Thursday, 17 December 2015

Book Review

The South Forsaken

by Rachel Drummond

(First published May, 2013. This edition published by Odyssey Books, 2015)

A book about the zombie apocalypse set in Australia?  With zombie central beginning in Geelong?  How could I not read this!  

For those of you non Australian readers - Geelong is a regional city not too far from Melbourne that is the butt of numerous jokes along socio-economic lines.  (Too cryptic – think about it, you’ll figure it out.)

The South Forsaken by Rachel Drummond centres around Sarah, a nurse, her friends, family and a disparate group of strangers they meet in their various battles for survival. Sarah and her brother are horror film addicts – particularly, it seems, zombie films; so much so that Sarah has her “bug-out” kit stashed in the boot of her car.  I’m not sure how many novels deal with zombie movie fans who have thought through their escape plans and have their emergency bag stowed in their car, but I found this a nice touch to the story.  The drama unfolds when a research worker becomes contaminated with an experimental virus and goes home and infects his son. The ambulance comes…they both get hospitalised…you know the drill. 
All this commences on the day after Christmas – Boxing Day.  Most people are either out enjoying the holidays or shopping at the post-Christmas sales.  Lots of people out and about, lots of zombie munchies…

So there is our recipe for disaster and it’s a good set up.  Drummond is a nurse and her use of technical terms lends itself well to the set up of this story.  However, there is no logical story progression from patient zero to mass zombies.  We hear of two infected patients in the hospital and next we have panic on the streets and zombies popping up everywhere.  This sequence needed just a little more thought. 

This is an action packed adventure and moves at a fast pace.  Some of the initial action sequences lacked tension. They were a technically and clinically accurate telling of events without what I call related atmospherics – there was little to make me feel the scenes i.e. the fear etc.  (There were also a couple of minor continuity errors in the first half.)

However, as the story progressed, Drummond hit her straps and the action sequences and writing in general improved dramatically.  I went from merely thinking the story was ok to being really engaged by it and her characters.  I finished the novel with the thought - "Blast! Now I have to wait for the next one!" 

I really did enjoy The South Forsaken

Would I buy and read the next one?  Yes, because I genuinely want to know what Drummond has planned for her characters and based on the latter half of the book I think the next one will be a cracker. 

Three Stars.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Book Review

The Art of Effective Dreaming

by Gillian Polack

(Pub: Satalyte Publishing, 2015)

Bored? Trapped in the mindless routine of the daily grind? We’ve all dreamed of escaping at some point whether it’s via a change of job, a holiday, a movie or a good book…

Gillian Polack’s novel The Art of Effective Dreaming is about Fay, a public servant who is depressed with her "drearily, drably and impossibly dull” life. Her form of escape is to create a dream world and lose herself within it. 

The characters of this imagined realm become her friends and this world holds Fay’s interest far more than her workaday life.  The fantasy world offers what her real world lacks - happiness in the form of true love (I’ve lines from The Princess Bride ringing in my head as I type that!) and friendship, but comes with the added and unwelcome bonus of an evil sorcerer and murder.

Sounds exciting for a fictional realm, yet Fay’s world turns out to be just a real as her boring and “impossibly dull” world and she finds herself in a battle to save not only her imaginary creation, but herself.

I found a great deal about Fay that I could relate to and the premise of this story had me hooked, as I’m almost always immersed in worlds created by my imagination and I love getting lost in them – mine don’t, fortunately, become as real as Fay’s world.

Polack writes witty and delightful prose and from the first page I found myself smiling and chuckling while reading The Art of Effective Dreaming. Her characterisation of Fay is excellent – Fay is honest, intelligent, her emotions yo-yo and at times she is confused and rambling as she attempts to sort out the dilemmas before her. In short, Fay is very complicated, at times endearing and at others frustrating and really well constructed.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Art of Effective Dreaming, this is a book that the reader will have to work at a little. The narrative jumps between Fay’s real world and her imagined one and, while this doesn’t sound difficult or unusual, time works differently in both realms. The result of this is that large intervals of time may have elapsed between her visits and the reader is left to figure out what has been happening.

This makes the story occasionally disjointed and I found this hindered my enjoyment of the novel. After a few chapters I’d become accustomed to it and learned to wait as things were slowly revealed. I would have liked a smoother progression between the two worlds and for Fay to have spent more time in each, developing the story in more depth. However, I think that this slightly scattered approach actually reflects Fay’s state of mind and as she is transformed, so too is the story.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed The Art of Effective Dreaming – it was quirky and very well written. I also loved the fact that Polack doesn’t have Fay fall into the true love trough and become mindlessly in love. Don’t misunderstand me - you will enjoy the romance aspects of this novel – our handsome prince is not perfect and nor is Fay – yet by the end of the book she knows what she wants.

This is very much a story of a woman lost in the drudgery that can become our everyday workday lives. Fay’s imaginary creation is a life raft and through it she remembers who she was and decides who she wants to be.

We all need such an escape from time to time.

Four Stars.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Film Review

The Good Dinosaur


Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand and Steve Zahn.
Director: Peter Sohn
Producer: Denise Ream
Screenwriter: Meg LeFauve
Run Time: 100 min 

Review by Hannah M. King 


The Good Dinosaur is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, complete with thrilling adventure, hilarious characters and poignant heart. 

In an alternate reality where dinosaurs still walk the Earth, a small and timid Apatosaurus named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) finds himself separated from his family, and at the mercy of the wilds beyond his farming home. To survive, he forms an unlikely alliance with a human cave-boy (Jack Bright) and encounters an array of wacky and unusual characters, who both challenge and change him. 

Family is at the heart of every Disney & Pixar film you see, and The Good Dinosaur was no exception. The film opens on two Apatosaurus farmers, witnessing the birth of their three children: Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner) and the runt, Arlo. While Libby and Buck easily adjust to life and their responsibilities on the farm (signified by a mud-print on a corn silo), Arlo's fearful nature makes his tasks difficult for him. But he is determined to prove himself, particularly to his father (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) whom he admires. But in a heart-wrenching twist, the father is lost in a violent flash flood, and Arlo is swept miles downstream and far from home. This pulled more than a few heartstrings, because it reminded me of Mufusa’s death in The Lion King. Need I say more here? 

On a lighter note, I was thoroughly entertained by the interaction and relationship between Arlo and Spot. Their childish banter and antics made me smile, particularly scenes where Arlo plays with Spot. In one scene, he ignites a swarm of fireflies and chases after them with Spot by his side. In another, Spot blows into a hole in the ground and forces out a small gopher-like creature. Arlo does the same and dozens burst free, and then slowly crawl up his legs. His slow, yet dramatic realisation was perfect comic timing in my opinion. However, the pinnacle moment for me, a moment that left me in tears, was when Arlo thinks of his family and displays them in the form of twigs. Spot may not be able to speak, but he understands what is being shown and does the same - sadly burying the twigs of his mother and father. 

It was at this point that I fell in love with the film. Here they are, two very different creatures coming together over their own personal tragedies, finding solace and a lasting bond. Friendship is another aspect Disney and Pixar excel, and they certainly didn’t disappoint here. 

What I also like about this film is the unusual backdrop. Most Disney & Pixar films are set in castles, a children’s bedroom, a factory, an anthill, but not The Good Dinosaur. Yes, it’s set in prehistoric times but with a western influence and twist. For example, Arlo and Spot encounter a grizzled Tyrannosaur rancher (voiced by western stalwart Sam Elliott), who needs their help to chase off some velociraptor cattle-rustlers. This was slightly confusing at first because, really, you think of Tyrannosaurs are ferocious, bloodthirsty creatures, but this film, they’re as friendly as Larry and even help Alro find his way home. Talk about a twist.

But not every encounter along the trail packs quite the same thrill: a Dumbo-channelling hallucination sequence and an encounter with a styracosaurus shaman and his collection of "pets" are both oddball highlights, while a group of unhinged, storm-chasing pterodactyls comparatively feels like peril-by-rote.

Overall, it was a wonderful, heartfelt film. Its emotional climax – made 100 times more heart-wrenching for being entirely dialogue-free – was rigorously earned. I would definitely go and watch it again. Its fun for the whole family, and the kids will love it. I sure did, and I’m twenty two.  

Hannah M King is the author of The Dorston Fall which is a wonderful YA fantasy adventure.  You can find it on Wattpad here: