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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: IN THE COUNTRY WE LOVE

BooksKristina PinoComment

In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

This memoir is at times funny, but entirely heart-wrenching. Diane opens up about her life up until now: living her early years in fear of her parents being deported and realizing that hell at age 14. Abandoned, even by the government, which didn't concern itself with the young girl who was left behind. Her desire to succeed and figure out how to bring her parents back (she's still working on it). Living with depression, and doing the hard work that led up to her current visibility as an actor in Orange Is The New Black and Jane The Virgin. It has as much to do with her own experiences as it does with the hard truths of thousands of other families who are torn apart when the system fails them, and the scared children they leave behind. Gripping, well-presented, and heartfelt, I highly recommend this read. Just maybe keep some tissues handy.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: GULP and PICNIC IN PROVENCE

BooksKristina PinoComment

Gulp by Mary Roach

Gulp is an exploration of the journey foods make, starting with sniffing and tasting and on through eventual dumpage. Some of it is pretty gross! But it's all very fascinating and Roach approaches all these topics with her usual wit and impressive thoroughness. Of course, she also goes into cultural taboos: how they affect scientific research and even the way we eat. I don't recommend snacking while reading this book, but I do recommend snatching it up if you're in the mood for some real science-based investigations, warts and all. If you've never read any Roach previously, though, I highly recommend getting started with Packing For Mars, which is all about space exploration and astronauts.

Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard

In this memoir, Bard talks about her life in France with her husband, their decision to move to the countryside, her pregnancy (and the subsequent birth of their son), and all their other experiences leading up to their eventual decision to open an ice cream shop. Her descriptions of the village life, the way the French rear children and approach food, and how she reconciled her American, Jewish identity with her life in France through traditions old and new are all major themes in this memoir. She also includes excellent recipes in between chapters, many of which I intend to make for myself or for family and friends. I enjoyed the way she approached her stories with humor, and now I'm looking forward to reading her other book, Lunch in Paris, which was published four years before Picnic.

Friday ThingS: 02/22 - Misconceptions of Medieval Life and How to Draw Tinker Bell

LinksKristina PinoComment

[Welcome to another weekend link dump!]

On Books:

If you read, watch, or play a lot of fantasy media, you might have a few misconceptions of what medieval life was like.

You could read samples of books that were adapted to Oscar-nominated films.

A fellow Book Riot contributor Nikki Steele listed 20 nonfiction titles that are about the lady human body. I intend to check a few of these out!

On Art and Photography:

A Romanian photographer went around the world and photographed women from 37 different countries for a project called The Atlas of Beauty.

Learn how to draw Tinker Bell.

Stuff I Wrote:

On Book Riot: 9 Excellent Mustaches in Literature Today.

On Panels: 10 Questions With a Manga Editor at VIZ Media.

Other:

If you're looking to improve your toy photography, here are some tips from a pal

Super cute - a little girl feeds crows and they bring her little gifts in return. The full interview should be live sometime this week.

Looks like Tri-Rail has an opportunity to get trains running straight into Downtown Miami, which would be super convenient for people who live in that area or along the metro in others. I kind of hope it happens - I think there are way too many cars in Miami.

[Have a nice day!]

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: JULIE AND JULIA and PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE

BooksKristina PinoComment

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (narrated by the author)

I love the film Julie & Julia, and I had always been wanting to read the book and kept putting off actually looking it up, until it occurred to me that there would probably be an audiobook. The book being narrated by the author was kind of the deciding factor, because who better?

Although I already had an idea of how the story went and some of the hardships Julie goes through in the course of her year of cooking through Mastering The Art of French Cooking, the film really skimmed through some of the heavier stuff that went on, and added a bit of humor and romance, and of course bits of Julia Child's own book My Life in France. This is definitely a case where I like both book and film adaptation, and they can coexist happily despite their differences. I appreciated the film for giving me a picture, and the book for going really deep and all up in those dark places the author crept in to get through that year.

Now I just need to read My Life in France. Audio or print? Gah.

Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman (narrated by the author)

This book, along with Amy Poehler's Yes Please (reviewed previously), are the only two that I didn't clear from my phone right away as soon as I finished them to make room for new things (I just generally try to keep my phone clutter-free). It's a book I intend to re-listen to in the near future, because I loved every second of it the first time around.

Paddle is a great collection of little philosophies about life, and observations and musings on a wide range of topics. You'll get a snapshot of Offerman's life as a farmer, as a woodworker, as an actor, and as a husband, among other things. And you'll learn some stuff, maybe. But mostly you'll hear the words of someone who has figured it out: he's happy, satisfied with life, and is all about spreading positivity. He approaches even the slimiest of topics with a reasonable attitude, and delivers some solid truth bombs with plenty of humor peppered throughout. He talks a lot about being productive, honing a craft, and just overall being a good person. Also, if you listen to the audiobook you'll get to hear him sing.

I read Paddle Your Own Canoe as a part of the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling the audiobook task.

Bite-Sized Audiobook Reviews: YES PLEASE and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY

BooksKristina Pino2 Comments

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (narrated by Amy Poehler)

The only reason I didn't listen to this audiobook right away, like right when it was released, was because I was still deciding whether I wanted to get the print book instead. After all, if I really ended up loving this book, which I knew I would because other rad people I know have universally loved it, having a print copy is way better if only because then I can lend it out to all my friends. But then I decided that I'd rather listen to the author narrate her own book (and hear all her wonderful guests who recorded it with her), and simply buy several copies for my friends later, because it's so, so worth the money and attention.

Yes Please is absolutely hilarious, and sweet, and candid, and all of the best things I can say about it. I laughed out loud like a madwoman listening to this, and as soon as the recording ended, it took everything I had not to just hit play all over again. It's that good. It's that funny. If you're even just a little bit familiar with Amy, or are into TV or comedy or are a mom, or who knows, there are a lot of ways you can relate to this book: you need to read this. And no, I'm not just talking to my fellow ladies - my male friends have also loved and recommended it. Read it.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (narrated by Moira Quirk)

This is the third book in Gail Carriger's Finishing School series, which I love dearly. I'm sad that there's just one more book coming out later this year to finish it off, but at the same time, I prefer a nicely-executed quartet to an overly-drawn-out long series. I'll probably get into Carriger's other books after this series has finished, because I love her writing style. Also in real life she's an anthropologist (that's what I studied in Uni!) and just, yeah, that's badass.

In W&W the main characters have all matured in all the best ways, and they're finding their paths beyond Mme Geraldine's. While I wish they could all just be best friends forever and keep going on adventures together for their entire careers, it's a logical step for some of them to break away to chase their own destinies. I love all of the developments, the neat way things seem to sort themselves out whenever Sophronia and her friends put their minds to it. This is a fantastic, magical, and just plain fun YA series to get into, and I also highly recommended listening to it because Moira Quirk does such a great job narrating. Her pacing and the voices and accents she uses for the different characters are all on point. Great performance. Great story. Now's a good time to get into the series since the final book is out in November - you won't have to wait too long to get the whole thing. 

2015 Read Harder Challenge: Task 2 - PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE by Nick Offerman

BooksKristina Pino1 Comment

"Parks and Recreation actor Nick Offerman shares his humorous fulminations on life, manliness, meat, and much more in his first book.

Growing a perfect moustache, grilling red meat, wooing a woman - who better to deliver this tutelage than the always charming, always manly Nick Offerman, best known as Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson? Combining his trademark comic voice and very real expertise in woodworking - he runs his own woodshop - Paddle Your Own Canoe features tales from Offerman's childhood in small-town Minooka, Illinois - "I grew up literally in the middle of a cornfield" - to his theater days in Chicago, beginnings as a carpenter/actor and the hilarious and magnificent seduction of his now-wife Megan Mullally. It also offers hard-bitten battle strategies in the arenas of manliness, love, style, religion, woodworking, and outdoor recreation, among many other savory entrees.

A mix of amusing anecdotes, opinionated lessons and rants, sprinkled with offbeat gaiety, Paddle Your Own Canoe will not only tickle readers pink but may also rouse them to put down their smart phones, study a few sycamore leaves, and maybe even handcraft (and paddle) their own canoes."

After reading and loving Amy Poehler's Yes Please, this just seemed like a logical leap. I've watched enough Parks and Recreation that I'm an Offerman fan, though I don't know much about his life in general, so this'll be a great way for me to dive in. Also, the full title is glorious: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living. I don't know much about it, but I already like where it's going.

This book will fulfill the task read (listen to) "an audiobook." It almost feels like cheating, since I already listen to audiobooks regularly, but that's a good "problem" to have when it comes to ticking off diversity-oriented tasks on a list.

I'll be starting it up this weekend.

Book Review: 'Anything Goes' by John Barrowman

BooksKristina PinoComment

Getting acquainted with John Barrowman and his musical theater work has been the best thing to come out of spending some time watching the new Doctor Who series. Though I'm pretty lukewarm on Doctor Who, I loved Captain Jack as a character, and some of my more invested friends learned that he can sing and dance and has had a great musical career. And then I went to a book store to browse memoirs and saw one with his face on it titled Anything Goes. Why not?

Anything Goes is not so much a chronicle of John Barrowman's life so much as a collection of experiences, thoughts, and wisdom (both from John himself and people he's met). It's not sorted by phases of his life, but by song titles and what falls under them. It isn't even in chronological order. And it doesn't have an ending, because as John rightfully points out, his story hasn't ended yet. While it made for an abrupt cut-off, he made that point clear.

John's writing voice is candid and entertaining. Though some bits of the book can get into "gushing" territory, he never lost me for a second. And on a more positive note, the overall tone of the book is fun and light, which led to a few actual laugh-out-loud moments. Some of those moments happened on trains, and I got some weird looks from people, but I think they were just jealous.

I think what I liked most about reading about John's experiences straight from his own head is that he's one of those people who are so driven, and so convicted to what they want to do, and is lucky enough (and certainly has worked hard enough) to have gotten all the best things out of the life he wanted. It's refreshing to just read a happy story from a happy person who is currently leading a happy life. It's even more refreshing that he's not afraid to spread that happiness out to others. John holds nothing back (except a few names for privacy purposes), and even goes as far as including loads of footnotes with remarks and side comments. Reading Anything Goes felt much like I was sitting face to face with the man himself and being told the same stories.

When you're in the mood for some unabashed fun at the expense of someone else's experiences, give Anything Goes a read. You'll probably see some parallels in there with your own life, even if you don't lead a glamorous one up in lights. After that, you might rewatch the "Springtime for Hitler" number in The Producers to see him in action, because like me, you might not have known that he was the lead for that song until you he told you.

Five people alive today who should eventually write a memoir

BooksKristina PinoComment

Continuing on the vein of life stories which haven't been written yet (see my previous post on fictional characters who we have no back stories for), my next brilliant list is about real people who are alive today and haven't penned some sort of memoir. These are people who seem to lead remarkable lives, but haven't been motivated to tell anyone their story. In some cases, these folks don't want to talk about themselves so much as share what they've learned in life. Whatever the case may be, sample my intrigue.

1) Keanu Reeves

Out of any famous person I could list, I think Keanu is the one whose story intrigues me most in the sense that, unlike other popular artists, he doesn't indulge the media with too many details about his personal life, beliefs, or general thoughts about life. Besides being ridiculously talented, he comes from a diverse family and has dealt with some hardships that are no easy task to cope with. I say all this and add him to my list, but considering he seems to enjoy his privacy and leads a rather low-key life, I doubt he'll ever write a memoir.

2) Daniel Radcliffe

It's tough to rise to fame as an iconic character and then manage to divorce yourself from it as gracefully as Radcliffe has managed to prove his worth and talent following the end of the Harry Potter series. Besides being in film and on TV, he's performing on Broadway, his most recent prestigious role being that of Finch in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He's still a bit too young (and, alarmingly, younger than I am), so it'd be a while before I think we'd be ready for words penned by him. But once some more time passes, I'm going to be all ears (well, all eyes) for Radcliffe. (This isn't to say he doesn't have anything to go on right now, I just think it'll only get better the longer he waits, for now.)

3) Billy Joel

There are very few artists who I could safely say that if you left me with their entire discography and told me that's all I could listen to for a full year or more, I'd be totally dandy (hint: he is one of them). Billy has had an impressively long, but not easy, career and is lucky enough to be a talented songwriter on top of being a musician. And my favorite kind: a pianist. I've seen him perform live once, and he's just magical to share the same room (however large) with. To top it off, I got to see him during his "Face 2 Face" tour together with Elton John, and neither out-shined the other. It was just a magical (and memorable) night altogether.

4) Ewan McGregor

Though there have been books written about him, none are authored by the man himself and thus don't count as memoirs. Besides being multi-talented (acting and singing), and having a successful career, a wife and four daughters, and counting himself among the ranks of recovered alcoholics, McGregor also travels avidly. Though I am interested in hearing the story of his life, I am even more intrigued in stories about his travels, much like Michael Crichton's book which gives a fair bit about his life and more about what he'd learned while seeing the world. McGregor has been all over the place -- he just has to be brimming with stories!

5) Commander Chris Hadfield

I mentioned it in a recent link dump, but I'll just reiterate now that Chris Hadfield is quickly becoming one of my favorite people. He's a Canadian astronaut who also happens to be a musician (this reminds me of my astronomy/physics professor back in college, who sang to us in class - fond memories) and is currently aboard the ISS. Like many astronauts (and a particular Mars Rover) lately, he's social media-savvy and keeps in touch with the internet at-large via Twitter. He also creates videos of himself doing mundane things in space, explaining how and why he needs to perform certain tasks. He appears to genuinely love Earth despite his job taking him off it, and I'd love to read what he'd have to write.

Five seems too short of a list, doesn't it? There are just so many inspiring people out there whose stories are begging to be told, that I had a hard time just selecting a handful. As with my other list, feel free to agree/disagree with me here as well as suggest other potential memoirs! Remember, the person in question must still be alive.

Book Review: 'Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good' by Kevin Smith

BooksKristina Pino7 Comments

The first time I ever noticed a publisher disclaimer on the copyright page at the front of a book, making sure that readers knew that though Penguin (via their imprint Gotham Books) is responsible for publishing something, the ideas and content are entirely the author's, was when I cracked open Kevin Smith's Tough Sh*t for the very first time. I'm sure the disclaimer is in there in most books, right alongside the part where (for fiction) they stick the whole, everything is made up and if something seems like it's based on a real person, it's a coincidence. Somehow though, this particular disclaimer seemed stronger than most. Insistent.

Kevin Smith has a great story, and he shares it in his latest book. In Tough Sh*t, he spills all the guts about his film-making career, as well as other aspects of his life including his plans for the future. And he does it as graphically (read: vulgar) as possible while still climbing the ranks on my personal top list of writers who have fantastic diction (right up there with Lemony Snicket and George Carlin) and style.

The first, foremost, and consistent message throughoutTough Sh*t is that no matter how much the odds may be against you, if you really want to do something and you put forth all of your effort into making your dream a reality, you'll find a way. Kevin Smith makes an example of himself when he spells out his career, pretty much step-for-step, and giving us, the readers, all the footnotes on the lessons he learned along the way. It isn't a road map, nor is it a guide book. It's just a collection of his experiences and what he learned from them.

After he's done writing about his career, he lets us in on what has become his huge podcasting empire, and that he's made a decision to use his talking skills full-time after his next and final film production is over. He talks a bit about his wife, his daughter, and even his heroes. How fitting that I didn't even need to be told George Carlin is one of the biggest influences of his life and career because I can tell just by the way he expresses himself.

Tough Sh*t reminds me of George Carlin's Last Words, except Smith talks about the film-making industry and his experiences/struggles with being fat, among other things, while Carlin talks about the comic/entertainment industry and his struggles with being a recovering Catholic, among other things.

Kevin Smith talks much about his struggles with fat-ness and fat perception, emphasizes his journey from a Jersey burbs nobody to a Big Deal Dude, and somehow manages to both express intense love and affection for his wife while self-deprecating as much as possible. Though the overall message is that he's lucky to have everything he's got, and he's happy with his life, and forever in love with his wife and the sex life they enjoy, there's this weird sub-message that he feels like he doesn't deserve any of these amazing things. Then he kind of spins that on its head with the encouraging, "if a fat, lazy dude like me could do it, so can you." I spent a big chunk ofTough Sh*t feeling like he was sitting across from me telling me his story himself (that's how it reads), and simultaneously disappointed that he really wasn't, and I couldn't give him a friendly hug every time I felt like it was the right moment for one.

Though devout followers of Smith who listen to his shows regularly, watch all his movies, and try to keep up with him on Twitter probably know most of the stuff that's in this book already, it's still a worthwhile read, and it's nice to have it all in one place. It's worth your time and attention, especially because Smith delivers powerful, overwhelmingly positive messages to anyone who can relate to him. All you need is a dream and the strong will to see it through.

As I mentioned before, Tough Sh*t is vulgar. But Kevin Smith doesn't drop the curses for lack of a wide vocabulary. It's just the way he talks. If you're not into dirty words-- if it really makes you feel uncomfortable, this isn't the book for you (or maybe it is, if you're trying to become okay with dirty words). Smith is candid and he writes in a way that's easy to follow and understand, but the book title is a blatant indicator of the kind of language you'll be seeing from start to finish. Well, actually, I lied. It's an understatement of the kind of language you can expect while reading. The only reason I even have to make a point about this is because I know a lot of my readers come for young adult or generally all-ages reviews.

Readers do not need to be familiar with Smith or his work in order to benefit from or enjoy reading Tough Sh*t because he doesn't alienate anyone. Though it helps to be aware of his work, Smith does a great job of explaining everything in concise detail so nothing is ever left out or left up to the audience to infer. So, if you only vaguely remember seeing Clerks forever years ago or kind of remember Chasing Amy or just happened to have read a headline about Kevin Smith being "too fat to fly" a couple years back, don't sweat it. Just enjoy the ride.

I recommend this book to older teens and adults who enjoy memoir/autobiographical narratives. It's creative, concise, and for the most part, flows well. If you're a film nerd or just like learning about the entertainment industry in general, you'll probably enjoy this, too.

Tough Sh*t was first published in March of 2012 and is widely available in various formats.

Amazon:

Books-A-Million:

Tough Sh*t - Kevin Smith - Hardcover

Tough Sh*t - Kevin Smith - Hardcover

Buy Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith in Hardcover for the low price of 18.00. Find this product in Humor > Form - Essays.

Book Review: 'Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life' by Steve Martin

BooksKristina PinoComment

"Reviewing" a memoir isn't the easiest task. I mean, it's not like I'm going to say someone's life isn't interesting enough to put into a book. The events aren't always the important part so much as the retrospective look we get by reading what someone has to say years after the fact. In Steve Martin's case, his eloquent (and visual) diction presented his life events in a vivid way. After he'd put all these memories aside for years, that is.

Incidentally, the first book review I published for GeekeryDo happened to be a memoir, and I think it's the first one I'd ever read. I kept going on and on about how amazing Michael Crichton's life was, because I didn't have a clue he'd achieved so much in such little time. I also kept mentioning that reading Travels felt like he was being honest with me. I felt the genuine frankness pouring out of every page. But, isn't that the point of a memoir?

Besides Travels, I've also read George Carlin's Last Words. It's another book that completely took me by surprise, because I was once again reading about someone's life that I knew nothing about. I wasn't prepared for a story about life and failures and everything else that George experienced which might have a few parallels with my own life.

Because of this experience, I was more prepared for Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, a book I didn't know existed until I saw this review on BoingBoing. I didn't know Steve Martin wrote books at all until I was browsing a book store maybe two months ago and noticed his name on the cover of An Object of  Beauty, which I do also plan on reading soon. And since I was born in the 80's, I wasn't much aware of Steve Martin's stand-up career until I saw him come up in George Carlin's Last Words described as a comic juggernaut who completely changed the game and took live comedy by storm (paraphrased).

Born Standing Up starts with a little bit of jumping around between some family background stuff and his first experience gigging in a club at San Francisco. Then he backs it up, and gives you the story of how he fell in love with performing, starting with falling in love with magic tricks. It's easy to relate to Steve right from the beginning as he talks about buying magic cards, hoops and other tricks and then spending hours in front of a mirror to then perform little magic shows for his family and their friends. Lots of kids do that. But he took it and ran, all the way to fame.

What started out as working at shops (and later, doing performance bits) in Disneyland and Knott's eventually turned into this sort of goofy, visual comedy he applied on the stage at other places. The book doesn't really cover his entire life - only his early life leading up to his stand-up career, so nothing is rushed. Steve takes us through everything, starting with his initial steady jobs and comfortable gigs, then his failures or triumphs on his way up from there. Eventually, he starts borrowing more jokes and performing less magic, then he drops the borrowed jokes and develops his own style. And that isn't even all of it.

What initially appears to be a short-lived career turns out to be a long and winding path at the time when comedians weren't really a "thing" yet, comedy clubs didn't exist and entertainers didn't just stand there telling jokes. Eventually, his brand of comedy caught on and he became a giant. And he became lonely, unable to really connect with his audience in the same way with 5,000 (or more) people in it instead of 40. He reached this trap, this cage where he had little room to improvise and try new things, and was confronted with his own jokes everywhere he went. It was because of this change, when he was no longer a stand-up comedian but more of a "party host" as he describes it, that he decided he needed to stop.

Instead of ending right there, the book does go into his involvement with The Jerk and the successes that brought, which of course leads into the Steve Martin we know and love today: a goofy guy in movies who also happens to write a few of them.

By following him on Twitter I'd learned he had a thing for playing Banjo, and Born Standing Up not only confirmed that he really plays it, but reinforced that it really is a part of his life (sometimes, I can't tell when people tweet things to be funny). Finally, I learned that Steve Martin regularly contributes to the New York Times and The New Yorker. It's funny how you could admire someone, and I really have always liked Steve Martin, yet never take the time to look more into why these people are awesome.

Besides the book, you've got the option of listening to Born Standing Up as narrated by Steve himself, which I'll probably do eventually. While I could definitely imagine him speaking the story to him as I read it, I'm sure that listening for real will be a treat.  I highly recommend the book to anyone that likes a well-told story and is interested (even a little bit) in Steve Martin's life or what it was like to be a comic in the 60s and 70s. It's all a true story, characterized by his wit and humor, and had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

[Extra: There was a point in the book when Steve talks about his "Happy Feet" bit, how he'd start dancing around the stage and pretend his feet were acting against his will. It reminded me of the animated film Happy Feet (a movie about a penguin that dances uncontrollably and can't sing despite all the other penguins being singers), and I did a few searches to see if there was any connection. But at least according to the first few results, one doesn't seem to have to do with the other. I'm slightly disappointed, though I'm not sure this matters to anyone else.]

Books-A-Million: 

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin - Paperback

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin - Paperback

Buy Born Standing Up by Steve Martin in Paperback for the low price of 12.99. Find this product in Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs.