting lead to investigations in parishes across America and eventually the world. It’s thanks to these reporters the Royal Commission is taking place in Australia. The reporting team won a Pulitzer Prize for their work in 2003.

It was likely I would always love this film, given my career choice. But this isn’t just a film for journalists. My father, undoubtedly one of the harshest film critics, was glued to this. As everyone I’ve introduced to this movie has been. Each time I watch this I’m amazed the creative team (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer) have made the hard slog of deep investigative journalism so compelling. It’s not glamorous by any means, and I love that Spotlight doesn’t try to portray it as such. In fact, one of the best elements of this film is that it shows the toll stories like this take on journalists both physically and emotionally.

I have so much admiration for the Spotlight team. Watching this I am always reminded of the power of this profession; something that’s easy to forget when you’re caught up in the daily news cycle. I was also in awe of the survivors who told their stories in the original investigation and have come forward since. Without their bravery, the work of Spotlight would not have been the same. What I love about the film is that it not only sheds light on the journalists, but serves as yet another way to tell the stories of the survivors and to condemn the atrocious abuse that went unchecked for decades. Seeing the film win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay was a delight because it was yet another chance for the survivors to be honoured.

I cannot recommend Spotlight highly enough. As a film, it’s incredibly engaging. But the most amazing thing is this is real and the consequences of this reporting are ongoing. Just go and watch it already.

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 8.43.40 pmSynopsis: 

Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.

Review: 

I love a good, sweet contemporary and The Book of Broken Hearts was in many ways the perfect fit. What I wasn’t expecting was its depth. Along with a cute romance, Ockler delves into difficult family issues with a heartbreaking exploration of a loved one’s slow descent into dementia.

My only other experience with Alzheimer’s in fiction is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice. While that focused much more of the disease and its horrific toll, I felt many similarities with The Book of Broken Hearts. Ockler’s portrayal of the disease felt authentic and was incredibly touching to read. Putting myself in Jude’s position, I felt so much pain and sadness for her family.

Family was my favourite element of The Book of Broken Hearts and I would have loved to see even more through extra flashbacks to Jude’s childhood with her sisters. Throughout the book, I felt a little sense of each of her sisters, but would have loved to know them a little more. While I’m not usually a fan of romance, I did enjoy Jude and Emilio’s blossoming relationship and the history which was revealed with his family.

I was disappointed to see some ableist language used repeatedly throughout the book. This is something which has only come to my attention lately, so I realise not everyone considers the impacts of words like ‘spastic’, but to see it used so casually was jarring for me.

The Book of Broken Hearts was a sweet contemporary read with a heartbreaking family loss at its centre. Rather than being swallowed up in grief, this book is all about living and enjoying each moment you have with the ones you love. The perfect weekend read.

On Screen: Happy Valley (seasons one and two)

There’s a brilliantly dark and harsh quality to many of the British crime dramas I’ve come to love. The somewhat softer Heartbeat and New Tricks will always be favourites, there’s something undeniably gripping about those shows which aren’t afraid to go deeper, no matter how unsettling it may be for the audience.

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Happy Valley combines brilliant storytelling with a chilling set of events in a small Yorkshire town. Series one introduces Catherine (Sarah Lancashire), a tough police sergeant who is caring for her young grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) after the suicide of her daughter Becky eight years previously. In the wake of Becky’s death, Catherine’s relationship with both her husband and son deteriorated. She’s now divorced a living with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering heroine addict. When Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the man who raped Catherine’s daughter, is released from prison she is determined to make sure he stays out of the town. But Catherine is unaware Tommy has become embroiled in another crime: kidnapping a young woman.

The entire cast of Happy Valley is brilliant, but Sarah Lancashire and James Norton take things to a whole new level. Norton is absolutely terrifying as the psychopathic Tommy Lee Royce. After watching Happy Valley I found it so hard to see him as anything else, particularly while watching him as the village vicar in Grantchester. Meanwhile Sarah Lancashire gives an unforgettable performance. Catherine is crumbling beneath her tough facade, faced with caring for the son of the man who raped her daughter and trying to suppress her own emotional distress.

Happy Valley is a masterclass in storytelling. I could not even begin to predict which twists the plot would take and I was glued to each episode. In fact, I managed to devour seasons one and two in just three days when I finally got them on DVD. Watching it on a weekly basis was torture. Although I found the crimes in season one to be the more confronting, season two remained just as unpredictable and compelling. There is nothing more exciting than watching each seemingly unconnected event be woven together, something writer and creator Sally Wainwright does superbly.

I’m hopeful Happy Valley will return for a third season. Although crime proves a captivating part of the plot, it pales against the strong and emotional stories of an amazing cast of characters. This gritty British drama is unforgettable.

Recommended for fans of: Cuffs || No Offence

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-8-21-29-pmSynopsis:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review: 

Despite my love for Harry Potter, I doubted whether I would read Cursed Child. I hesitated to pre-order it and didn’t buy it until a month or so after its release. By then, I’d read a couple of non-spoiler reviews and hear my friends’ thoughts on whether it was worth it. I was still torn. What if this book ruined the magic of the series for me?  What if I hated it like others had? I don’t know if it was my low expectations, but if anything Cursed Child made me fall in love with Harry Potter all over again.

I think the biggest barrier to enjoyment of Cursed Child is starting it with an idea it will serve as an eighth book. While it’s definitely a continuation of the series, I viewed it as a completely separate entity. I’m sure holes could be picked in the plot and there were some things which wouldn’t necessarily stand up to scrutiny, but on the whole I enjoyed the ride. It was magical, fast-paced and so easy to fall back into this world.

Cursed Child focuses quite a bit on both Harry and Draco’s relationships with their sons Albus and Scorpius. Both have experienced very different upbringings and, despite being good friends, have wildly varying views on their time at Hogwarts as a result. This exploration of such complex parent-child relationships was my favourite element of the book and came as a welcome surprise.

Of course it was wonderful to go back to Hogwarts again and to revisit the characters beloved by millions. Without going into spoiler territory, there is a hefty dose of nostalgia here for every Harry Potter fan even if the new storyline doesn’t grab you. Another thing I loved about this was the format. This is, after all, a script and requires so much more imagination than reading a novel where everything is described in intricate detail. Not only did this not bother me, I loved the fast-paced nature of the story which could easily be read in a matter of hours.

Even if you’re sceptical about Cursed Child, it’s worth giving it a go. It didn’t ruin the series for me, only serving to remind me how brilliant those seven books are. The script format is compulsively readable and a brilliant option for those of us not lucky enough to see the live production in London.

Q&A with Doug the Pug and Leslie Mosier

Today I am ridiculously excited to welcome Leslie Mosier to the blog along with my favourite internet pooch Doug the Pug. The pair recently toured the UK as part of the launch of their debut book, Doug the Pug: King of the Internet. This gorgeous little book is an instant mood-booster and would make the perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves dogs.

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Welcome, Leslie! 

Where did you get the idea for Doug the Pug?

I had always wanted a pug named Doug, so when I was in college and met Doug, I began posting photos of him on my personal account. The internet definitely took charge and decided they wanted to make him famous!

You quit your full time PR job to manage Doug. Did you ever doubt that decision?

It was a scary decision, but ultimately it was the best decision I ever made for the brand and for my personal goals.

What’s a typical day like for you and Doug?

There is no typical day, with so many things going on we might be traveling one day, or all cozy in our home office prepping the next. Doug gets lots of rest though, and sleeps over 10 hours everyday, not including the full 8+ hours at night!

1964833_10153917485810361_1978214604_nHow do you get the perfect photo? How much preparation goes on behind the scenes?

Our inspiration comes from the internet or what we see in our daily lives. Some videos take a lot of preparation, and same goes with a few more intricate photos. Sometimes we’ll have an idea that hits us and we can make it happen in less than 2 minutes.

Is Doug ever a bit of a diva now he’s one of the most famous dogs on the internet?

Never! Doug is one of the most chill and patient dogs ever. He loves people, ask anyone that has met him!

What’s been the highlight of this journey for you so far?

The highlight would definitely be the impact we’re able to make on millions of people by a simple photo or a video. It’s amazing to hear from fans just how important Doug has been in their daily lives.

What’s next for you and Doug?

2017 is bound to be one of the busiest, and best years so far! We’re so excited for a few different opportunities in the works already, and welcome more things as we transition into the new year!

Do you have any tips for people looking to build or improve their brand on social media?

Stay consistent and always try to be innovative!

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And now, the little man himself. Welcome Doug! 

You’ve met a heap of celebrities Doug, who was your favourite? Anyone you’d particularly love to meet?

I can’t pick a favourite, because they all have been so good to me! But I would love to meet the President, Barack Obama.

When you’re not modelling, what are you doing in your spare time?
Sleeping, begging for treats or hanging out with my best friend Penelope Pearl.

It’s a given that your my favourite puppy on social media, but I’d love to know who’s your favourite?

Penelope Pearl! She’s my best friend, and there are lots of internet rumours that we’re dating now😉

Does fame ever get hard? What do you do to stay grounded?

Being cute isn’t easy, so when I get to come back to my Nashville home and relax and meditate in my backyard, it’s like a reality check!

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Thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for providing a copy of the book for review. 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-12-15-01-pmSynopsis:

‘I don’t want that nurse touching my baby.’ Those are the instructions from the newborn child’s parents. However, when the baby goes into cardiac arrest, Ruth, a nurse of twenty years’ experience, sees no option but to assist. But the baby dies. And Ruth is charged with negligent homicide.

Ruth is shattered and bewildered as she tries to come to terms with her situation. She finds different kinds of support from her sister, a fiery radical, and her teenage son, but it is to Kennedy McQuarrie, a white middle-class lawyer, to whom she entrusts her case, and her future.

As the two come to develop a truer understanding of each other’s lives, they begin to doubt the beliefs they each hold most dear. In order for the privileged to prosper, they come to realise, others have to suffer. Racism takes many forms, and is reinforced and underpinned by the structures of our society.

Review:

Jodi Picoult never fails to take me on an emotional roller coaster. Each of her novels, famous for their complex moral dilemmas, has forced me to question my beliefs and Small Great Things is no exception. I was immediately drawn into the story and completely absorbed by the characters.

I want to start with the difficult aspect of this book. There’s a slight catch-22 in the subject matter. Picoult is able to highlight racism in a book which will no doubt be read by millions because of the privilege afforded to her as a white woman in the publishing industry. Yet, not being a woman of colour herself, how can Picoult give an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to grow up black in America?

Picoult herself addresses this on her website, questioning what right she had to explore an experience she had not lived. But I think ultimately she’s done the right thing. After all, Picoult is quite clearly not a white supremacist either yet she delves into that experience in this novel too. On top of that, Picoult asks some very tough questions of her white and privileged readers especially those of the “I’m not racist, but…” variety. She’s done her research too, learning from women of colour about their experiences.

I’ve always found Picoult’s characters to be incredibly moving and her depth of understanding of them unbelievable. Small Great Things has this in spades, especially when it comes to white supremacist Turk. I was so incredibly disgusted by the absolutely vile explanations Turk gave for his behaviour and beliefs. Yet, I was in awe because it’s rare and powerful when a writer can make me feel such strong emotions. I admire Picoult’s ability to even research and write about this topic, because I find it so abhorrent.

An unflinching, raw and uncomfortable read, Small Great Things forces readers to question their own beliefs and the wider social injustice of a world set up to benefit a privileged few.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of the book for review. Small Great Things is available now, RRP $32.99.

Picoult gives a great explanation of why she felt the need to write Small Great Things on her website.