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.


October 15, 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: 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

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: A Bold Life by Kerri-Anne Kennerley

I can hear your groans from here. KAK? Really? What’s so interesting about her?

KAK, as she is affectionately known, is undoubtedly the Queen of Aussie TV. Twelve years hosting Good Morning Australia and two years hosting Midday (including enticing Peter Costello to dance the Macarena) plus countless other appearances, have endeared the bubbly blonde to so many Australians.

Fun fact: Kerri-Anne grew up not far from where I now live, in a little town called Sandgate, just across the peninsula from Redcliffe. She stubbornly fought her way into Brisbane’s children’s television and, as she writes in her memoir, fought for every other entertainment gig she’s ever done.

There are some things in her memoir that are relevant today: gender bias and enormous pay gaps, sexual harassment of females in the workplace, bullying because of her hair colour and gender, and cultural misappropriation, such as when she dressed in blackface.

However, that’s where the interest stops. Her memoir is littered with name dropping on every single page, interspersed with stories about wildly fun parties, her perfect relationship with husband John and not-so-subtle reminders about how rich they are. Kerri-Anne is known for her optimism but this 370 page tome just comes across as arrogant. I can see what she’s trying to do: mix personal stories with her pioneering journalistic abilities, but all she really succeeds in doing through this memoir is demonstrating how many famous people she’s friends with.

There are moments of heartbreak: Kerri-Anne suffered a miscarriage, later paraded on national television as choosing career over family. Her first marriage was punctuated by domestic violence and drug abuse. Her battle with breast cancer. And now, her beloved hubby John is a quadriplegic facing numerous health challenges every day.

Yet somehow, these moments are glossed over with the benefit of hindsight and Kerri-Anne’s personal philosophy of just getting over and on with it. The things that make her relatable are mentioned then tossed away, ready for more stories about fabulous celebrity friends.

It’s hard not to roll your eyes at the over-the-top-ness of it all, but then again, KAK is OTT. For me, I’m interested in the humanity of celebrities, not how they came to snag George Harrison’s only Australian interview.

I advise reading this book wearing high heels and a lot of sequins whilst drinking red wine. It’s the only way.

4 out of 10 bookmarks

January 4, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Kite Runner

Rarely does one find a novel so beautifully written but such a simple tale. Welcome to The Kite Runner, the story of… Well, there are many stories within this novel. There’s stories of atonement, survival, redemption… How can one man play so many roles in his own life story?

On the surface, The Kite Runner is about a refugee from war-torn Afghanistan in the 1980s. What is he really running from? Painful childhood memories, sins of the father or his own cowardice? I was completely engaged in the novel from the very first page. Just when I thought the novel had nowhere else to go, it twisted into another tale, another role to play. When you look deeper, everything is a subtle revelation of life. The words take aim and capture the reader to a world barely known. If not for the political decimation, Afghanistan would be the top of my list of places to visit. The imagery created is worthy of film-making, yet I cannot see how it could be done (although it has; the film was released in 2007 and I plan to watch it in the very near future). The protagonist, Amir, almost pokes fun at the essence of writing yet it’s so beautifully woven into the novel that I think most readers would miss it.

In any case, I cannot speak highly enough about this novel. It’s a wonder, a masterpiece. I almost wrote “a joy” but it is not. This is a tale about the horrors of living in a warzone, a country where your home and roots are but you are not. It’s worse than watching a dog rip apart your favourite childhood toy, its stuffing thrown about to lie where it falls and no one cares enough to pick it up.

The themes of guilt, atonement, redemption and family are woven through the novel and it never falters. It’s truth spilled onto the paper without shadows; this is a real person and not a character in a book where they will overcome all.

Take this journey with Amir. Let him show you the beauty and the horrors of life.

9.5 out of 10 bookmarks.

February 13, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Life After Death

Damien Echols is infamous for being part of the so-called West Memphis 3. Convicted of murders he didn’t commit, Echols spent eighteen years behind bars, including several years on Death Row. Echols and his two mates who had also been convicted of murdering three young boys were released late 2011. Life After Death reveals what it’s like behind bars and how Echols came to be there.

The book is pieced together from a previously published memoir plus journal entries, essays and letters Echols wrote from inside. This gives the book a disjointed narrative, culminating with inconsistent tense; in one paragraph he’ll be writing in the present tense even though he’s now out of prison, while in the next he’ll be writing in past tense about the same thing. This gets quite confusing, especially in later chapters when he seems reluctant to talk about his last months in prison, instead just copying-and-pasting earlier writings. This in itself isn’t a bad thing; as Echols repeatedly tells his readers, he is tired of being thought of just as that guy, the one on Death Row (or used to be on Death Row) for the murders of those little kids. I wouldn’t want to keep rehashing it either, so sure, it’s acceptable to c’n’p previous writings… just change the tense.

Having said that, the book smacks of “I’m not the guy you think I am”. He’s spiritual, spending most of his time reading everything he could lay his hands on, talking to spiritual leaders, learning and practicing meditation and generally keeping to himself. He writes about his childhood but skirts around much of his teenage shenanigans. For example, he writes that the detective for juvenile problems was “obsessed” with Echols for no reason. Further investigation reveals that this detective had reason to believe Echols was part of a Satanic cult; which is never mentioned in his book. Echols himself has admitted (though not in this book) that he once drank blood from a living human’s arm. Echols’ insistence in his memoir that there was no reason for the cops to be on his tail just doesn’t ring true.

Taken with a grain of salt, Echols’ story is hard to put down. He perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and depression that so many teenagers suffer. As yet, the murders of the three young boys remain unsolved, and if you’re looking for a theory as to what happened to them, you won’t find it here. Instead you’ll find a regular guy caught up in a whirlpool of injustice and the need to lay the blame on someone. Definitely do your own research though, the bits he omitted often fill in gaping holes in his narrative plus add an interesting alternate viewpoint.

8 out of 10 bookmarks.

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Other Hand aka Little Bee

The cover of this novel says only one thing about the plot: two women’s lives collide one day when one has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again. This is where the story starts.

This is a novel which doesn’t want you to know about it before you read it. That’s somewhat difficult- how do you know you want to read it? (My tip was the Staff Recommendation from my local bookstore). I can say this: You do want to read this novel. It’s powerful, provocative, mesmerising. There are moments when your breath will hold and your heart will beat in anticipation. You know this novel is not going to end the way you hope it will, yet you cannot pull away…

Without giving anything away, this is the story of two women who are strong in every way you can imagine. Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee; Sarah is a British journalist and mother. ‘United they stand, divided they fall’ is the phrase that springs to mind when speaking of their relationship. Fate brings them together in unimaginable ways.

There is so much I want to say about this story yet I won’t. You need to discover the intertwining secrets for yourself. The cover describes this as “magic” but it is far from any definition of magic I know; perhaps the magic of the human desires for freedom and survival?

I cannot praise this book highly enough. It weaves the story around you until you are but a witness to your imagination. I will say this though: if anyone out there has a book club- read this book. Form a facebook group and let me participate!

The Other Hand (known as Little Bee in the US) by Chris Cleave. You won’t want to put it down.

September 22, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment