The World According to Renee

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Review: The Dry

WARNING: This novel deals with the death of children, and other themes/scenes which may trigger mental health issues in some readers.

Aaron Falk attends the funeral of his childhood friend and his family in the town they all grew up in. The deaths seem to be an open-and-shut case, but in this small, drought-ridden town, there are always unanswered questions.

Jane Harper is an Australian journalist who has turned her hand to writing fiction. This novel has quickly become a bookclub favourite, and has even been hand-picked by Reese Witherspoon to be made into a film. So when it came up cheaply on Kindle, I decided to give it a read.

The novel is well-written, with a flowing narrative that never meanders along mindlessly. Chapters are short and sharp, doing what good writing always does and leaving the reader wanting more. As for the narrative, it’s a good yarn, worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon this novel. As expected, the little town is full of secrets which are revealed in a manner which is easy to understand yet never leaves the reader feeling like they’ve missed something.

Despite the length, this is an easy read, perfect for those rainy afternoons when you just want to snuggle under a blanket and read. Also good when you’re short on time and can only read a chapter at a time. You’re not going to lose your place; I found some parts to be repetitive, so if you do skim over something, it will come up again later. The characters are well written and quite memorable. It’s the sort of novel that gets your brain thinking, analysing possibilities and wondering how it all fits in.

Without giving away the details, the ending is quite satisfying. The reader can see how the pieces fit together and the clues that led Falk and Raco to their conclusion. I did find it to be a little rushed, which gives way to coincidences. But this is easily overlooked as the conclusion neatly puts everything together.

I’ve read that Jane Harper is busily writing another novel featuring Aaron Falk, and that the book won’t be a direct sequel but can standalone. That works for me; The story of this small town is neatly contained within the pages of this novel and doesn’t need to be expanded in a sequel.

8 out of 10 bookmarks. Recommended especially for lovers of Australian fiction.

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October 15, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Back, After the break’

Osher Gunsberg back after the break

You remember Andrew G? The long haired lout who once presented By Demand on Channel [v] and now hosts The Bachelor/ette and changed his name along the way? Yeah, that guy.

This is a brutally honest memoir about his life, specifically his battles with addiction and mental illness. When we think mental illness, we don’t often think about the successful people who suffer from it. Yet here we are, having an open and honest conversation with one of Australia’s biggest success stories.

Andrew G, as he was once known, has been battling anxiety since childhood. His parents overcame some tremendous struggles: things this generation of Australians have no idea bout and hopefully will never experience for themselves. Anxiety led to an addiction to eating, and later, alcohol and sex. Diagnosed with PTSD in the aftermath of being in New York during September 11, 2001, Andrew’s addictions spiralled out of control and affected every area of his personal and professional life.

This is the story previously only hinted about. Only relatively recently has he spoken about these addictions, and battles with mental illness yet the public were completely unaware of. It’s a brave memoir, recounting specific incidents which have caused he and his friends, coworkers and loved one much embarrassment and hurt. Yet we know how it ends: Osher is still a popular personality on Australian television (and sometimes radio). He continues to fight his mental state every day.

The autobiography is well written and openly honest. He doesn’t shy away from the gory details (although I was disappointed to find he left out the decision and process of cutting off his butt-length hair). The Kindle version has some minor errors, such as not leaving spaces between words (I don’t know if the print version contains the same errors). Osher (or his ghostwriter?) writes conversationally, making for an easy read. The pacing is perfect, and his life is interesting enough without the reader feeling like a voyeur to a celebrity’s car crash life.

I think this footnote from Osher’s book sums it up nicely:

Footnote

I give the book 9 out of 10 bookmarks.

August 30, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monthly Meal Plans: $1.50 dinners, week 1 review

The woman who started $1.50 meals is well-known: she’s appeared on morning shows, “news” websites and parenting/cooking forums everywhere. The basis of her fame is simple: she’s created a month’s worth of dinners averaging $1.50 or less per meal. How can you go wrong?

The Premise

When you sign up to her site, you’re given lifetime access to the meals, which are updated periodically. We originally signed up over a year ago but the meals have changed in that time and are now less than $1.50 per serve (at the time of writing they average $1.02). You’re given an ingredients list to take shopping at Aldi (all her recipes and pricing are based on Aldi prices), step-by-step instructions on cooking, packing and storing. And bingo! You have a month’s worth of dinners right there in your freezer. There are breakfasts and lunches available, but we have only tried the dinners.

The Meals

Each night of the month is a different meal based on a theme. For example, Mince Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Take-away Fridays etc.

So, what do I think?

Shopping

We normally shop at Aldi, so we’re used to the types of food, the layout etc. The list was quite comprehensive: one litre of this, 3kgs of that, one packet of something else, one jar of whatever. Very easy, it’s all right there for you. The dinner part of our shop (we also bought various odds and ends, plus breakfasts and lunch stuff) was about $185. For a month. You can’t beat that kind of value.

Preparation

This plan is based around saving time and money, so you do all your cooking over one weekend. At first, it was fun, like being on one of those cooking competition TV shows. There were two of us cooking with about five things happening all at once: cooking several pots and pans, chopping, slicing and dicing. All up, it took between 9-10 hours to complete the cooking. It wasn’t fun by the end of it and the kitchen looked like a cyclone had torn through it.

Meals

This week we’ve had mince wraps, chicken pie, sausage curry, bacon pesto pasta, Lebanese bread pizza, meatloaf and tonight we will have chickpea patties. I have been underwhelmed: the meals are very bland and last night’s meatloaf was like eating sawdust because it was so dry. I have not liked a single meal so far this week. My partner liked the pesto pasta and the sausage curry but agrees that the majority of meals lack flavour.

Each meal (except the take-away style) has plenty of vegetables hidden so if you’ve got picky kids, they won’t even notice. Plus each meal has a serving suggestion of extra salad or steamed vegetables as well. However, I wouldn’t say the meals are healthy. Obviously the take-away Fridays are gonna be the worst, but during the entire month there’s only three meat-free dinners and the other meals can contain packet mixes or a jar of sauce which are laden with salt and sugar. The home-made bulk white sauce is just milk and flour (and so bland!).

The meals obviously need to be reheated, but often they require something else such as pasta to be cooked on the night. I don’t see why you can’t cook mince and pasta at the same time. You’re not really saving any time by cooking pasta on the night… unless you pre-cooked and froze pasta during the epic prep & cook session on the weekend. Cooking in bulk means you don’t get to season portions to your taste eg you’re cooking the same 2 kg of mince for various meals and you wouldn’t season the meatloaf portion the same as say, mince wraps. Hence the meals are the same bland concoction unless you deviate from the instructions and stuff around adding your own seasoning to each individual portion. And how long does it really take to put together a Lebanese bread pizza? Why clutter up your already overstuffed freezer by putting pre-prepped pizzas in there? (Ours got stuffed in so tightly, the bases broke.)

Is it worth it?

Cooking/prep time was almost 10 hours, washing up was 2 hours, cleaning up spills was close to another hour… Each night the only washing up we have are the plates we eat from, a saucepan, and a fry pan but we would probably have that anyway. I don’t think reheating frozen meals saves much, if any, time, especially if you’re also cooking pasta or mashed potatoes to go with it.

I do like the convenience of having a meal plan. It saves on endless “What do you want for dinner?” Which in itself saves a couple of hours. I like the cost: you really can’t argue on $185 for a month of dinners. Each meal serves 4; since there’s only two adults and a pre-schooler at my house, my partner takes leftovers for work (under sufferance because he wasn’t impressed with the meal the first time, he doesn’t want leftovers!)

The actual meals themselves are not nice nor particularly healthy despite the added veggies. Making from fresh would enable you to add your own seasonings during the cooking process eg fresh herbs, Mexican seasoning or a dash of sauce or relish.

I don’t like having no freezer space. This problem can be solved with a chest freezer, which we don’t have as yet. Our freezer is stuffed full, which makes it difficult for my pre-schooler to get an ice block or the frozen mixed berries she loves so much. Shoving it all into our little freezer breaks the ziplock bags and Lebanese bread bases.

Based on this week, I’m scoring it a 4 out of 10. Let’s see what next week’s meals are like.

June 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit movie poster

Aww bunnies!

Based on characters from Beatrix Potter’s famous series, this film is adorable, witty, cute and sassy.

And then it gets weird.

But let’s start at the beginning. Peter and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, along with cousin Benjamin Bunny, are adept at raiding Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden for food. They are cared for by neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), who loves the rabbits and protects them from Mr McGregor’s pie dish. The old man dies, leaving his manor and farm to pompous great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleeson).

Cue romantic subplot and a Home Alone– bunny-style war later, and the whole charming film turns into a complete wreck.

The characters are adorable. There’s jokes for older kids, a few laughs, plenty of sass and a rockin’ soundtrack… Until the halfway point, where it’s entirely acceptable to turn off the film and read the source material instead. The film changes direction so abruptly, your head will spin. You’ll be wondering what happened to the plot and the charm you’ve been enjoying for the past forty minutes. Once the film’s story changes, there’s no going back. Whilst the first half of the film is near-perfect, the latter half feels forced, almost like the writers ran out of cute ideas and literally pulled dialogue out of a hat populated with ideas from the local kindergarten. It’s plain disappointing how badly this film ends.

6 out of 10 popcorns

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: After the Blues

Hands up if you loved Puberty Blues. Hands up if you loved the film and/or the TV series. Hands up if you felt you were Debbie or Sue, making your way as a teen in a strange new world of sex and rat-faced molls.

Now, hands up if you want to see what Debbie did next.

According to the introduction, Kathy Lette reworked her earlier novel Girls Night Out into After the Blues. I have not read Girls Night Out so I can’t comment on how much of the original novel made it through the rewrite, however I can tell you what bits of Puberty Blues made it: the main character, Debbie Vickers. And mentions of her boyfriends Bruce and Garry. That’s it. Her BFF (did that term even exist in the 1980s?) Sue has mysteriously turned into Sarah, and in the first few pages Debbie and Sarah have a major falling out, leaving Debbie to fend for herself in the big city.

Honestly, I could not care less what happened after that. I found her time in the big city to be revolting, distasteful and downright boring. I didn’t give two hoots about the weirdos she met or why she chose to make the choices she did. She seems to like being a total waste of literary space. The “plot” was pointless, bordering on incoherent babbling, while the narrative lacked depth and feeling, which was the main driving point of Puberty Blues.

Unless you’re a diehard Kathy Lette fan, interested to see how a rewrite works, then give this book a very wide berth.

2 out of 10 bookmarks.

EDIT: Kathy Lette confirmed to me via Twitter that she had to change Sue’s name for legal reasons. Kathy Lette twitter confirming Sue’s name was changed for legal reasons

March 27, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Annihilation

Annihilation movie

Annihilation is a Netflix film starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. They lead a team of kick-ass females into the Shimmer- a strange and mysterious dome which is threatening to take over everything.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former Army officer whose husband arrives home from a secret mission but he’s not quite himself. Soon afterwards, her hubby suffers multiple organ failure and Lena finds herself in the offices of Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is organising a trip to the Shimmer to find out WTF is going on. Naturally Lena also volunteers and, together with three other women, trek into the unknown.

According to IMDB, the film is based on a book which the screenwriter only loosely remembers, and interprets his script as “a dream of the book”. Certainly the cinematography is dream-like in the same way the Land of Oz was dreamlike to Dorothy, but with fewer Munchkins. What follows is a visual delight with some butt-kicking and a pretty thin plot. However, it’s enough to keep viewers hooked right til the end.

There are very few male characters in the film, and they are all secondary characters. The women don’t sit around talking about their men nor do they belittle their males either. It’s refreshing and awesome to see a film carried solely on the weight of an all-female lead cast; Natalie Portman is a perfect choice for Lena and carries the character beautifully.

The main issue I have with this film is the lack of intense plot: it could have been deeper, more twisted, to keep the viewer guessing. The film’s ending is barely satisfactory and astute viewers probably know what’s going to happen about halfway through the movie. (I didn’t.)

I’d recommend this for a date night or when your brain is too tired to concentrate too hard.

7.5 out of 10 popcorns.

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince

XMy life with Prince

Mayte Garcia was Prince’s first wife. They were soulmates whose love transcended space and time. She was the inspiration for much of his 90s sound and music.

This memoir is so much more than a voyeuristic journey through a celebrity marriage and death. Mayte was a teenager when she met prince, and over the next decade she influenced his life in ways neither of them could have imagined. It’s not just about a marriage to a rockstar at the peak of his career; this memoir could be about any couple. They had good times and the most tragic of times, ultimately tearing their relationship apart.

Mayte writes with pure honesty, making this memoir more than an attempt to cash in on a celebrity death. Her revealing insight offers a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius and a woman who forged her own career long before she was even on Prince’s radar. She writes with honesty, candid about the most tragic days of her life and the aftermath of losing their son, a pregnancy and her marriage.

There are several quotes that stuck with me whilst reading this book. One in particular was from Prince when his film Graffiti Bridge tanked: “You can’t look at yourself through the eyes of others.” It’s a powerful sentiment.

This is the sort of book which will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

9 out of 10 bookmarks

March 19, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-k

The subtle art of not giving a fuck

Forget self-help gurus. Forget affirmations. Forget looking in the mirror every day and telling yourself you’re special and one day the world will reward you with fame and riches. Mark Manson is here to tell you: stop giving a fuck.

Mark Manson is a blogger who has turned his attention to authoring books based on his blogs. Although I have not read his blog, this book feels very much like an extended blog post, especially one that sort of drifts off into tangents in order to meet a word limit. It could do with an abridged version, a pocket sized handbook to refer to when you find yourself in a situation you’re not sure whether to give a fuck or not. it does seem a bit ranty and righteous at times, but as Manson himself says, Future You will not hold the same values Present You does, so take it or leave it.

The book itself does have some good advice. Generally speaking, the world is being fed lies in order to feel happy and content. Many people are giving a fuck about things that don’t warrant giving a fuck about. Not that you should be indifferent, because nothing would ever get done and you’d kinda be like a psychopath and no one wants that. There are definitely things you should give a fuck about.

Much of the advice is a regurgitation of other advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff, you’re mediocre (if everyone was extraordinary, we’d all be average), take responsibility for your actions and emotions, and sometimes the worst rejections are the best thing to happen in your life (depending on how you choose to react to them).

There is, predictably, a lot of swearing, so if you’re a bit of a snowflake who offends easily, this is not the book for you. If you’re not ready to own your shit, stop blaming others and give up easily, this isn’t the book for you. If you’re in a cycle of failing and you don’t know why, if you’re worrying or anxious about everything, or you’re just feeling like you’re on a treadmill of life, you should read this book. If you’re ready not to give a fuck about unimportant things and ready to rumble, this is your book.

8 out of 10 fucks. Or should I not give enough fucks to rate it…?

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

Review: Downsizing

Film: Downsizing starring Matt Damon

If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, you’ll know it’s about Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig choosing to become smaller for the sake of saving the environment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know 3/4 of the film is nothing like the trailer at all.

This film could have been so many great things: biting satire, social commentary, political statement, hilarious comedy, bleak drama. Instead, the film is rather like three separate stories smooshed into one very strange film. The premise of becoming small in order to preserve the environment is an intriguing idea, but unfortunately it only lasts for a quarter of the film. The rest of the film could be set in any time, any circumstance and has nothing to do with being small. Or anything else for that matter.

Even if you’re a fan of Matt Damon, as I am, this film offers very little. Give it a very wide berth.

4 out of 10 popcorns (and that’s being generous).

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

Review: I, Tonya

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya

There are two sides to every story.

Everyone knows the scandal: Tonya Harding served a life ban in figure skating for knowledge of an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. If, like me, you only know of the scandal and not the nitty gritty, you’ll view most of this film as an eye-rolling attempt at making Tonya look like the victim.

And this film absolutely portrays Tonya Harding as a victim. A rough childhood, raised by a single mother, suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband, unfair scores from skating judges because she’s not “America’s Sweetheart” material… Tonya came through it all.

Then comes The Incident. Tonya’s ex-husband Jeff and self-appointed bodyguard Shawn cook up a plan to send threatening letters to Nancy Kerrigan as psychological warfare in the lead up to the Nationals, on the path to the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Someone somewhere doesn’t get the memo and Nancy is struck on her knee. Tonya is implicated as knowing about the plot to disable Nancy. Whether or not it really happened this way is anyone’s guess; the director has deliberately left it up to the viewer to judge.

But enough of that. Let’s get to the film. Alison Janney steals her scenes as overbearing mother LoVana. Janney rightfully won the Oscar for Actress in a Supporting Role. Margot Robbie is brilliant as Tonya; nailing that redneck attitude and accent. No one would ever guess she’s an Aussie. Robbie was also nominated for an Oscar. Personally I think Robbie’s wigs deserve nominations of their own. That crunchy perm look is perfect.

The film itself doesn’t follow a traditional narrative. It is based on several interviews with Jeff and Tonya, which often contradict. Characters regularly break the fourth wall to let the viewer know this or that may not have happened.

There are times when the audience does feel for Tonya despite knowing all along that she’s allegedly behind the attack. After a spate of disappointing scores, Tonya confronts a judge as he’s getting into his car. She’s at the peak of her skating career yet still receiving disappointing scores. The judge replies that he will deny this, but Tonya just isn’t the wholesome, family-oriented girly girl they expect. As an aside, I viewed this film on International Womens’ Day. This particular scene really struck a chord with me about how a female’s narrative is supposed to happen and what is expected of us. The second scene is Tonya applying makeup before a competition. As she’s smearing on the stage makeup (which is heavier than regular makeup), she’s trying very hard to smile though she’s obviously crying. Anyone who has ever smiled through tears will feel this scene.

Overall, the film is well-made. It is one-sided: Nancy’s story would be vastly different. However, this is firmly Tonya’s story and should be viewed as such. There’s no denying Tonya has had a rough life, but the film present Tonya as an innocent party to knowledge and execution of the attack.

8 out of 10 popcorns

March 8, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment