The World According to Renee

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Review: My Journey With Farrah

My journey with Farrah by Alana Stewart

Let me preface this review by saying I went into this book in a completely wrong mindset. Ninety nine percent of people who pick up this book already know that Farrah Fawcett died in June 2009 (the same day as Michael Jackson, in fact). When I started reading, I kept thinking, ‘when does she get really sick?’ ‘When do they realise she’s terminal?’ ‘She’s only got x months to live.’ Once I distanced myself from the voyeurism of a celebrity death, the true story revealed itself.

Alana Stewart has been Farrah’s best friend for over thirty years. They’ve seen men come and go, marriages formed and broken, kids born and get themselves into trouble. Through it all, they remained closer-than-sisters to each other.

This is a memoir based on Alana’s diaries during the time Farrah had cancer. The book begins the day Farrah got the news and ends a few days before she dies. During those two years, the women endured physical and mental pain together. Farrah’s treatments in Germany took their toll on both of them; Farrah’s ongoing battle to vanquish her tumours while Alana faced her own cancer battle as well as the battles of her (grown) kids and an international romance.

It’s wrong to critique how one feels during such a time. Alana is honest, optimistic and studious in recording everything that happens, both good and bad. Farrah requested Alana film her treatments and the aftermath, which became the documentary Farrah’s Story, earning Farrah a posthumous nomination as she was credited as being producer. Each moment is documented in Alana’s journals and in the documentary. I have not as yet seen the doco, however the book easily stands alone.

Anyone who has been a carer to a cancer patient, or really anyone with a chronic illness, will find this very difficult to read. For the rest of us, we all know someone who died from cancer and Farrah’s journey is heart wrenching. Cancer is a terrible disease, ravaging its victims from the inside. Nothing is sacred, nothing is off limits, and modesty is not protected.

Alana writes as well as she knows how during the worst time of her life. I’d like to have seen an epilogue, an update on how she is nine years after Farrah’s death and how this journey has continued to affect not only her family but Farrah’s also.

8 out of 10 bookmarks. Have a box of tissues beside you.


February 17, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lyric: An Original Short Story

The late afternoon sun wasn’t yet orange; instead it hung like a bright golden ball sinking ever lower in the sky. Lyric checked the clock again although barely ten minutes had passed since she had last glanced at it. Still another half hour until close with nothing much left to do. Her supervisor, Margery, was in the office busily typing up reports or short stories or updating the website. Lyric honestly didn’t care what Margery did, but she was sure Margery didn’t spend all that time in the office doing actual work. Supervising was far too important to do menial work, like replacing books to their proper shelves or stamping library cards for kids.

Lyric glanced around the library again. Old Pete was sitting in his usual spot, reading caravanning magazines that he had already read a hundred times. A young woman was browsing the teenage fiction, stationed in front of the supernatural romance genre that the library had highlighted for the month. Over at the cafe in the centre of the library, the barista Daniel waved to her as he wiped the tables for the millionth time that day. Lyric smiled and waved back. There was a lone man sitting at the cafe tables, oblivious to everything except the book in front of him. She watched as Daniel tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the clock, probably telling him the library was closing soon. The man grabbed his book, slurped the last of his iced coffee and meandered lazily towards the toy room at the very back of the library. Realising she hadn’t yet locked the toy room, Lyric grabbed the key and followed. The man was unsuccesssfully trying to coax a young girl into leaving the big foam blocks she was jumping on.

“Toys open tomorrow?” Enquired the young girl.

“Yes, baby, the toys wil be open again tomorrow. Did you want to borrow this book about trains? Or did you want the one about the yellow dinosaur?”

“RAWR!” Said the young girl. The man smiled.

“Excuse me,” interrupted Lyric. “I need to lock the toy room.” The man and the young girl watched as Lyric twisted the key into the ancient lock until the door clicked.

“Toy room open tomorrow?”

Lyric kneeled so she could look into the girl’s eyes. “It sure will be! What’s your name, princess?”

“I Melody,” said the little girl proudly, offering Lyric her book about trains.

“Hi Melody, I’m Lyric. Will you be back again tomorrow? We’ll be having a story time at ten thirty. Parents welcome,” she added, looking up at Melody’s father.

“Ethic,” said the man, smiling. “My name is Ethic.”

“Ethic is an unusual name,” Lyric commented, standing up to her full height. “And Melody… well, it seems like we’re destined to meet.” Melody let go of her father’s hand and ran off to the colouring table.

Ethic laughed. “I was brought up in a religious community,” he replied. “I have a sister named Prayer, if you can believe that. Anyway, you can’t talk. What kind of name is Lyric?”

“My father was conductor for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and my mother was the lead violinist. They were hoping I’d be musically inclined as well.”

“And are you?”

“Hardly. I hated playing piano, I wasn’t allowed to play the drums, I sing like a dying banshee and I’ve forgotten how to read music. I’m more of the artistic type,” Lyric explained. “Painting, mostly. Some of my artwork is hanging in the foyer.

“Well, let’s get these books borrowed.” Lyric, still holding the trains book, started walking towards the front desk, hoping Ethic was following after a detour to retrieve Melody, who was colouring a picture of Alice sitting on a mushroom opposite the Caterpillar.

“Oh. The self serve is down?”

“Um, I just switched it off,” lied Lyric. “So close to closing; I don’t think anyone else is going to be borrowing anything today.” Old Pete never borrowed the caravanning magazines, and the teenager perusing supernatural romance looked to be losing interest.

Lyric swiped each book, chatting with Ethic about favourite authors and subjects. He was interested in astronomy, but upon discovering a lack of viable career options, had settled for IT instead.

“Well,” began Lyric as she finished lending the books, “These are due back in a month, here’s your reminder slip, and of course we’ll send out a text a couple of days before they’re due.” As Ethic took his books, he deliberately brushed his hand against Lyric’s. She inhaled briskly, sure her face was blushing.

“So… You haven’t taken the hint yet, so I guess I need to ask directly. Would you like to have coffee with me?” Ethic smiled. Lyric accepted. As he left the library, Ethic made special note of the artwork hanging in the foyer, particularly the ones bearing Lyric’s name at the bottom.

Romance wasn’t on Lyric’s mind as she met Ethic for coffee several times over the next few weeks. They chatted casually about the world and their place within it. They dissected overseas political issues, raising debate about how the North Korean missile crisis should be handled. Before the conversation became too heated, they caught each others’ eyes and laughed.

“Is this how you pictured your immediate future?” Ethic asked one day.

“Well, no,” admitted Lyric. “But who ever thinks they’re going to meet someone, especially while working?”

“I wouldn’t say working at a library would be exactly challenging,” mentioned Ethic casually.

Lyric almost choked on her latte. “Pardon?”

He shrugged. “What’s there to do? Put back books, help cute guys borrow books, explain to old people how to use the computer. It just doesn’t sound like a hard job.”

“Shows what you know. Anyway, my shift starts in half an hour. I’d better get going. I have to mentally prepare for helping cute guys borrow books and explain to oldies how to use the computers.” Her words came out more bitterly than she intended, but Ethic grinned it off.

“I can’t pretend I’m doing anything in half an hour. Going back to the office and having more coffee,” he said smugly. Ethic was the team leader for cyber security and was pretty lax about the whole thing. Lyric wondered if he actually did any work or delegated everything to his team. She smiled to herself, comparing Ethic to her own supervisor Margery: neither seemed to do anything vaguely important.

Still, Lyric found herself falling for Ethic faster than she’d expected. Despite her reservations about his sense of humour, she was otherwise enchanted by him, and Melody, of course. She hadn’t seen Melody since that first day at the library; Melody lived with her mother most of the time, something which Ethic didn’t speak much about. Obviously it was a sore issue, thought Lyric.

A couple of months into their new relationship, Lyric invited Ethic and Melody shopping. “The real test of a relationship is whether someone can handle a woman’s retail therapy,” smiled Lyric as she snuggled into Ethic late one Saturday morning. Ethic laughed and kissed her forehead.

“I’m game,” he chuckled.

Lyric’s shopping centre of choice was one of the biggest in the country. Sprawling over four levels, with over a hundred stores per level, Lyric was in heaven. Melody ran from store to store, calling Ethic to watch her play with a toy or to find her while she hid behind a rack of clothes.

As Lyric paid for a set of magnetic blocks for Melody, Ethic looked on with a concerned expression. “I didn’t know a librarian earned so much,” remarked Ethic. “We’ll have to do something about that.”

Lyric’s forehead furrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just that, as a man, I’m supposed to earn more than a woman. Especially one is who just puts books away eight hours a day.”


Ethic shrugged. “Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s nothing. Let’s just enjoy our day, OK?”

Lyric felt uneasy as she browsed. Ethic refrained from further comment. As she opened her wallet to pay for an off-the-shoulder maxi dress, she felt Ethic’s eyes burning into her. She turned to see him quickly pick up a necklace, holding it up to Melody’s neck. I shouldn’t be feeling guilty for buying this dress, thought Lyric. She shook the negative thoughts from her head as she made small talk with the cashier, who gushed how great Lyric looked while wearing the dress. “Is it for a special occasion?” Winked the cashier, glancing at Ethic. Lyric smiled weakly, took the bag containing her new dress. Her eyes followed Ethic, who was already walking out the door.

“No,” Lyric replied to the cashier. “I’ve had my eye on this for ages and it’s on sale now…” She bit her lip. Ethic’s remark about her wage still stung.

“Even better! How great is it that you can grab a bargain? Especially one that complements you so well,” the cashier drawled, slipping the receipt over the desk for Lyric to take.

The rest of the shopping expedition passed without further incident. Still, the early exchange left Lyric feeling guilty. No matter her wage, she was entitled to buy whatever she wanted!

“Well, I think you did well,” conversed Lyric later that afternoon.


“You followed me into all the stores and didn’t once wait at the seats.”

“What seats?”

“You know, the seats! You often see men waiting on them when their wives are trying on shoes or something.”

“I’d follow you anywhere,” soothed Ethic, wrapping his arms around to pull her closer for a kiss.

Lyric was working when Margery broke the news. “That singer you like? He’s doing a tour and tickets are on sale next week.” Margery, obviously feeling she deserved a break after delivering good news, shut herself in the office again, leaving Lyric on the floor alone.

When Lyric searched for herself using the public computers, she found Ed Sheeran was indeed touring. Her heart gave a little flutter. The library was empty; the barista Daniel had put on some music and was dancing while cleaning the coffee machine. Lyric texted Ethic. She already knew he wasn’t a fan but maybe he’d still like to come with her to the concert.

Are you sure you can afford it? He replied.

Yes. Why are you so concerned about my finances? She wrote, but after re-reading it she deleted it. It irked her that he thought himself in charge of her money.

She ignored his text, vowing to speak to him later about it.

As Lyric drove home, she rehearsed what she was going to say when she met up with Ethic for dinner. He was coming over and said he had a surprise. He was probably bringing Melody, although Lyric was sure this was the week she was away with her mother. Confidence oozing from her pores with the prepared speech she was going to give, she was ready when he knocked on her door. He was wearing a huge smile and holding a bouquet of purple irises. The flowers took her by surprise; Ethic wasn’t known for splurging money on things destined for the bin in a few days.

“What’s this in honour of?” She gasped.

“I passed them on my way here. I couldn’t resist, they remind me of your eyes.” Lyric’s rehearsed speech melted from her mind as he kissed her. She broke away only to stir the meaty spaghetti sauce – it was not a kiss she would voluntarily leave.

“I grew up vegetarian,” admitted Ethic when dinner was served. “I was twenty before I knew people ate animals, and twenty two before I realised how delicious animals were!”

“Tell me more about how you grew up,” encouraged Lyric, leaning close to him, brushing his arm with her hand. Ethic regaled his unusual childhood growing up in a cult. Only he didn’t call it a cult; it was a ‘religious community’. A self-sufficient community growing their own vegetables and grains, several prayer sessions every day and a sermon every evening after supper. Lyric was fascinated. She’d read about Jim Jones’ Jonestown and wondered how someone can be so charismatic as to brainwash a thousand people to commit suicide. Listening to Ethic, she saw how people can fall under a superstitious spell. Ethic was born into the community and genuinely did not know the wider world outside the walls. His sister Prayer was still part of the community, raising her own family.

“Did you ever think of changing your name?”

He shook his head. “It’s the name I was given, it’s the only name I’ve ever known. It’s a reminder of where I came from, who I am, was and will be. I can’t see that changing,” he said.

Lyric had made chocolate mousse for dessert. Sure, it was from a packet and all she had to do was stir some milk into the powder, but Lyric argued there was still a certain skill in getting the mousse light and airy instead of a dense mess. She also didn’t mention she sometimes made the mousse all by herself whilst watching Bridget Jones films…

“Mmm, this is delicious, Lyric,” he gushed, savouring each mouthful of the silky mousse. Lyric beamed. He could be so charming! He was brought up so constricted, so suffocated, that it took time to learn to speak his mind. It wasn’t his fault. His filter wasn’t quite refined yet. She dismissed it as a character flaw and chose to see him as a perfect person still on a journey of self discovery and learning.

As their relationship progressed, Lyric began making plans for a romantic weekend away at a secluded cabin in the hinterland. She made sure it was his weekend without Melody. She encouraged him to pack suitable clothes by giving him subtle hints about where they were going. She would drive as to keep the destination a secret until they arrived. Ethic had been so nice lately! He’d surprised her with a date night at the movies, Gold Class no less. He had been really sweet, with only occasional jabs which always made her squirm. Still, she was able to overlook these jabs because he always made up for it.

“Was he cute?”

Lyric snapped around. “What?”

“That guy you were looking at through the rear mirror. Was he cute?”

She spat out her words. “It’s the rear view mirror! I can’t even see the driver behind me, let alone make judgements on their looks. Give it a break, will you?”

Her grip tightened on the wheel as Ethic questioned how often she continued to check her mirrors. He looked behind him, trying to gauge the driver behind her. Anger and frustration built up in Lyric even though Ethic wasn’t talking to her. It was his simple actions of constantly looking behind them as she drove. After several minutes, she indicated and pulled over to the side of the road.

“Stop it! Just stop! I am driving, not checking out other guys. Do you want to get to the cabin or not? Because I am this close to just giving up and going home. On my own,” she added dramatically as he opened his mouth to protest. She stormed out of the car, slamming the door behind her. Annoyed, he followed her. Lyric couldn’t go too far; the embankment was too steep and the car was blocking the shoulder. Lyric just needed a minute to catch her breath and calm down.

“Babe, come here.”

He stepped forward to pull her close. Lyric stepped backwards, catching her ankle in a hole by the side of the road, stumbling backwards, precariously close to falling down the embankment. He tried to catch her. She pushed him away, falling hard on her hip. She caught her tears before they fell. Surely he’d have some smart arse remark if she cried.

“I’m done,” she announced. “This constant jealousy, wanting to control what I do and what I earn, I’m done. We’re over.”

Ethic breathed hard. “Babe, I can change. I promise. I’m just afraid of losing you. Come here, let’s just go to the cabin, we’ll talk it out. I’ll change. I love you,” he pleaded.

Lyric took a moment to compose herself and her next words. “No, you can’t change. You shouldn’t change. That’s you. I’m driving you home. I’m not going to do this anymore.”

As Lyric lay on the comfy couch in the romantic cabin, sipping chilled champagne and eating chocolate dipped strawberries, she smiled. “Happy Valentines’ Day,” she wished herself.

February 15, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Home Fire

This is a modernised version of classic Greek tragedy Antigone, so if you’re aware of the basic plot, you’ll probably be able to guess what’s going on with this novel.

The Pasha siblings are on their own after their jihadi father was killed on his way to Guantanamo and their mother died not long afterwards, leaving oldest sister Isma to raise her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. As adults, each makes choices affecting their identity and their home country of Britain.

There’s not too much I can say without revealing the plot. Kamila Shamsie’s novel is thought provoking; what does it mean to live in the shadow of a terrorist’s legacy? What choices can one make to bring honour back to their family? How can the choices of one family member affect not only their family but national security and the future of politics?

Each character is given a section of the novel which intertwines with everyone else’ stories to bring the reader into the narrative without deviating from the central plot. Antigone is a play, whereas this is a novel, yet the narrative structure allows the reader to feel as if they’re watching the plot unfold in front of them from the viewpoint of each character. It works well for the most part; it’s good to be in the central character’s shoes as they each form decisions and, later, how those decisions affect everyone else which the reader sees from another viewpoint.

Personally, I found Parvaiz’s narrative the low point despite it being the central plot point of the entire novel. The ending was quite abrupt yet the actual climax wasn’t entirely unexpected. I felt like there needed an epilogue with reactions from the characters to effectively close the narrative. It needs closure, which I felt it didn’t achieve. However, closure is rare in life so perhaps this is the statement the novel needed to make.

If you’re looking for a light read, Home Fire isn’t it. You need to, and will, become intricately involved with the narrative.

7 out of 10 bookmarks.

February 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Bird

Cover of young adult novel, Bird, by Crystal Chan

Jewel has been living with the ghost of her deceased brother her entire life. After twelve years, her family are still shattered by Bird’s death. Is it too late to fix her broken family?

Bird is a novel targeted at young adults, however adults will also find something in the novel’s messages. The novel is reminiscent of Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes with similar themes: grief tearing a family apart, a secret, sacred place where nature speaks, and how sometimes people just need to figure life out on their own.

The main theme of the novel is identity. Jewel feels like the unwanted burden in her family, born the day her older brother tried to fly off a cliff. Her mother is sad and angry, her father hides behind superstition, her grandfather cursed not to speak since the day Bird died.

Identity is important to Jewel; she does not know who she is within this broken family. She meets a boy who has his own identity issues. As a black boy adopted into a while family, he has never felt part of his own family either. He invents an identity to befriend Jewel, ultimately betraying he with his lies.

I really liked this novel. I loved the imagery and Jewel’s narrative of how the cliff’s secrets speak to her. Having an interest in science, I did find a couple of paragraphs I wanted to draw a red line through and send back with a “This needs more research!” Written in the margin… but that’s just me being pedantic. I loved how both John and Jewel want to be scientists when they grow up. I loved their intelligent conversations about geology and space exploration (except for the bits which were clearly and obviously wrong). Their friendship was platonic, which was refreshing: usually Young Adult novels with a twelve year old protagonist revolve around how cute the boy is and which lip gloss she imagined he’d like to taste when he kissed her.

If you loved Tiger Eyes, you will also love Bird.

8 out of 10 bookmarks

February 3, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment