Category Archives: Biography

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body- Sara Pascoe


Synopsis

Animal is Sara Pascoe’s autobiography where she talks about her experiences as a woman, and about evolutionary psychology.

Review

I read this book for my book group intending to join in online (then forgot on the actual day, opps!), it probably wouldn’t have been something I would have picked up without it being a bookclub book just because I don’t really know much about Sara Pascoe, at least not beyond her being a comedian (or ‘funny woman’), but I knew it was quite a popular book so I was happy enough to read it.

At first I must admit I found Pascoe a little annoying. She seemed to labour over a lot of points, and kept repeating herself. The other half said whenever he looked over my shoulder she seemed to be SHOUTING- and she did seem to quite frequently. She also had these little script-type sections with a teacher and pupil and I didn’t really like those parts, they just seemed like a long way to get to a point which would have been understandable without the play (and often she explained them without the play too which was just a little frustrating).

However once I could see past the waffle I did find some of the things she talked about rather interesting- especially when she talked about evolutionary psychology- and the way she talked about more serious or intellectual subjects did make it more entertaining and easily acceptable.

I also thought she was brave when she talked about some of the things which had happened to her or she had done. Some of them can’t have been easy to talk about, and some things which could have made others judge her.

I do think it would make quite a good sex ed book too, especially for girls, because it’s truthful and it does go into more sticky subjects which tend to be missed in school sex ed. It would be nice if it was recommended reading in schools for that reason, but the way some people are about talking about sex there would probably be someone who stopped that when they saw how frank Pascoe is.

It probably is worth battling through the waffle, as you get through things are a bit more coherent, and less annoying. I’m not sure I’d say I finished it liking Pascoe, but I certainly respected what she was trying to do.

4/5

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Filed under Biography, Comedy, Feminism, non-fiction review, psychology (non-fiction)

Furiously Happy- Jenny Lawson



Synopsis (from amazon)

In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Review

I loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened so I was excited when I heard Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) had a new book coming out.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was hilarious, so I was expecting the same from Jenny’s new book. It was very funny, but it had more of a serious side than her first book had. I still liked it, but it wasn’t as easy a read.

This one featured a lot about Jenny’s mental illness. That made it less light, although a lot lighter than you would expect of a book which has a high content about mental illness. She had a philosophy of always being Furiously Happy when her illness would allow her. A way to show that she could have a good, happy, time, a way to say that that illness is not her.

Jenny says she wrote this book with people who have the same problems as her in mind. So I wasn’t exactly the target market, but I still found the book pretty uplifting, and I definitely enjoyed Jenny’s sense of humour.

If you loved the first one you can’t go wrong with this, but I think you may be better off starting with the first.

4/5

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Alison McCarthy 

Words For Worms

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The Dirt- Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars


This book was read as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon, but I’m a bit meh about it)

Ten years ago, Motley Crue’s bestselling The Dirt—penned with rock chronicler extraordinaire Neil Strauss—set a new bar for rock ‘n’ roll memoirs. A genuine cultural phenomenon, this turbocharged blockbuster, with more than half a million copies in print, has now been reissued to celebrate thirty wild years with rock’s most infamous band. No band has ever lived this hard, and lived to tell the tale. You won’t just find sex, drugs, violence, fast cars, and every rock & roll cliche turned on its head inside, you will find uses for burritos and telephone handsets that you couldn’t have even imagined in your wildest dreams. This is the classic book that’s made countless ordinary mortals want to transform into lawless rock stars, and created countless spin-off books for Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars, who hold nothing back in this outrageous, legendary, no-holds-barred autobiography.

Review

Right from the offset Motley Crue make their intentions clear, they are out to disgust and disturb you, for they are the world’s most notorious rock and roll band- and they are going to prove that.

For all of the first few chapters they seem to be out to shock you more and more, even if you think it can’t get worse- except then it does. It even got to the point that it seemed almost normal- which is possibly worse.

I think it was probably planned that way. Nikki in particular seemed so egotistical that I can see him wanting to be the most scandalous band, which makes you wonder if you should believe it all. Indeed at some point each of the members mentioned how it was an expected rock and roll lifestyle- like they had to do it o have any credibility, which is a bi crazy.

Later on things get lighter, as the band members get married and start having kids, and at times it is rather sad.

I don’t really know anything about Motley Crue. I knew the names of the band members, but not in relation to the band. And I don’t think I could name any of their songs, they’re not really my style to be honest. I don’t think that mattered though, I could still read the book, sometimes I got a little confused with who was who and especially who was dating who, but I’m not sure how much easier that would have been if I knew the band.

In a way I would say it’s a bit of a coming of age tale. As the band begins to change and grow, even what they write seems less egotistical and more introspective.

If you can make it though the first disgusting bits then you will be rewarded by the end (and I think the beginning is needed for the balance).

4.5/5

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More Fool Me- Stephen Fry


Synopsis (from amazon)

In his early thirties, Stephen Fry – writer, comedian, star of stage and screen – had, as they say, ‘made it’. Much loved in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, author of a critically acclaimed and bestselling first novel, The Liar, with a glamorous and glittering cast of friends, he had more work than was perhaps good for him.
What could possibly go wrong?
Then, as the 80s drew to a close, he discovered a most enjoyable way to burn the candle at both ends, and took to excess like a duck to breadcrumbs. Writing and recording by day, and haunting a never ending series of celebrity parties, drinking dens, and poker games by night, in a ludicrous and impressive act of bravado, he fooled all those except the very closest to him, some of whom were most enjoyably engaged in the same dance.
He was – to all intents and purposes – a high functioning addict. Blazing brightly and partying wildly as the 80s turned to the 90s, AIDS became an epidemic and politics turned really nasty, he was so busy, so distracted by the high life, that he could hardly see the inevitable, headlong tumble that must surely follow . . .

Review

Having enjoyed Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles I was rather looking forward to reading the latest instalment of Stephen Fry’s memoirs. Plus The Fry Chronicles had ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger with Stephen taking his first snort of cocaine, which suggested we could expect some excitement.

Unfortunately More Fool Me really didn’t capitalise on those promises, and I found myself rather disappointed.

The first 60 or so pages were a re-cap of Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. Fine if you haven’t read either, or if you have the memory of a sieve. I started off reading them thinking that it had been a long time since I read Moab is my Washpot. Turned out I didn’t need such a detailed recap. I got bored around about 20 pages in and spent the rest of the time flicking through just reading a sentence or a paragraph here and there to see if I had forgotten anything, I hadn’t.

The next few pages were probably the best bit of the book. They showed the sort of wit that I would have expected from Stephen Fry, and a certain amount of self-criticism. He told a little of his early drug taking days and explained what attraction cocaine held for him. He promised that by the end of the book we would understand why taking cocaine was such a mistake.

I was really getting into the book when I find the section ended and a new section began, ‘The Diary’.

What followed was basically a copy of his diary for a few months during this time, with the occasional footnote to explain. There are no other words for it, it was dull. There was next to no introspection. It was written as you would write a diary to yourself, semi-note form, no great prose or witty remarks. A lot of the time it seemed to be lists of names and places, and ‘got drunk’ ‘took coke’ type references. There were a few more detailed and interesting entries, which were mainly when he was writing The Hippopotamus, and not doing drugs- maybe that was what he meant by we would know why it was bad- there wasn’t anything else which suggested anything really negative.

Half the time I couldn’t follow who all the people were, they were often refereed to by just first name, which might be fine in terms of Stephen reading his diary ut how was a reader expected to remember after just one explanation who everyone was?

All I really got out of it was an addition of The Hippopotamus on my wishlist.

Skip this one, Moab and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, this one, not so much.

2/5

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How to be a Heroine (Or What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much)- Samantha Ellis


Synopsis (by me)

In ‘How To Be a Heroine’ Ellis revisits her bookish heroines from the past and evaluates whether they really deserved to be heroines, and why they were her heroines to begin with.

Review

I mentioned in my review of Texts From Jane Eyre that this book has probably overtaken it in terms of book I am most likely to recommend. That’s probably true, although Texts from Jane Eyre may hold a wider appeal.

How to Be a Heroine is part memoir, part literary analysis, part feminist, part religious discussion. I didn’t expect all that. I expected a book simply about books.

It was interesting to see what Ellis got from her re-reads, and what her younger self had got from her initial reads. Sometimes she couldn’t see any heroism in the characters she had once wanted to emulate, sometimes she saw that the real heroines in the books were not the ones you would expect. Of course it all came together. Even if she couldn’t see someone as a heroine now they had helped shape her.

Ellis’ storytelling was what really drew me in. I really got a sense of what life was like for her, maybe because I saw some similarities with myself (whilst also having tons of differences).  I often wanted to read the books she had described when she wrote about reading them for the first time. Sometimes her more recent images made me change my mind, which was a shame in a way, but then maybe that means I’m not in the right stage of life or frame of mind to appreciate the books as she did first time. At other times her changes of mind made me want to read things more, or just the same, but maybe for different reasons.

I thoroughly recommend it, especially for female book readers (although there is no reason a man couldn’t enjoy it).

5/5

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Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris


This book was read as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon)

Anyone that has read NAKED and BARREL FEVER, or heard David Sedaris speaking live or on the radio will tell you that a new collection from him is cause for jubilation. His recent move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious new pieces, including ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that ‘every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section’. His family is another inspiration. ‘You Can’t Kill the Rooster’ is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.
Review
I don’t know what it is but there is some link in my mind between David Sedaris and Alan Carr, it probably unfairly biases me because Alan Carr really annoys me (seriously, I don’t get why he’s so popular).
I must admit I didn’t take to David Sedaris himself. I felt he was rather self-satisfied, and that he thought he had to be better than everyone. At times his stories were funny, but not usually the ones focused on him. I liked Paul ‘The Rooster’ best, I could have happily read more about him, but he was a brief character.
3/5
 
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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened- Jenny Lawson



Synopsis (from amazon)

Have you ever embarrassed yourself so badly you thought you’d never get over it?

Have you ever wished your family could be just like everyone else’s?

Have you ever been followed to school by your father’s herd of turkeys, mistaken a marriage proposal for an attempted murder or got your arm stuck inside a cow? OK, maybe that’s just Jenny Lawson . . .

Review

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened has been on my radar and on my wishlist for a long time (it was listed on my 2012 wishlist on goodreads, which I used to choose books for The Wishlist Challenge last year). As with many things which I actually buy from my wishlist it was on special offer when I bought it- I have the awful tendency to add things to my wishlist but then buy things which are not on it. Part of me wishes I had bought it sooner, but then I wouldn’t have got a bargain. Anyway I am waffling.

Jenny Lawson is probably best known as The Bloggess but that’s not how I ‘discovered’ her. I read a few reviews of Let’s Pretend The Never Happened which compared Jenny Lawson to Caitlin Moran. Seeing as I pretty much got a girl crush on Caitlin Moran as a result of reading How To Be a Woman I basically had to add Let’s Pretend This Never Happened to my wishlist. Then it sat on my wishlist for about a year before I saw a few links to The Bloggess and decided to check her out. I knew it was Jenny Lawson so I’m not sure why I hadn’t looked at her blog initially, but it made me want to read the book even more, then it was on offer on kindle so I snapped it up.

First off I should say if you are easily embarrassed then don’t read this in public. You will not be able to contain your laughter in certain parts. (And guess what? If you try to explain to your boyfriend what you’re laughing at he will just look at it like you’re crazy, and say something about how it cannot possibly be true, because what person would think that making a squirrel into a puppet and pretending that it’s magic is good children’s entertainment?) I suppose I should say that there are bits that people might be a bit squeamish about (lots about taxidermy, and hunting, and wearing dead animals…yeah). At times I was squeamish myself but then something was funny, and I would forget things like Jenny accidentally running inside a deer (yes, that did happen).

As with How to Be a Woman there were serious bit too. Although  most things had a funny spin put on it. It was good to see Jenny Lawson explaining things in a more serious mode however, some things require a more serious tone. I think Caitlin Moran has a very similar sense of humour to Jenny Lawson too, although I also think I preferred How To Be A Woman, maybe because it was closer to my own experiences. I should really get around to buying Moranthology– that’s been on my wishlist since it came out.

5/5

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Other reviews:

Book Journey

Alison McCarthy

An Armchair By The Sea

Owl Tell You About It

Words For Worms

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The End of Your Life Book Club- Will Schwalbe


The end of your life book club, will schwalbe, book, book review, cancerSynopsis (from amazon)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.

Review

This book is about books, it’s about dying, and it’s about building a relationship. Will uses books to connect with his Mum. Sometimes they just choose books which they enjoy, but other times books are used to communicate with each other. Some things can be said so much more easily in words.

Mary Anne has a great belief in the power of words. She knows books which explain what she has seen during her work for international charities much better than she can see herself explaining. The books are also used for her a lot of the time as an opening to a wider topic. One of the last things she wants to do before she dies is to see the project she has been working on come to fruitation- that is the building of a library in Kabul, I think that says a lot about what she believes about the power of words.

There was something very admirable about Mary Anne. She had spent most of her adult life going to dangerous places, most notably Afghanistan, to help others, she’d been shot at, she’s caught diseases, she’s seen people in great suffering, but she’s not given up. Even when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer she has no self pity. She just worries that she won’t be able to do everything she wanted to do. She still says she is lucky in comparison to others. She is suffering, but she doesn’t complain and keeps trying to do everything she did before.

The book is really one which makes you pause and think, and it added a few books to my ever increasing wishlist. However I did find it was dragging a little in the middle, so if you can cope with two books at a time I’d recommend having something else on the go too (for me it was Dearly Devoted Dexter, which is about as far from this book as you can get!).

3.5/5

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Surviving the Angel of Death- Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri


Disclaimer: This book was given my free of charge via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Among Holocaust survivor stories, Eva Kor’s experience as a 10-year-old guinea pig of Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz is exceptional. It is the story of a child facing extraordinary evil and cruelty, written for young teens and ending with an uplifting message. Eva Mozes Kor was just 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Subjected to sadistic medical experiments, she was forced to fight daily for her and her twin’s survival. In this incredible true story written for young adults, readers will learn of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. The book also includes an epilogue on Eva’s recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis. Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working for causes of human rights and peace.

Review

Eva Kor is known for her talks about her time in Auschwitz and about forgiveness. She is also the founder of the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors) organisation and the CANDLES Holocaust Museum. She wanted to share her story in a way that was accessible for children and she worked with Lisa Rojany Buccieri to achieve this.

So did she achieve it? Well I’ve read a lot of war time stories involving children (although few are actually set in a concentration camp).  I think generally these stories have been more accessible, although maybe that is because most of what I have read are fiction. They still tell a horrible, disturbing story but it is easier to sanitise them in a way, you can’t change the truth.

The story did give me a lot of respect for people who had gone through the death camps, and especially for Eva, for the strength and compassion they showed even in such an ugly situation.

I did feel it as a little brief in some areas, however this was probably due to it being a children’s story.

If you are looking for children’s books about the holocaust this might not be top of my recommendations but you can’t really go wrong with it.

3.5/5

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Sick- Jen Smith


Image from Amazon

Disclaimer: I was sent this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Small time drug deals and a passion for growing pot filled my world before I met Greg. But the first time I got off a flight, strolled over to the baggage claim in my carefully chosen new outfit and picked up two brand new flowered suitcases filled with eighty pounds of Mexican swag pot, I felt like I had found my true calling in life. The adrenaline rush of getting away with something big along with the money I would make was a new kind of high I’d never before experienced. I was instantly addicted. Making money organizing drug runs around the country was intense. Greg and I were a money making duo like none other. Life with Greg was exciting for a while but it wasn’t long before it became a cat and mouse game – then a complete nightmare.

Words like belittling and narcissistic were not in my vocabulary. Later, learning these words helped me disconnect from the mental torture. The tension would build as I protected him while he isolated me from friends and family. Then there would be an incident of abuse which confused me. At first it was lying, hurtful words and actions but quickly escalated to guns at my head, knives, and using my son to manipulate and control me. The honeymoon phase would be another fabulous trip to Hawaii or resort hopping around the world. I didn’t see the cycle or even understand abuse. The drugs and alcohol allowed me to tolerate and numb the pain until my spirit dwindled down to a shadow of nothingness. How could I escape the far reaching sabotage of any attempt at my freedom? Could there be a way out? Could I find a way to spare my son from this drug infested violent existence that would surely crush his soul?

Review

Oh this book made me so angry. I know it’s real but I can’t believe someone could behave the way Greg did, especially where his son was concerned. Sometimes I must admit I was annoyed with Jen too. Not because she didn’t see what was happening or didn’t try to get out of it, because she did try to get out of it once she realised what was happening. More I was annoyed at her for going back to the drugs after she gave birth. I had hoped she would realise then that the drugs weren’t helping her situation. However I can understand why she couldn’t give them up, I blame the drugs, not her. In fact in some ways I felt that Jen still blames herself for not getting out. I thought however she was very brave to try so many times, and I could understand why it didn’t work out, she needed to realise she could do better with help.

4/5

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How Winning the Lottery Changed my Life- Sandra Hayes


Image from Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

“What if you suddenly acquired a windfall of money and maybe a little fame? How would it change your life? This is my story, a true story of how my life changed since winning the lottery in April 2006. It includes the controversial reality show Million Dollar Christmas, which aired December 2007.

That reality show featured four out of the thirteen lottery winners (we were dubbed the Lucky 13), who consented to being filmed for a reality show. The show was about our lives as we prepared for our first Christmas as millionaires.

Out of the four stories, my story was the most talked about throughout the country. I received both positive and negative feedback from people across the United States.

My story in this book includes the love I received, the hate, the hopes, and regrets that come with a life-altering change. After reading this book, perhaps you will be able to answer this question: Is winning the lottery a blessing or a curse”

Review

Not really sure where to start with this review. To be perfectly honest it felt more like a self-help guide for people who suddenly became millionaires than an insight into lives of lottery winners, which was what I was expecting. There was some talk of what Sandra spent her money on, but no real detail, she talked about how some spending was personal, which is all well and good but if you are going to write a book about winning the lottery surely you have to let go of some privacy?

She often refereed to the reality television show with which she had been involved but didn’t give any real details about it except that they edited the show in a way that framed her in a bad light, and to mention a time they had filmed without her knowledge. It didn’t really say anything much specific and that meant a lot of the book was lost on me as I haven’t seen the show. At some points I thought that the book was a defense against the show but without seeing the show that meant it lost its meaning.

The writing wasn’t bad. It was pretty conversational which made it easy to read, but as a conversation it tended to be a bit repetative.

2/5

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The Fry Chronicles- Stephen Fry


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Thirteen years ago, Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry’s autobiography of his early years, was published to rave reviews and was a huge bestseller. In those thirteen years since, Stephen Fry has moved into a completely new stratosphere, both as a public figure, and a private man. Now he is not just a multi-award-winning comedian and actor, but also an author, director and presenter. In January 2010, he was awarded the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards. Much loved by the public and his peers, Stephen Fry is one of the most influential cultural forces in the country. This dazzling memoir promises to be a courageously frank, honest and poignant read. It will detail some of the most turbulent and least well known years of his life with writing that will excite you, make you laugh uproariously, move you, inform you and, above all, surprise you.

Review

As far as an autobiography of Stephen Fry is concerned Moab is My Washpot (which is about his life before he became famous) had really quite surprised me, I don’t pretend to know a lot about Stephen Fry. Just that I love watching him on television and think he is generally pretty awesome. Having read the first autobiography I had less expectations of this one in a way, I didn’t expect it to be at all predictable because in the first book his life seemed to differ so much from what was suggested by his television persona.

In terms of what I would expect from Fry this was a little more what I had expected than the first book. You could certainly see parts of who he seems to be now coming out. In some ways it seemed a little self-obsessed (but can one really write an autobiography without it being a little self-obsessed?). I never really got the idea that he was elevating himself, if anything he was quite humble and even at times would tell himself off for being a little self-obsessed (which never seemed like he was pretending, more like he couldn’t understand why people would be interested). All the way through there was a certain level of disbelief that he had become famous. It was obvious he didn’t feel he deserved it, and from what he said in his more present voice he seemed still not to quite believe how lucky he has been. In a way this was the element of the book which most surprised me.

On adding this book to goodreads I had a quick flick through the (spoiler free) reviews (it’s something I often do, just reading the first few lines of each review to get a general picture of how people found the book). I happened to catch sight of a review which suggested that the book was a bit to name-droppy (and no that isn’t a real word, I don’t care). This did cause me a bit of worry. I’m not one of those people who is really into celebrity culture (I think I am right in saying that this is the one celebrity biography I have read). However I don’t think I needed to be worried. There were maybe a few name-drops that were unnecessary but most of the time he mentioned people who were friends or who he had worked with, I don’t think you can really write a whole autobiography without mentioning any friends or colleges.

The descriptions of Fry’s time at Cambridge were more interesting than I had expected too although not as interesting as wen the ‘fame thing’ started.

At time it had me laughing out loud but in general I wouldn’t describe it as a comic book- still it was almost worth reading just for Hugh Laurie’s reaction to Fry buying his first Apple Mac.

Only real problem I had with it is that the way it ended made it very obvious that Fry intended to write another autobiography. Which almost forces you to read it. I mean his life isn’t over so I suppose another biography would be expected but I would like to feel I have more choice.

Oh and one more thing, there were a few points where I thought the Kindle edition might be different to the paperback. Just things which seemed to suggest you were on an e-reader. Does anyone know if there are any differences?

4/5

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How to Be Woman- Caitlin Moran


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

1913: Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse

 1970: Feminists storm Miss World

 Now: Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunach from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller

There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…

Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?

Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, Topshop, motherhood and beyond.

Review.

Those who follow my Twitter feed will know that I had a bit of a girl crush on Caitlin Moran during this book. Honestly I just would love to be her friend! It’s almost difficult to see this as a feminist book simply because you feel more like you are reading something designed to entertain. I was pretty much constantly giggling and the tone of her writing is just so natural you feel as if you are having a conversation with her rather than reading something she has written. Indeed in some parts she even writes out what she imagines the reader might be thinking and answers it. You can just imagine her sitting there talking to herself as she writes. Yet it is a feminist book. It talks about what you may call ‘little’ feminist issues- high heels, waxing, and the occasional bigger issue, but it makes it much easier to relate to things you encounter on a day to day basis, and are so easy to accept that they don’t even seem to be issues. But she’s right, who decided heels are a good idea? They’re stupid, they just kill your feet! Why is it attractive to have no hair?

Honestly you have to read this.

5/5

 

Buy it:

Paperback
Kindle

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Filed under Biography, Comedy, non-fiction review, Politics

The Hare the Amber Eyes- Edmund de Waal


Image from Amazon

This book was read as part of the Take a Chance Challenge

Synopsis(from Amazon)

The history of a family through 264 objects – set against a turbulent century – from an acclaimed writer and potter

Note: This is the short description from Amazon. The long description gives away just a little to much, so I decided to leave it more mysterious.

Review

This book, which was the winner of the Costa Biography Prize last year, got a lot of buzz towards the end of last year and during this year (although I don’t believe I’ve seen any bloggers reviewing it, if you have please link me so I can look). It made it a pretty easy choice as my book recommended by a professional reviewer for the Take a Chance Challenge, but it’s taken me all year to actually get around to reading it.

One thing I can say that really stood out in this book was the descriptions, especially the descriptions of places and objects. I could really imagine what the netsuke looked and felt like, and I came out of the book wanting to visit Vienna. The last time a book has made me want to visit a place was when I read The Historian back before I started this blog.

I did have a bit of an odd relationship with this book though. When I was actually reading it I found I was quite interested, but when I had put it down I was never really that bothered about picking it up again. At one point I was even on the brink of giving up on it, but with a little persuasion from my Mum, and he knowledge that I did find it interesting part of the time, kept me going. I am glad I did. While I didn’t find the first part of the story that interesting I really raced though the last hundred or so pages because I was generally enjoying that section. I think just the period of time it was set in was interesting (during the second world war) or maybe it was just because I knew that period of history so I could put events into a more clear setting. I did like however the thread going through the book setting a sort of atmosphere for what was to come. I suppose that is history, but certainly it was a good idea to make that path clear.

One thing I would have really liked in this book though is more pictures of the Netsuke, however there is an illustrated edition which may work better.

3/5

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius- Dave Eggers


Image from Goodreads

This book was read as part of the Rory Gilmore Challenge

Synopsis

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the memoir (or autobiography if you prefer of Dave Eggers). It tells the story of his life after the death of his parents as he raises his younger brother Toph.

Review

So lets see, I am rather behind on reviews so it has actually been about a week since I finished this one. To start off I found Dave Eggers style quite funny, the chapter with his mother dying was actually strangelly amusing (and yes I know that sounds strange) it was just the particular little aspects of the situation that he decided to highlight, they seemed so trivial and somehow to be thinking about those kind of things when your mother is dying was rather amusing.

After a while though I found less and less to amuse or entertain me. At first I thought it was quite self-centred (I guess, that’s not really the right word). I know that writing about yourself is quite a self-centred act in a way but it felt kind of arrogant, like he thought he was always right. At first I found that aspect kind of funny in itself, I thought it was, I don’t know, sarcastc or something, but after a while it just became annoying, I wanted him to think he wasn’t doing something the best possible way just once. I must admit by the end of tje book I just didn’t like him, although there were still the occasional scenes which made me chuckle a little.

3/5

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Filed under Biography, non-fiction review

That Day in September- Artie Van Why


Cover of "That Day In September"

Cover of That Day In September

This book was sent to me free in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

We all have our stories to tell of where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This is one of them. In “That Day In September” Artie Van Why gives an eyewitness account of that fateful morning. From the moment he heard “a loud boom” in his office across from the World Trade Center, to stepping out onto the street, Artie vividly transports the reader back to the day that changed our lives and our country forever. “That Day In September” takes you beyond the events of that morning. By sharing his thoughts, fears and hopes, Artie expresses what it was like to be in New York City in the weeks and months following. The reader comes away from “That Day In September” with not only a more intimate understanding of the events of that day but also with a personal glimpse of how one person’s life was dramatically changed forever.

Review

I feel that words cannot really describe my thoughts on this book, it completely blew me away. I will try my best to put my thoughts into words, just don’t expect too much!

At first I was a little unsure about reading a book based on September the 11th, not because I had no interest in the subject but because there was a part of my that thought it didn’t seem right to make money out of a tragedy such as that day, but once I started ‘getting to know’ Artie I didn’t feel that way any more. It felt more like he was helping people to understand while relieving his own pain. I can imagine that writing about what happened that day must have been difficult for him.

In terms of read-a-bility for such a difficult matter That Day in September was surprisingly easy to read. The book was short (less than 100 pages) and the language was simple, so I managed to read the whole thing in less than an hour while waiting for the boyfriend in a coffee shop. However the simplicity didn’t take anything away from the subject matter (at least in terms of  emotional impact), if anything it let events speak for themselves. I liked that Van Why left things unsaid, sometimes words cannot match an emotion or an image, who can really describe what we all saw (whether in person or through the television) that day?

I did find myself wanting to e-mail Van Why as soon as I had read the book. Wanting to write about what I had read and urge you all to read it. What a shame I was nowhere near a computer!

5/5

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Filed under Biography, History, non-fiction review

Moab is my Washpot- Stephen Fry


Synopsis (written by me)

This is the autobiography of Stephen Fry’s first 20 years.

Review.

I really enjoyed this. It was so honest (sometimes brutally so) and unflinching. There were so many things it would have been easier for Fry to have left out, but that he included them shows a real bravery. I have always respected Stephen Fry for his intelligence, and his humour, and his way of managing to make so much sound interesting but somehow knowing he hasn’t always had it easy, and hasn’t always been the greatest person makes me respect him more. That he has gone through certain things, and has turned his whole life around. It would have been so easy to say he was young and stupid but he doesn’t try to excuse himself of anything, he knows he should have done better. I loved how he was so honest about his emotions throughout. He could have just written it as a this is what happened and made a book out of it but then I don’t think it would have been particularly special, emotion is something only an autobiography can fully do when writing about fact. At some points he went of on tangents, or even rants which lasted several pages. I suppose for some this could have been annoying but it made the book seem less manufactured to me and more like he was speaking to you. The only other of Fry’s books I have read is The Liar. I found that plot wise (if we can say an autobiography has a plot) The Liar carried along more nicely, but nobodies life is all action after all and considering that you didn’t really get bored with Moab is my Washpot. I did find this one easier to read in some ways though, they both had the same style of writing which was almost poetic, and they both had words or ideas that I found hard to grasp but I think part of what made The Liar was that it was meant to confuse whereas Moab is my Washpot was quite simple.

4.5/5

If anyone is interested I have written up a review for The Liar but wrote it before this blog started so t’s not on here. If people want to see it though I will post

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Filed under Biography, non-fiction review

A Million Little Pieces- James Frey


Synopsis (from Amazon)

When he entered a residential treatment centre at the age of twenty-three, James Frey had destroyed his body and his mind almost beyond repair. He faced a stark choice: accept that he wasn’t going to see twenty-four or step into the fallout of his smoking wreck of a life and take drastic action. Surrounded by patients as troubled as he, Frey had to fight to find his own way to confront the consequences of the life he had lived so far, and to determine what future, if any, he has. A Million Little Pieces is an uncommon account of a life destroyed and a life reconstructed.

Review.

This is another book which has been on my TBR pile for a long time. Part of what put me off it the controversy over whether it was fiction or not. Certainly it was written as if it was an autobiography, but in parts it just seemed too, perfect I suppose. Some of the more unbelieveable things I could believe, because although they were hard to believe they fell into the category where you could imagine them happening in certain ways. Ultimately it was Lilly that made me not believe, but I will say no more than that because of spoilers. In terms of writing style it was pretty easy to read, although in parts it felt almost as if you were reading a list, a sort of ‘I did this, then this happened so I did this’. The conversation was hard to follow in parts because it was so infrequently told who was actually speaking. It carried you through quite easily though and the topic was interesting enough that you didn’t get bored with the writing style. At some points Frey would talk for too long about something which really wasn’t interesting, like documenting a fight which was on TV, I really didn’t care, and at these points I did notice how boring the writing style was. As far as topic went at times it was hard or uncomfortable to read, and it parts quite graphic. There was lots of swearing, which was generally unnecessary and might put some people off but I suppose it made things more realistic. As far as the more graphic sections went it was unflinching and almost matter of fact about what was going on which did for me seem the way that someone who had gone through those things would talk about them.

Overall, not the best written book, and at time it drags. But when I was interested I was really interested, and I do wish I had read it sooner.

3.5/5

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Filed under Biography, Contempory, Fiction review, non-fiction review, psychology (non-fiction)

The QI Book of the Dead


The QI Book of the Dead

Image via Wikipedia

Synopsis (from Amazon)

The QI Book of the Dead is a book about life.

‘What an awful thing life is. It’s like soup with lots of hairs floating on the surface. You have to eat it nevertheless.’ (Gustave Flaubert)

Around 90 billion people have existed since the human race began. From this huge number, the bestselling QI team selected 600 of the finest examples of our species and researched them in depth, distilling this immense banquet of life into an exquisite tasting menu of six-dozen crisp, racy mini-biographies, where the internationally and immortally famous rub shoulders with the undeservedly and (until now) permanently obscure.

The object is to learn something about what it means to be alive and how we can make the most of the time we have.

The QI Book of the Dead compares and contrasts the different ways individual human beings cope (or fail to cope) with the curves that the uncaring universe* throws at us. Collected into themed chapters with thought-provoking titles such as ‘There s Nothing Like a Bad Start in Life’, ‘Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone’ and ‘Is That All There Is?’ here is a chance to share the secrets of the Dead, to celebrate their wisdom, to learn from their mistakes, and to marvel at their bad taste in clothes.

‘The man who is not dead still has a chance.’ (Lebanese Proverb)

*We don t rule out the alternative possibility of a compassionate God whose motives are beyond our ken.

Review

Bit of a difficult one to review this. Very interesting, and well written so it was as easy to read as fiction tends to be. Gave me a fair bit of knowledge without any of it being particularly useful! Quite amusing too, although I found more made me laugh in the first few chapter than in the last few. Well worth a read anyway.

4/5

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Filed under Biography, History, non-fiction review

The Fatal Englishman- Sebastian Faulks


Synopsis (from Amazon)

Christopher Wood, a beautiful young Englishman, decided to be the greatest painter the world had seen. He went to Paris in 1921. By day he studied, by night he attended the parties of the beau monde. He knew Picasso, worked for Diaghilev and was a friend of Cocteau. In the last months of his 29-year life, he fought a ravening opium addiction to succeed in claiming a place in history of English painting.

Richard Hilary, confident, handsome and unprincipled, flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain before being shot down and horribly burned. He underwent several operations by the legendary plastic surgeon, A H McIndoe. His account of his experiences, “The Last Enemy”, made him famous, but not happy. He begged to be allowed to return to flying, and died mysteriously in a night training operation, aged 23.

Jeremy Wolfenden was born in 1936, the son of Jack, later Lord Wolfenden. Charming, generous and witty, he was the cleverest Englishman of his generation, but left All Souls to become a hack reporter. At the height of the Cold War, he was sent to Moscow where his louche private life made him the plaything of the intelligence services. A terrifying sequence of events ended in Washington where he died at the age of 31.

Review

I’m going to split this review into 4 sections, one general section and one for each story or ‘life’. It just makes it a bit easier to organise my thoughts.

General

Again this is a book which Waterstones put in the wrong section of their store, which kind of disappointed. Maybe they did it purposefully because Sebastian Faulks is better known for his fiction (his most famous novel being Birdsong) but this book is in fact a sort of biography (I say sort of because there are really 3 biographies). This meant I bought it expecting Faulks’ normal style, and this is where I found the book a bit of a let down. I usually really enjoy Faulks’ books, and Birdsong is amongst my favourites, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. While I found the stories themselves quite interesting I found the style was not up to Faulks’ usual standards. At times is read like a list which had just been joined together with a few conjunctions and a bit of punctuation. I think this was partly because, being a biography, there was little on how the ‘characters’ (I say for want of a better word) felt, understandable but I found it jarred with the story-like style of the writing.
After a while my problems with the writing style did become less important as I got more interested in the stories.
The only thing which wasn’t reduced by my interest in the stories was that there was a sense that Faulks’ wanted to use all th information he had read while researching for the book, this meant that in parts there did just seem to be lists of information which wasn’t really needed and actually extended each section beyond the point where you would have expected it to finish.

Christopher Wood

Photobucket

Of all the accounts this was the one which interested me the least. While Wood’s life was more interesting than the majority of the population I didn’t really become interested until the section was almost finished, in fact I almost gave up within the first 50 pages, all that really kept me going was wanting to know how he died (although I did get interested before that point)! Really the only thing it did was made me intrigued to see some of his art work. I have posted one of his more famous pieces above.

Richard Hilary

Factually this was my favourite section. I’ve always been pretty interested in history (at one point I was planning on taking a history degree) and particularly the period around the two world wars. However I’ve never really known that much about the RAFs role in the second world war (in fact I think my only knowledge comes from a story I read as a teenager which was more focused on the work on the ground than in the air) so I found it really interesting to find out about what it was like to be a pilot and getting into the RAF. I also found the information about early plastic surgery really interesting. This was also the section I found easiest to read, because one of the sources was Hilary’s own book (which was more or less an autobiography) Faulks was able to include more information about how Hilary felt than he had been able to for the other two sections.

Jeremy Wolfenden

Character wise this was my favourite section. Wolfenden seemed to spend most of his life trying to be controversial, and various events made things all the more crazy. It seemed there was always stuff going on in his life. This section also partially took place in Moscow during the Cold War so I found it historically interesting too although it had less historical content (in terms of world history rather than personal history) than the section on Richard Hilary.

3/5

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Filed under Biography, History, non-fiction review