Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Published by Touchstone

From the publisher:

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

I am a huge fan of Anna Kendrick. Pitch Perfect is one of my favorite movies, and I just love her style, her attitude, and she seems to have a great personality. Yes, she’s a celebrity, but she seems very down-to-earth to me and like someone I could be friends with.

I’m glad I read this book because it confirmed everything I already felt to be true about Kendrick. She’s funny, but not silly funny, she has a sharp, smart witty sort of humor that fits with my style. I enjoyed getting to know her and found her charming and interesting along with funny.

I can’t say there’s anything revolutionary in the book in terms of the actual content, but I found a lot of her stories interesting and certainly entertaining. There’s a glimpse into show business, some behind the scenes commentary on some of the movies she’s done, and a lot about her personal experiences growing up – and while some of the stories are pretty random, there were some pretty hilarious ones in there, too.

What I would say as far as criticism is that I didn’t feel enough of a flow to the book – while I realize this is an essay collection and not a classic memoir, it felt a little all over the place without anything connecting each of the different sections to each other. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this journey through Anna Kendrick’s brain and I’d highly recommend it if you are a fan of hers.

One other thing – I listened to the audio of Scrappy Little Nobody and I absolutely recommend that if you do choose to read the book. Kendrick narrates herself so it really feels as though she is talking to you, letting you in on her life stories and the way her brain works. I really enjoyed the experience and it for sure enhanced the overall quality of the book for me.

Final verdict – if you are an Anna Kendrick fan, this is a must-read. If you’re not familiar with her, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the book too much.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent ChildhoodGreetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

From the publisher:

When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .

At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi’s principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.

Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.

This book sounded interesting to me because I am always up for learning about a different religion, especially one considered to be strange or, even better, cult-like to outsiders. I knew almost nothing about Transcendental Meditation before reading this book, so in that area this was a total win for me, as Hoffman does a pretty good job familiarizing the reader with the religion and explaining why they do certain things and what it’s all supposed to mean. I was fascinated by this religion, and specifically loved when Hoffman went into details about the different rules and rituals, the symbolism of different aspects of the faith, and some of the history behind the faith and its leader, Maharishi. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book – every time she started getting into details about the faith and the practice of meditation that seemed to be the bedrock of that faith, I was riveted to the page, eager to take in more and more information.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the love for this book starts and stops with me. I didn’t really connect to Hoffman, so that made it really difficult for me to latch onto any specific aspect of her personality OR care about her story. I was interested, yes, but did I care what happened to her? No, not at all, which is a definite issue when reading a memoir – for me, at least, I kinda have to give a crap about the person telling me their story. And in this case, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t.

The other issue I had was that when I turned the final pages, I was still asking myself why. Why did Hoffman choose to write this book? What story was she really trying to tell? Was the point for her to explore how and why people blindly follow religious figures, even to their personal detriment? Or was the point to say that, sure this religion is kind of messed up and weird, but lots of people who follow it are normal and just looking for a spiritual path, and actually they might be right about doing it this way? The fact that I can’t really tell where Hoffman falls on the wide spectrum between those two ideas is strange to me, and I don’t enjoy not understanding what the whole point of her telling this story actually was. Maybe this is a weird thing for me to be annoyed by, but it really turned the book into one that I just couldn’t fall in love with.

So. I was definitely interested in parts of Greetings from Utopia Park, but overall the book did not thrill me. I’m not sure if I’d read more from this author, but I’m glad I got the chance to learn about a faith practice that I had no previous knowledge about before picking up the book.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes
Published by Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.

With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.

And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.

Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.

I loved this book. I loved it and cherished it and marveled at it the way that I did with Lean In and Tiny Beautiful Things – two books that inspired me and caused me to look at myself differently, to question if the way I was doing things and living my life was the BEST way, the most authentic way. That’s how I feel about Year of Yes – like a changed, more inspired, challenged person.

Shonda Rimes did something so brave, and that is that she challenged herself to say yes to every single thing that scared her in one year. If I did that … I can’t even fathom that. I am scared of a lot of things. So to say that her journey was inspiring to me is a huge understatement. I can’t even begin to go into detail about all the things that she did, but broadly speaking – she gave speeches, did a lot more publicity than she had ever done before, became more confident as a leader, eliminated friendships with toxic people, made a huge decision about her personal life, oh and also lost over 100 pounds and embarked on a completely new healthy lifestyle. The weight loss is SO not the point of the book, just one of many things that she said yes to, but it becomes a physical manifestation, a metaphor if you will, for all the other amazingly positive things that happened in Rimes’ life because of saying yes.

To get into how much I gleaned from the book personally would be too much to share here. Let’s just say that Shonda gave me a LOT to think about. A lot a lot a lot. I’ve been doing tons of thinking since the first chapter of the book, and I just finished it today, and let’s just say I’ll continue to do a lot of thinking for a long time. And doing. I want to do some doing, too.

I am a huge fan of Shondaland shows. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder from the beginning of each show. But I don’t think you need to be a fan of Shonda’s shows, or even understand what she’s all about as a TV writer, to appreciate the book. I think a book this inspiring has the power to positively influence just about anyone to make some kind of positive change. I just had to put that out there in case you’re saying – but I don’t watch her shows, there won’t be anything here for me. Not true.

However. If you ARE a fan of Shonda’s shows, you will love this book that much more. The book is written how the characters on her show talk – the essence of Shonda Rimes just pours out of the page (and poured right into my heart and mind). It is a fantastic experience. And I listened to the audio, which she narrates herself. SO SO GOOD. I definitely recommend that choice if you’re an audio person.

So very very highly recommended. I wanted to hug the book when I was done with it. And find Shonda and hug her, too. And become her best friend. Love love love.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White MotherThe Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
Published by Riverhead Trade

From the publisher:

The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, the two good men she married, and the 12 good children she raised. Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew, immigrated to America soon after birth; as an adult she moved to New York City, leaving her family and faith behind in Virginia. Jordan met and married a black man, making her isolation even more profound. The book is a success story, a testament to one woman’s true heart, solid values, and indomitable will. Ruth Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered. In telling her story–along with her son’s–The Color of Water addresses racial identity with compassion, insight, and realism. It is, in a word, inspiring, and you will finish it with unalloyed admiration for a flawed but remarkable individual. And, perhaps, a little more faith in us all.

I’ve had The Color of Water on my TBR shelves FOREVER so I was happy to use the excuse of #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks to finally read the damn thing. It was really good – why did I wait so long?

Ruth McBride’s story is inspiring and fascinating. That she had the courage to go her own way, to leave her family and religion of origin in the name of true love and being authentically herself is inspiring. That she felt more at home among her husband’s family and friends and culture than her own is fascinating and a true testament to the fact that how a person is raised does not have to be how a person chooses to be as an adult in the world. Reading her story of how she grew up among fear and intolerance and a religious tradition that was not very favorable towards women sheds a lot of light on why she made the choice to leave that culture, but I’m sure many people grew up in a similar fashion and did not make the same choice. It was so fascinating reading about the circumstances and the series of events that led to her making the choices she did.

This book is as much about family as it is about Ruth McBride. It’s about how family can be whatever a person decides it to be – family can be created, family can become something different from what a person always anticipated they’d want as a child – family consists of many complex and nuanced relationships, there is a love/hate relationship among many members within a family. James McBride’s interactions and relationships with all of his brothers and sisters and of course, his mother, show how complex and complicated and interesting and sometimes, frankly, weird, family can be. But there is so much love in this book, love for his mother, love for his brothers and sisters, for his father he never knew and his stepfather who raised him, and pride for the woman his mother is and for the man she raised him to become.

The Color of Water is really a beautiful book, such a gorgeous tribute to an incredible woman who lived an ordinary and also extraordinary life. Highly recommended.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyTroublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Published by Ballantine Books

From the publisher:

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.

But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.

Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

I have to admit that Scientology fascinates me to no end. All religious cult-ish things fascinate me, but Scientology in particular because it’s such a big thing among celebrities. I feel like people who are swayed by cults would typically be people who are needing/wanting for something tangible, and the cult promises to deliver that – disenfranchised people, basically. But celebrities are anything but disenfranchised, they’re some of the most privileged among us, so why on earth would they be attracted to this “religion”? For everything I’d read in the past about Scientology, I couldn’t understand that specific aspect of the religion, so for that reason it was absolutely enlightening to read Leah Remini’s story.

Remini does a good job telling the story of how her family came to be Scientologists, what life was like for her growing up in the church, and then spent a good chunk of the book on how Scientology was in the fiber of every single aspect of her life throughout her adulthood. She talks a lot about how being a celebrity in the church comes with tons of special perks, how the church actively recruits celebrities because the belief is that if more celebrities are public Scientologists, more “regular” people will also join the church.

Being a celebrity Scientologist, one could assume that Remini was friendly with Tom Cruise. She is very clear in the book on exactly what type of friendship the two of them had (knew each other and spent some time together, but they weren’t exactly friends) and how her association with Cruise was a part of why and how she ended up leaving the church. It’s a pretty jaw-dropping story and definitely one you have to read to believe. But I loved this part of the book – yes, it’s juicy celebrity gossip, but on another level it is beyond fascinating to see how the inner workings of Scientology are just so freaking weird. There is no other way to put it. This shit is weird.

I enjoyed the hell out of the ride that Remini took me on with this book. It’s no joke that Scientologists are extremely calculating and cruel, especially when a person leaves the church, so I do believe she took a risk in writing her truth for the world to see. Her bravery and honesty in the face of this cult-like organization are inspiring and honestly, the book is just incredibly entertaining. Also, she reads the audio herself – and she’s a pretty good actress, so she does a great job. I really enjoyed Troublemaker. If you are at all interested in Scientology and/or celebrity memoirs, this is a great one to pick up.