Saturday, 27 June 2015

Book Review

Asylum by Isobel Blackthorn

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)

** I was provided an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.**

Isobel Blackthorn writes well and in the end I really enjoyed this book.  I want you to read that first, because I’m about to tell you that I really didn’t like the main character.

I struggled initially with this novel, mainly because I felt no empathy with the main character, Yvette.  Let there be no misunderstanding, Yvette is a well written character – so believable that I developed a dislike for her.

Yvette has experienced tragedy in childhood - a broken home and a violent father who ultimately leaves. She comes to Australia, on a tourist visa, to escape a relationship with a charismatic criminal she met in Malta. Once here she decides she wants to remain in the country.

Apart from her childhood, Yvette’s disasters in life are largely self-inflicted. When the reader first meets her she is self-centred, wallowing in self-pity, unable to define herself without a man in her life and looks on the lives of others with derision.  Yvette’s characterisation is excellent and I disliked her so much I wanted to stop reading. 

It is a testament to Blackthorn’s writing that I continued. Slowly, I could see the character evolving and I really wanted to find out how she would grow.  Blackthorn takes a character with no personal insight and transforms her into a woman who begins to recognise her own folly and view those around her with more compassion.  Yvette is a far more likeable character at the end of the novel than at the beginning. This transformation is done in an entirely believable way and, in the end, it was this that I really enjoyed about the book – the characters. 

Blackthorn weaves a lovely bunch of supporting characters into Yvette’s life – each with their own tangled little histories and tragedies.  They are part of the catalyst for Yvette’s transformation and serve to show the myriad of ways people cope with their past in contrast to how Yvette deals hers.

The only negative for me was that I found some sections of the narrative jarring.  Commentary on the woeful predicament and fate of the asylum seekers in Australia came across as being the author’s voice rather than the character’s.  I felt this could have been better integrated into the story.  In fact, I felt there was unexplored potential in this regard.

This is a novel that many will love. It is a tale of young woman learning to deal with her past, discovering her own worth and finding the strength to carve out a new place in the world. 

I ended up not being able to put it down until I had finished.

Four Stars.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Book Review

The Last Quarrel: The Complete Edition (#1-5)

by Duncan Lay

(Pub: Momentum Books, 2015)

**I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

I really wanted to love this book, but unfortunately I didn’t. It had some qualities that I enjoyed: excellent action sequences, and a fallible hero, Fallon, who is also a family man.   I did enjoy the character development of Fallon's wife, Bridgit - she begins to conquer her personal demons and emerges at the end of the series a stronger person and more likeable character.  However, I found it to be a plot with few surprises. 

The main problem for me was the combination of the stories in one volume.  (It is my understanding that this story was originally serialised in five parts.)  There is a need when writing a story which spans several volumes, with a substantial gap of time between each, to remind readers of certain aspects of the story or what has gone before.  When combined in one volume this became very repetitive and disengaged me as a reader. For example, the reader is often reminded of the marital problems between the hero and his wife and her depression and neurosis – this repetition was, in my opinion, unnecessary and added little to the story. The scenes that did this seemed almost carbon copies of each other. 

Perhaps this would not have been a problem if reading these parts as they were originally published, with a time gap, between each. 

In terms of pacing I found the first 300 pages (on my ereader)  on the slow side with an enormous amount of set up and little action.  After this the pacing improves greatly and the book is a much more enjoyable read.

I think the book could have benefited from a more judicious edit, particularly when combined. (Of course then it wouldn't be the complete edition.)

Three Stars

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Mel Schwarz


All artwork featured copyright of Mel Schwarz

At Supanova in Melbourne, I was absolutely entranced by the illustrations of Sydney based artist, Mel Schwarz.  The detail and imagination in the prints she had on display was astonishing.  I had to buy some and when you see them you’ll understand why. 

Mel will be at Supanova Sydney!!

Tell us a little bit about yourself please?
Well, not sure what to say really. I think of myself as a happy, slightly quirky human. I have an adorable little family and crazy dog-Polly Ester, we all live in a little shoebox sized terrace in Darlinghurst, and I keep my sanity by putting my head into my art.

Were you always interested in drawing / art? 
Oh absolutely! Ever since I could hold a pencil, I have drawn.  All my report cards at school said “if Melanie would put as much effort into her school work as she did her art, she would do very well” I was always a bit of an insular kid, so drawing was my safe place and my way to escape the happenings around me.

Do you recall how your interest in art / drawing originated?
Nope, it was just always there. I don’t remember life without it.

Did you have any formal art training?
I recently did a life drawing class for a term because I thought, I have never had art class except after school as a little kid, and I could probably learn something new.  I have just kind of figured it out by myself through practice and experimentation with different pencils and techniques. 

How did you develop your skills as an artist?
Through trial and error, many torn out sheets of paper and grunts of desperation.  There is something about pain and torment that does really great things for art.

What motivates you to draw?
Well throughout my life it’s been many different things. At the moment it’s escapism from the chaos of having a young family in an itsy bitsy living space. It gives me back my sanity so I can carry on being a decent human.

What advice would you have for young artists seeking to earn their living via their art - either as book illustrators or elsewhere?
Dude, don’t ask me. I am still trying to make a living from what I do. I can only gather that a combination of talent and guts will do the trick - oh and real confidence in your work.  As many an artist will know, believing that your work is really good can be quite a hard thing to do.

Regarding your art, do you have a favourite medium to work with?
Yes absolutely.  PENCIL.  Lead pencil.  I love it! There is something dark and romantic about it. Like an old black and white photo, it possesses an element that cannot be found in colour.  I think it also suits my style of illustration, it’s dark and a little bit twisted.

Do you have a favourite place to work?
I have a little cafe (or sort of hole in the wall) around the corner from me. They make an awesome cuppa joe, It’s a little bit dark and the music is a mix of bossanova and smoky jazz. If the weather permits, I will take my bean bag into Hyde Park with a coffee and vegemite sandwich and sit there until I have to pick the kids up from school.

How much of your artwork is drawn / painted digitally?  If you use this medium has it changed your work process?
I am technologically challenged, so there is NO digital in any of my pictures. I love the feel of the wood pencil in my fingers, the lead stains you get and the smell from an eraser. I am too much of a purist to venture into digital (and also a bit terrified).

Bernard the Gurnard book illustration

On your website you write that you have done illustrations for children’s books, set design, costume design and even tattoo designs.  Do you have a favourite type of art project?
Any project is a good project, although I do like having free reign to be as weird and wonderful as possible.

Can you describe the process you go through when working on an illustration commission from start to finish? 
If it’s a commission piece, I get all the info and any inspiration from the client and I start with a brief sketch. When the client is happy I then refine it and complete it. I tend not to have much to do with the client after the brief sketch has been approved because all my stuff is free hand, it’s hard to undo mistakes, so if the client gets too involved it can get too hard to keep re-doing a piece.

Are you currently working on another project? Can you tell us about it? 
Absolutely!!!!!  I am working on an adult’s fantasy colouring in book. I have just finished my 6th page, only another 10 or so to go.  My husband kept telling me I should do it, but of course you never really listen to the people the closest to you because they are always the most biased.  I had a good ole facebook friend tell me the same thing just 3 weeks ago, so I thought, “Oh yeah, sure, why not?” Many people are really excited about it which is really cool and I have had a couple people request a particular picture (which I will do) so I have loads to draw.  The book will have just about the same level of detail as my illustrations (bar the shading of course, that’s for you to do) and there will be dragons, giants, fairies, elephants and other strange beings, so WATCH THIS SPACE.

Thanks so much.

Find Mel on:

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Supanova Sydney – Prequel

Well, Supanova Sydney is happening this weekend June 19-21, 2015, which should be great fun.  (Tracy waves her hands about madly and does a happy dance around her desk.)

One of the best things about Supanova is the Cosplayers.  They really add to the unique atmosphere and I love the huge effort many of them go to in creating their costumes. The Odyssey Books gang had a blast at Melbourne Supanova, but this time we’re really getting into the spirit of things!  

Supanova Melbourne, 2015

(If you want to see my photos from Melbourne's Supanova click here:  Supanova Melbourne 2015 Saturday & Supanova Melbourne 2015 Sunday)

At the suggestion of Vacen Taylor, several Odyssey authors and our publisher - Michelle Lovi, and her intrepid intern - Jen, are going in costume.  We’re all pretty excited – Michelle, our publisher, particularly so since she’s a huge Nathan Fillion fan and he’ll be there. (Can’t say I blame her…)

“Let’s go to Sydney in costume as our book characters,” said Vacen. 

“Easy,” said Tracy.  “No problem.  Isaura, the heroine in Altaica, is an archer. I’m an archer. I’ll just get a costume and bring my archery gear.” 

So the clothes were pretty easy. Here’s the costume with a real 
longbow –easy…

Problem - Of course you can’t take real weapons into Supanova.  

Consensus was that the costume worked best with the bow - so I had a go at making a prop bow from stuff I literally had in the backyard. (I had all sorts of “better” ideas involving making one from timber strapping etc, but I discounted them as I needed the bow to break down into pieces for easier transportation / shipping) 

I used a war bow as a (rough - really rough) guide. Just remember it's a prop, and it will get some future refining. 

This is my first go at something like this; it's not brilliant but I think it will pass muster. The curvature of the limbs and tapering is a little off & the bowstring is huge (starter cord). But the piece of aluminium inside it can be shifted to alter the curve of the limbs. I tried to make it look like wood...

I’m actually rather pleased with the end result – that’s why I’m posting, but you’ve probably guessed that.

Here’s what I started with:  25mm irrigation pipe, a piece of aluminium window frame, masking tape, bamboo garden stakes. (Yep – stuff I had in the backyard!)

Step one:  Cut a suitable length of pipe, cut it in half, sliced the ends so I could taper and tape them, inserted pieces of bamboo to anchor string to later. Slid halves over the aluminium to join them.  

Step two: I sprayed the funky purple plastic with a primer paint that was pretty much guaranteed to stick to anything.

Step three: Painted a couple of thick coats with a red-brown/ cedar coloured house paint. Hoping the brush strokes would later mimic wood grain.

Step four: Apply crackle finish, painting longitudinally.

Step five: Paint with Burnt Umber acrylic paint. (Pray)

Step Six: Paint a really beautiful artistic kind of Celtic design at the tips.  WRONG. My ambition far exceeded my artistic skill and then I couldn’t get the gold paint off, so I just sponged it on the tips. (It kind of makes the taped ends look like a feature – at least I tell myself that.)

Here it is.

From this to this.

And the wood finish?

So bring on Supanova!  

I can’t wait to be in Sydney with Odyssey Books and chatting to people.  I’ll be armed with my camera and taking a heap of photos which I’ll put up on my Author Facebook page.

So if you’re in Sydney this weekend, drop by and say “Hi” at the Odyssey Books table and take a look at our books. 

Odyssey authors, Patricia Leslie, Sue Parritt and myself will be there.

The following sci-fi & fantasy titles will be on sale there.  Check out the cool covers.

You can find out more about these titles at

See ya!  (Only 3 days to go!!)

Monday, 15 June 2015

Film Review

Jurassic World


Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy and BD Wong.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Producers: Patrick Crowley and Frank Marshall.
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow.
Run Time: 124min

Review by Hannah M. King 


As it was envisioned by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough) in the original Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar is now a fully functional theme park; providing a habitat for an array of genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the ferocious but intelligent hybrid Indominus rex. When the massive creature escapes, it sets off a chain reaction that plunges the park into absolute chaos! Now, it’s up to operations manager Claire Dearing (Dallas Howard) and velociraptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to save visitors and staff from an all-out, prehistoric assault.

I am a huge fan of the original trilogy and was particularly excited to see how this film would measure up. Watching the trailers, I knew I was in for a treat. The design and CGI of the park and its dinosaurs was absolutely astonishing, and of the highest quality. Though it was similar to the original, the story was gripping and left me wanting more. The characters sparked great interest – how could they not, when the dashing Chris Pratt was taking the lead? With this in mind, I had very high expectations for Jurassic World. And boy, was I blown away!

For me, the highlight of the film was the interaction and relationship between Owen (Pratt) and his much valued velociraptors – Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo. Based on mutual respect, this profound bond between man and dinosaur was incredible to watch and is so unique to the franchise. It was something completely out of the ordinary and was delivered brilliantly. Though, there were times I thought they would turn on him, but thankfully not. By the end, I was rooting for the raptors – even if they did savagely kill dozens of innocent people. But hey. What’s Jurassic World without a few deaths?

Another aspect I enjoyed, was the frequent references to Jurassic Park. In the first ten minutes of the film, I was more than happy to hear mention of the late Richard Attenborough, who played the enthusiastic creator John Hammond, and how his character was well channelled through Claire and her all-white attire. Through the eyes of brothers Zach (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins), we return to the now derelict visitor’s centre. Talk about flashbacks and feels! Gray picks up a pair of night vision goggles, famously used by young Tim (Joseph Mazzello) in the first film. Zach manages to get one of the old Jeeps up and running. Needless to say, it made me smile.

As it is to be expected of a Jurassic film, there was plenty of gore. Blood splatters
everywhere. Men were ripped apart. Women were plucked off the streets and eaten – much like Claire’s lovely assistant Zara, (Katie McGrath) who was picked up by a Pteranodon, dropped into the Mosasaur lagoon, half drowned, and then eaten! Talk about a prolonged death. Give me to the raptors any day.

The finale was absolutely incredible. It was explosive. It was thrilling and heart wrenching. Who’s going to live? Who’s going to die? It was wonderfully violent. There was fire and blood everywhere. Buildings were destroyed. It was three deadly dinosaurs in the ultimate fight to the death and it was fantastic – the best fight scene I have seen in a long time!

My congratulations to the CGI team for producing such an epic finish to a truly remarkable film. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. 

Images and Video Copyright Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Book Review

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

(Pub: Snowbooks Pty Ltd, 2008)

Roger of the Raj and Biggles meet steampunk. I loved it!

Victorian London, complete with airships, steam powered coaches, plague infected revenants and…murder! What’s not to like?

Sir Maurice Newbury, anthropologist at the British Museum, is an agent for the Crown. Miss Victoria Hobbes is his able assistant. Investigating a series of mysterious murders in Whitechapel, an airship crash in Finsbury Park and the disappearance of a staff member’s relative, Newbury and Hobbes find themselves unravelling a tangled web of clues to solve their intertwined cases.

Actually, it’s not such a tangled web - I figured it out after Hobbes visited the asylum. The characters aren’t especially unique; they are not portrayed in huge depth.

None of this mattered! I still wanted to read through to the end as fast as I could. I wanted to follow our intrepid characters in their acts of extraordinary derring-do and watch / read as they figured it out themselves. 

Notice I wrote “watch” – this is so well written that it is like watching a movie. The writing is skilled, atmospheric and Mann creates a believable, detailed, steampunk Victorian London. The mystery moves at a fast pace, keeping you hooked and the physical “action” really ramps up from about halfway through.

It is rip-roaring fun. Just sit back and enjoy the ride…er…read. 

Four out of Five Stars.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Film Review

Woman in Gold

Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce. 
Director: Simon Curtis
Producer: David M. Thompson, Kris Thykier 
Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Run time: 109min

This is based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). Maria was from a wealthy Austrian Jewish family and was forced to flee the Nazis with her husband. The Nazis stole her family’s possessions, including an extensive art collection that contained Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold. The painting is a portrait of her aunt - Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Upon the death of her sister, Maria discovers letters dating back to the 1940’s indicating previous attempts to obtain the family’s stolen artwork. This is the catalyst for her to seek the restitution of her family’s paintings, in particular the portrait, and with it justice. Altmann and her lawyer take the Austrian government to court.

I wanted to see this because Helen Mirren was in it, and she is wonderful in this role – no surprise there. The big surprise, for me, was Ryan Reynolds who plays the role of lawyer, Randy Schoenberg. I had really only seen him in roles where he acts the wise cracking action hero or side kick. I really enjoyed his performance in this movie far more than I expected and found him convincing as a nervous young lawyer desperate to change his fortunes. 

The story progression / script offered no surprises, but I still really enjoyed the movie. The film touches on many serious issues and its only fault may be in not dealing in huge depth with each of them, as some reviewers have suggested, but given its run-time I think it does a fine job.

The relationship between Altmann and Schoenberg is both tempestuous and touching. The scripting and acting provide many moments of poignancy and humour in a film that deals with sombre issues. The flashback sequences in the movie are inserted seamlessly and focus on the human tragedy involved by showing everyday scenes in Altmann’s life. To know they are lost and then to see the disintegration of the joys in their life with the increase of Nazism makes them all the more heartbreaking and it makes her victory all the more satisfying.

This film represents not just a David vs Goliath legal battle, but deals with injustices of the past and the nature of guilt – Altmann’s feelings of guilt as a survivor, Schoenberg’s guilt for initially pursuing the case due to money, one man’s guilt over his Nazi father’s past. Even the establishment of the art restitution board in Austria is not merely about justice, but in part a means of allaying guilt. The art is in laying personal demons to rest and coming to terms with the past, while still holding its lessons to our hearts. I’d love to add and not letting history repeat itself, but I don’t have that much faith.