Just Finished…Unqualified by Anna Faris

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Anna Faris has advice for you. And it’s great advice, because she’s been through it all, and she wants to tell you what she’s learned. Her comic memoir and first book, Unqualified, will share Anna’s candid, sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir, part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna’s unique take on how to navigate the bizarre, chaotic, and worthwhile adventure of finding love.

Hilarious, authentic, and actually useful, Unqualified is the book Anna’s fans have been waiting for.

 

What do I think…?

Part memoir, part advice, part observations on life – Anna’s book covers a lot of ground for what is quite a quick read. I picked it up as a random read a while ago mainly because I like the person she comes across as when interviewed and I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, like the original Scary Movie and What’s Your Number? is favourite rom-com of mine.

The book is a collection of different pieces: some parts inspired by the Unqualified podcast (which I’m going to give a try now, having read this book!) and the advice that has come from that, with Anna reflecting these ideas back at memories of her own romantic life. Other parts are straight memoir, as you run through Anna’s early career as defined in relationships she had along the way, or how she felt about them. The writing is genuinely funny and feels direct and honest – which you would hope to get from someone who my earliest lasting memory on film is being blasted onto a ceiling on a fountain of stuff

There’s not much age difference between us and so I found it interesting some of the clear crossovers of experience, which really speaks of the universality I think of what she is writing about.

The most moving part of the book for me was her pregnancy and the birth of her son Jack. I was laughing along with her words, remembering how clueless you can be going into and through pregnancy – FYI reading The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth doesn’t mean you are an idiot, just that you’re happy to revise for an exam! And this is how Anna’s story went, until the unexpected happened. I can’t imagine how it must feel to go through what she and other parents go through when babies come early or have significant medical issues. You can feel helpless enough later on when kids are older and something happens, let alone within the first few hours of bringing them in to the world.

I really enjoyed the parts that were about Anna’s experience in life and her professional career, but these were not the main focus of the book, they were examples used to show some of the relationship ideas being discussed. This makes sense as ‘examining relationships’ is the framework the book is built around, but I would like to see more of this from her – maybe a ‘proper’ memoir in the future – as she has a lot to say and offers good insight of her own experiences, that I would like to see more. 4* read for me.

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Just Finished…’Burning Up’ and ‘The Note’

Ok, so I’ve read a few post-apocalypse and dystopian books recently, add to that Lost in Space and Fear the Walking Dead on my TV boxset watches, everything was getting pretty heavy. So, after finishing Station Eleven, which was an excellent, thought-provoking look at life after a major, world-wide epidemic takes out 99.8% of the world population in about 2 weeks, I needed something a bit lighter…

First up was The Note by Zoe Folbigg. Here’s the blurb:

The NoteThe note changed everything…

One very ordinary day, Maya Flowers sees a new commuter board her train to London, and suddenly the day isn’t ordinary at all. Maya knows immediately and irrevocably, that he is The One.

But the beautiful man on the train always has his head in a book and never seems to notice Maya sitting just down the carriage from him every day. Eventually, though, inspired by a very wise friend, Maya plucks up the courage to give the stranger a note asking him out for a drink. Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen?

And so begins a story of sliding doors, missed opportunities and finding happiness where you least expect it.

Based on the author’s true story, The Note is an uplifting, life-affirming reminder that taking a chance can change everything.

I got this as a free download from Amazon UK and it was the ‘sliding doors’ feel of the story and the promise of some lighter ‘life-affirming’ reading that appealed with this. I didn’t really get both. The story is told in third-person present tense, which has an odd ‘distancing’ quality to the whole presentation – you are so much inside main character Maya’s head, that it seems strange to me that it wasn’t done as first person, if it had been I think it would have helped you feel more engaged with the story and characters.

Maya works in fashion and whilst I get that some of the descriptions of her clothes and that of co-workers is to give context to what she does in work, I found it quite jarring to read the lengthy descriptions of blouses and dresses and skirts and shoes…and the materials they were made from…and the multitude of colours everyone is wearing… The same treatment was given to food that was eaten and most rooms Maya walked into – it wasn’t quite the manic descriptions of everything I found in American Psycho, but it certainly reminded me of it – and every time you had one of these descriptive interludes it really detracted from the core story I felt.

Anyway, the good bits are – Maya’s mild obsession and imagining a future from a random meeting on the train is quite relatable: ‘Ted Baker Man’ and ‘Red Coat Man’ would not be too far removed from ‘Train Guy’. She takes a l-o-n-g time to get anywhere with this though and as a character comes across as lacking self-awareness in many of her interactions with him. Overall, I think Maya’s best bits – and those of the story – are the characters she meets along the way and are not really what the blurb of the book promised: her Spanish class students, her best friend (who has a better romance story tbh) and sadly for Train Guy, seeing his existing relationship crumble. All those elements are stronger and feature much more heavily and realistically than their actual romance.

This gets 3* from me – the ideas and some of the characters are good; but the presentation of the story is distracting and distancing, which is unusual for what is pitched as a romance.

Burning UpNext up was Burning Up, which was a lot less cheesy than the cover and blurb would suggest… When they cut the chaps face off the cover to focus on his sweaty pecs I feel like it’s taking the potential reader a very specific way 🙂

Anyway, the blurb promises to ‘fan the flames of desire in Jennifer Blackwood’s smoking-hot series about firefighters and the women who want them…

Here’s what the book is about: Unemployed schoolteacher Erin Jenkins is back in Portland, the town she hasn’t called home for more than a decade. It’s not the way she wants to spend her last days of summer: in between jobs and avoiding her mother’s snooping by escaping to the ice-cream aisle. But when the opportunity arises for her to accompany her brother’s best friend—her lifetime crush—to a wedding, summer gets a whole lot more interesting.

Firefighter and single dad Jake Bennett has built a nice, safe wall around his heart—no romance, no getting burned. That doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a fling. Considering Erin’s visit is temporary, they’re the perfect fit for a scorching no-strings one-night stand. Or two. Or five. Until the worst thing happens: Erin and Jake are feeling more. Damn that four-letter word.

Now their hearts are on the line, and when their smoldering summer comes to a close, it’s going to be harder than ever to put out the fire.

Once you get away from the proliferation of puns for flaming romance and firemen in the blurb, the actual book is pretty good – and there’s no cheesy lines in sight, except for the odd one used in full sarcasm mode. Erin also doesn’t spend most of the book cataloguing the gorgeousness of Jake, but gets on with having a real life and change in circumstances around the budding relationship.

There are some heated scenes, so it’s not suitable for younger readers, but for me the book was primarily about fears of growing up and changing, how you balance the importance of a career against family life and potential relationships. It was also interesting reading from Jake’s perspective about balancing the idea of a new relationship alongside his responsibilities as a parent. There was a wider cast of characters in the book, who play important roles and influence Erin and how she deals with losing her job, as much as Jake does.

Overall, this was a better and more engaging read than The Note, with a romance and surrounding cast of characters that felt more in synch with the story and main character, as well as not featuring detailed descriptions of every inanimate object in the room every few pages. 4* rating for this one.

Now that I’ve had a mini-break reading-wise, it’s back to some grittier stuff: I’ve got Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series to finish, Ubik on my kindle and Farenheiht 451 just dropped through the door… It’s going to be a mixed few weeks reading I guess…

 

 

Just Finished…The Crucible

CrucibleThis is a re-read for me of one of my favourite plays to read – if that makes sense?

I first read this in school as a required text and it was one of the first times I really saw clearly escalating drama, then a lull, then another escalation, over the four acts of the play. If I had seen it in a play before, I hadn’t noticed it really. The characters in the play are also strong, whether good, bad or other, I enjoy the story that they come together to tell. It feels like you get more character development in this than other plays I’ve read.

In reading this at school, you really do to death (no pun) the motifs and themes and imagery, dissecting everything until you’ve pulled the text apart, but perhaps aren’t enjoying it so much. Coming back to it again after so many years, I still remember elements of what I learned and so in reading this reasonably fresh the elements that I revised for exam questions now just add texture and depth to a reading of an explosive play.

I’ve seen a few Miller plays performed, but never this one, even though it is my favourite of his. Re-reading this today just reminded me of this. Plus, the edition I have is the one pictured: a little ratty on the outside, found in a second hand book shop and purchased for the grand price of 85p when I was at Uni – so it’s nostalgia all around, even down to the musty-smelling, slightly yellow pages.

Yeah, I suppose this wasn’t a review of the play at all, but of my experiences reading it. Oh, well. It’s Sunday, don’t hold it against me.

November – Read a Comedy

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The ‘2017 year of reading’ plan directed that November would be a comedy and so I bimbled around the library until I came across Life and Laughing by Michael McIntyre.

This the second autobiography of a comedian I’ve read in the last 12months and I enjoyed it even more than the first. If Graham Norton was the comedian I grew up with mainly through my late teens and early twenties with doggy-phone and So Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre is the one I’ve watched most recently over the last few years (this book is several years old now and takes you to the point where he began appearing on TV a lot).

Like Graham Norton’s book, I read ‘Life and Laughing’ in Michael’s voice – some of the sentences I could actually hear him saying and imagine him delivering them in one of his routines, head bobbing, cheeky grin and lots of running around the stage. I found – because I read it pretty quickly – that I also began throwing his style into my daily life, speaking to people at work in similar voice, which I had to stop pretty quick – my work life is just not that fun or exciting to justify impersonating a comedian as part of the daily grind.

Life and Laughing was funnier for me than Graham Norton’s book – although I laughed so loudly someone came to check I was OK when I was reading that, I chuckled, ‘lol’ed and SALTS (smiled and little then stopped) at this one all the way through. The observational comedy style that McIntyre has meant that virtually every page had funny-isms dropped onto it; he was writing about his past, but with his comedy eyes wide open all the time – even describing the set up and process of getting his writing room started at the beginning was good (if you’re interested, I’m writing my review on an old MacBook Pro c. 2011 13-inch-ish screen, which has a small crack in the right hand corner where I closed it on a book a couple of years ago – for safety purposes Magic Tape has been applied to prevent any tiny bits falling out).

My favourite thing about this book, behind the review of his life seen through comedy spectacles, was understanding how hard it is to achieve success as a comedian. Norton had similar struggles in his book and perhaps reading the two so close together brought this into greater focus for me. McIntyre shows you the true past behind the success – the long slog of years on a circuit of ‘jobbing’  stand-ups, multiple visits to Edinburgh Festival and everything in between where there’s little money coming in and lots going out as you try to achieve what is essentially a dream. How close must he have come to giving up on this, in order to have a ‘normal’ job that paid the bills? Perhaps it is passion or ambition, drive or something else that carries people to success – Michael seemed incredibly determined in his approach to his career, taking a booking for 12 months time and working in between to hone his skills.

Perhaps it takes someone so determined to succeed that they can live on an edge of huge debt without doing what many must do and ‘get a proper job’. It feels similar to being a writer in this sense – you can sit at home, writing away with no job trying to make it happen (or even in a coffee shop, a la J K Rowling), but many more must not be able to cope with the risk to home, comfort and the ability to eat something that isn’t a Tesco value meal…

The end of the book really made me think. McIntyre is a very positive, flexible comedian – he can do naughty as much as he can entertain families on his ‘Big Show’. Reading his story really made me appreciate what it must have taken to have held out and push to where he has gotten to today. I went into this book as a fan and came out really liking the man he seems to be (despite his revelations of being a stalker). I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of his comedy and also to people who are not ‘biography’ readers – I’m not myself generally, but this one was really worth it.

Rating: 5*

June… Read something you wouldn’t normally

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I picked Monsters up in the library because of the quirky cover. Reading the very brief blurb on the back it reminded me of a film from years ago with Kate Winslet (I think), where two odd friends have an unsavoury interest in murder.
The actual story was a bit of a surprise and didn’t unfold as I thought it might.

I’m not actually convinced that I ever read the name of the narrator of the story – if I did it was so infrequent that I missed it – and so it is odd to share such intimate knowledge of her strange and rather unhappy life without giving her the label of a name. Perhaps that is part of what the author was looking for, that as the reader there is an uncomfortable voyeurism to reading about this person and their experiences.

The story is well-written, from the point of view of a 12-13 year old, which sees her drifting through points of immature misunderstanding of an adult world to moments of real clarity, seeing the truth of people that maybe sits between being a child and an adult. The way she looks at her friendships and others feels very black and white, more childlike, as do the tempers she has.

Overall, this is an interesting read with well-rounded characters and a view into the painful and odd world of the narrator. Often the murder mystery element of the book drifts into the background whilst trivial seeming things take the centre. It’s not comfortable or fun to read, you feel pity for the narrator in many ways, but also can’t say that she is ever likely to become someone you would want to meet. She’s already pretty broken. 4*

(In terms of the reading challenge, I actually started off reading a political biography on Barack Obama, I still have it but am only about 50 pages into and it has about 800 to go… I’m not overly convinced that I’ll make it to the end of that one, perhaps it’s too far out of my comfort zone!)

 

 

Reading Challenge for May – Read a book recommended by a friend…

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Several friends have recommended If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, to me and it has sat languishing in my bedside table for a while now – this cover is for the version of the book I have and so must have been bought around the time of the film release. I can’t remember now if I bought this copy or if it was given to me to read – I have a feeling it’s the latter, but definitely can’t think who it came from. My author buddy Tony Talbot read and reviewed this on the Aside from Writing blog ages ago, so you can check out his thoughts there (spoiler alert!) if you like (also, it’s evidence of the recommendation!)

My thoughts… 

Before you are 20 pages in to this book, you are shocked into experiencing the same trauma as Mia. There’s so little pre-amble to the crash that it is shocking, even though you know that is what the book centres on before you start. You just don’t want this kind of thing to happen to characters like them – you feel how unfair and sad it is, when this type of tragedy strikes.

I found the comments and interviews (from the film actors) with Gayle Forman really interesting at the end, putting the story into context with her own experience of grief. There are so many facets of grief considered through the story: parental love for a child/younger sibling; romantic loss and that of losing your parents. Mia – sitting outside herself – is a very human, emotive vehicle for considering all these things, whilst reflecting back on the life she has lived and the relationships that have been built around her at that point.

This is, as you would expect, a difficult read in places. I think Gayle does a great job of managing the hard emotional parts of the present, with the backstory of the past. It has the mix in the book, just as you do with grief itself, of being overwhelmed by emotion and loss in one instant, then reminiscing and feeling the warmth of love, family and friends the next. I teared up a few times whilst reading, especially in the sections on Teddy, which Mia felt almost with a parental love for her much younger brother.

I think this is a story that will linger with you for a long time, whether it’s because of shared experiences of grief and how poignantly this is told within the story, or because of the emotion you feel for Mia’s fictional family and those of anyone in real life you experiences these similar freak tragedies.

This is a relatively short book and without formal chapters, you tend to read on through the scenes. Whilst very sad, I enjoyed this book, in so much as it has lingered with me the last few days since finishing and I’d like to read more about the characters I met.

5*

April – Read a non-fiction book… Freakonomics

1202So, non-fiction month… I don’t often read non-fiction, but I do really enjoy them when I do. I started Freakonomics about a couple of years ago, read the first couple of chapters/essays and enjoyed it, but then popped it back into the bedside table pile and didn’t get back to it. This time, spurred on by the need to read a non-fiction book in the month, I just grabbed it and read! The way the chapters are divided over different subjects, but with vague links between them, makes it very easy to read and the style with a conversational tone taking you through their theories is a nice change for a non-fiction book.

The idea behind Freakonomics is the juxtaposing of some quite outlandish ideas, with core economic theories and approach to evaluation to give alternative perspectives on areas as diverse as violent crime statistics and the importance of parenting. Below is a snapshot from the blurb and picks out some of the best questions explored in the essay chapters:

“Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?”

I’d definitely recommend this for anyone who likes examining the world from different, less conventional perspectives. Their website, http://freakonomics.com/ has all sorts of articles, videos and more covering a lot of other content on other subjects, so is worthwhile checking out if you like the sound of this book. I’ll definitely be adding Super Freakonomics to my TBR list – but might need to leave tackling it to another year! 🙂

Overall 4* for this