Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner

Look, everyone, it's time for another rarity!  A blog post from me?  Yes!  But no, actually, a blog post from me where I review a non-fiction book.  I'm terrible about reading non-fiction.  I have great intentions.  I'm terribly interested in so many topics covered in non-fiction books.  I even acquire a decent amount of them.  When it comes to reading them, though, I tend to fall a little (er, a lot) short.  And when I do read them, they're usually memoirs or, at least, memoir-esque.

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner is a charming amalgamation of memoir, humor, and (dare I say it?) self-help.  When a pitch for the book landed in my inbox, I was unfamiliar with Zach Anner, who got his start on a short-lived travel show on the OWN network and now has a significant internet following on YouTube.  Anner was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy - the "sexiest of the palsies."  Instead of letting his disability keep him down, Anner decided not to take life quite so seriously.  For him, being handicapped is no excuse for not getting out there, traveling the world, and living life with abandon.  Life might be full of disasters waiting to happen, but for this guy, that just makes more opportunities for a good laugh.

Anner's book is refreshingly open, honest, and vulnerable.  He doesn't gloss over the struggles of his disability to paint a "flowers and rainbows" pictures of his life.  Instead, in a book rich with gratitude for all the opportunities the technology age has provided for him, Anner shows readers that it's when things don't go quite to plan on his life's journey that he has had occasion to roll with the punches, find the humor in life, and show what he's really made of.

The chronology of If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a little wonky.  Instead of opting for the linear, Anner dips in and out of his memories, usually drawing a lesson out of them by the end of each chapter that can be the slightest bit preachy.  The chronology is a little hard to get used to, but in the end I was totally won over by this guy who was irrepressibly optimistic even at his lowest point and who is using the achievement of his life goals to make the world a little funnier and a little better place.  If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a book that will make you smile.  It's funny, uplifting, and also a sweet tribute to all the people whose love and care helped propel Zach on the path to his success.

(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For the Record by Charlotte Huang

I really need to stop downloading "read now" books from Net Galley.  Alas, it's one of my great hobbies to cruise the read now pages for potential hits, and that's how I came by For the Record.  Now, there's nothing wrong with For the Record, but, well, you get what you pay for.

When punk rock band Melbourne's lead singer jumps ship to live a normal life, if the band of prep school punks wants to stay together they have to find a new lead singer.  Enter our narrator, Chelsea.  A runner up on a "Who wants to be a pop star?" sort of reality show, Chelsea gets the chance of lifetime when she is asked to go on tour fronting a band that she used to simply be a fan of.  Eager to leave her hometown where a scrape with an ex-boyfriend has left her on the outs, Chelsea jumps at the chance.  Unfortunately, getting in with the band isn't as easy as being their lead singer, and as Chelsea tries to make a place for herself on tour, her relationship with a movie star who is every girl's dream and forays into ill-conceived advertising threaten to tear what remains of the band apart.

For the Record is, essentially, fan fiction for a fictional band.  Chelsea may be a little big and a lot insecure, but she is, for most of the book at least, the quintessential Mary Sue, arriving on the scene to save a band in crisis with her vocal stylings, happening to fall in love with movie superstar Lucas Rivers, and even using her very limited capital to bring her best friend on tour as the merch girl.   Obviously, there is a love triangle with a band mate, an "artistic" feud with another band mate, and a crop of unexpected betrayals all around. 

For me, this book was entirely brain candy.  It was predictable enough that I might not have finished it but for the fact that I needed a breather after finishing a dense, slow read of a book.  For the Record, despite its flaws, is a fun romp with a band on tour, full of drama and with a fast reading first person narration.  While it's unlikely to make my best reads of the year list, I can't deny that I got what I came for, a fun, quick-reading "brain break."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Will Make You Laugh

It's been a while since I've done a Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish, or really much blogging at all, I guess.  This week's a great chance to talk about some different books than the usual suspects because we're talking books that make us laugh.  I rarely laugh out loud reading a book but here are ten that got me giggling.

1. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene - I loved Greene's memoir about raising her large family of both biological and internationally adopted children.  The only way to make a family this big work is with a good sense of humor, and Greene has plenty of laughs to spare.

2. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - This book is Hilarious with a capital H.  Composed of letters between a misfit pain in the ass kid and the arrogant ballplayer that becomes his father figure, this book had me rolling.  It's full of laughs and heart.

3. Home to Woefield by Susan Juby - This one's a fun romp of a book about a former city dweller turned idealist farmer and her newfound odd ensemble of friends that help her restore a run down farm to its former glory.  Irrepressible Prudence trying to wrangle her staff of a kid who breeds chickens, a guy who lives his whole life on the internet, and the farm's grumpy old caretaker is definitely good for some laughs.

4. The Cactus Eaters by Dan White - In which hiking novice and downright funny guy Dan White decides to take on the daunting task of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Let's just say the books is way more successful than the hike.

5. Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty - When Celia runs off to join the circus, she leaves her best friend Elizabeth behind.  Elizabeth's life is illuminated entirely in notes and letters but in the most entertaining way possible.

6. The Martian by Andy Weir - Mark Watney's sense of humor makes this very science-y novel about an astronaut stuck on Mars into an unexpectedly laughter filled novel.

7. Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream - For those among us who prefer a little dark humor, artist Clementine has decided to commit suicide, but first she has to tie up some loose ends and, you know, practice.  A dark topic maybe, but trying on coffins and practicing injections on chickens make for some twisted laughs.

8. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky - Dark humor at its finest again.  The mother in this tale is such a twisted narcissist that you might just find yourself laughing, if you aren't cringing too much.

9. Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion - The travel memoir of a woman who has way too many shoes and a penchant for staying in bed, but is persuaded to road trip the nation by her wily husband.  There's this converted motor home and this story about a tractor (I think?) and a cocktail for every chapter.  What's not to love (and laugh at)? 

10. Paperboy by Tony Macaulay - Paperboy is a hilarious coming of age memoir about a kid growing up in 1970s Belfast.  Macaulay takes the guitar lesson after "Pammy Wynette," attains paperboy seniority in a wretched ensemble of typically '70s clothing, and can be found kicking his favorite band in appreciation.  I laughed so much.

What books left you laughing?