Fox on Books

Book reviews, opinions, musings and ramblings. General bookish excitement!

Archive for the category “Bio/Autobiography”

Short Stories, or, Review-Palooza!

It’s become clear that I read a lot of books. This year, I’m (still!) averaging one book every three days, across all sorts of formats, including manuscript, eBook, audio book and, of course, my true love, the paper book.

In order to keep them fresh in my mind, and to deliver opinions about them in a somewhat timely manner, I’m going to do bite-sized reviews of a recent selection.

Come along, then:

fathers eggersYour Fathers, Where Are they? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? – by Dave Eggers

My second Dave Eggers, this was so intriguing! And whew, what a title. Written entirely in dialogue, Your Fathers is an exploration of America, a comment on a generation, and also a look at one really disturbed guy, spiraling into self destructive criminal madness. Very weird. Very cool.

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daughtersmokeDaughter of Smoke and Bone – by Laini Taylor

Karou’s never been exactly normal. How could she be, raised by Chimeras? She’s always been kept at arms length by those who raised her, but there’s more to Karou’s background – and her future – than she could ever have imagined. And not all of it is good. Even though it suffered from a little bit of too-many-recommendations-itis, this book and its sequel Days of Blood and Starlight left me reeling. Also, Laini Taylor exploded her own world twice in two books! I can’t wait to see what on earth the third book brings.

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unwindUnwind – by Neal Shusterman

In this future society, abortion is illegal. But before a child turns 18 they can instead be ‘unwound’. Every part of their body is used by someone else, so they’re not truly dead. Here, life is at once sacred and cheap. What a cool, freaky concept. And this book delivers – sometimes. It’s not as gripping as I wanted it to be, given the solidity of the premise, but it’ll keep you up at night reliving the brutal unwinding process. *shudder*

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TheFeelGoodHitOfTheYear C CVR SI.inddThe Feel-Good Hit of the Year – by Liam Pieper

I’m not that interested in memoirs unless you’re Stephen Fry (sorry, everyone else). But I absolutely raced through Liam Pieper’s accounts of misspent youth, from his birth in a sort-of hippy commune in the Melbourne suburbs to becoming an accidental teenage drug dealer, to figuring out that life’s more profitable when you’re a little less criminal. (Only a little…)

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So, whatcha been reading lately?

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The Diary of a Young Girl – by Anne Frank

imageOne of the things I was determined to do in Europe was visit places I had learned about as a child and teen. I’ve always found the first and second World Wars compelling – interesting in a cautionary and sociologically worrying way. In Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank Museum, where the Franks hid for more than two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, in WWII. After touring the house, I bought another copy of Anne’s diary. I can’t think of a more pertinent time to read it.

I was about Anne Frank’s age when I first read her diary. At that age, I don’t think I could fully appreciate its importance. Or perhaps I simply understand a lot more of the context now, 10 years later. Either way, reading the Diary was a powerful experience. During my travels, I also visited Dachau, a former concentration camp outside Munich, Germany. The amount of history, the depth of sorrow, and the continuing warning provided by stories like Anne’s, and places like Dachau, make them crucial.

It’s easy to forget, when reading this diary, about all the external horrors Anne and the Franks faced. I Don’t Wanna Be:

Bossypants – by Tina Fey

bossyMan, I’m burning through some audiobooks. And a good thing, too, because I’ve had so little time to read actual books lately. Although, I went to a conference this week for work and got a STACK of new books I’m desperate to find the time for. Yes, I know. I hate me too.

But to the book at hand, Bossypants! Here’s what I thought of the audiobook version of Tina Fey’s memoir:

Oddly enough, I’m not a huge fan of 30 Rock. Nevertheless, I really appreciate Tina Fey’s odd, sharp, incisive humour. (And also Mean Girls. Because it’s as silly as it is surprisingly cool.) I wasn’t sure If Bossypants would be as much fun for me as Mindy Kaling‘s autobiography. Happily, it really was! Tina Fey is so damn smart. And she isn’t willing to compromise that – which is the highest sort of compliment I know how to give.

The only problem I’m having in writing this review is that Fey and Kaling’s autobiographies were quite similar. Different generations, and different geneses, but akin as far as style and career trajectories. I thoroughly enjoyed Bossypants, much as I thoroughly enjoyed Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me.

So this review is going to be short and sweet – this was a fun, entertaining and insightful listen, made all the more interesting by Tina Fey’s narration. If you enjoy memoirs, comedy, great writing and an approachable narrative, I can confidently say you’ll enjoy this book.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – by Mindy Kaling

kalingI’ve embraced the intriguing world of audiobooks! In my new city, I walk to work and back – 40 solid minutes each way. And it’s such a waste of perfectly good reading time – but not any more! So far, I’m loving entertainment memoirs read by the authors (I’m listening to Tina Fey now and really can’t wait to get to Stephen Fry next). Mindy Kaling’s autobiography was my first foray into this format: here’s what I thought of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me:

You guys, I loved this book. Audio was the perfect medium, because Mindy Kaling is one funny lady. I love the Mindy Project. It’s a little slice of absurd joy in my week. I was thrilled to find Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me just as  engaging, smart, relatable and generally fabulous as the lady herself. I’ll Go By What You Do, ‘Cause Talk Is Cheap:

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger

top ten

Hosted by the awesome folks as The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme celebrating all things book. This week we’re looking back to those books that started it all. The books you loved long before you could go online to rave about them. The ones you had to rant about in person to your poor (lucky!) friends because they made you the book-obsessed person you are today. Here are the Top Ten books I loved before I was a blogger:

Five

I get that there are problematic themes in Blyton’s work. But to me, Enid Blyton is the crux of my childhood. I can’t count the number of times I read The Famous Five series, The Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four, the Naughtiest Girl and so on. They are classic, wonderful, uncomplicated stories that enriched my young life.

Obernewtyn

Obernewtyn was a series I started reading when I was about thirteen, and I’ve read them a few times since then. Post-apocalyptic before it was cool, Obernewtyn tells the story of a young Misfit girl, Elspeth, who’s been born with powers that she doesn’t understand. Hidden away and mistreated by the authorities, Elspeth learns to fight back. The series isn’t finished yet (!!) but the last book is on its way…

alibrandi

Melina Marchetta was cool WAY before the amazingness that is The Lumatere Chronicles. Meeting the insane, loveable, loyal Italian-Australian family at the centre of Looking For Alibrandi is a must. I studied it in high school and EVEN SO I loved it.

tomorrow

Tomorrow, When the War Began was the Hunger Games of my generation. By which I mean it was the dangerous book we read that our parents worried was too violent for us. Ellie and her friends have ‘gone bush’ for the weekend and by the time they come home there’s a war on, and all their parents are prisoners. What do you do when your home: everything and everyone you love, is threatened? You fight back.

HalfBloodPrince

I’m picking this as my favourite Harry Potter, but I love them as a whole series and a whole experience. I think this generation all grew up with Harry, and while I didn’t need him to rekindle my love of reading, J K Rowling absolutely enhanced my teen experience with Harry’s amazing story.

LotR

Because Tolkien, that’s why. The Lord of the Rings is a brick of a book, a phenomenally imagined world packed with rich, archetypal characters that make it one of the best fantasy novels ever. (“After all this time?” “Always.”) I discovered it as a fifteen year old just venturing into the realm of fantasy reading, and it was love at first read.

Sisyphus

Albert Camus’ philosophy, particularly The Myth of Sisyphus, is fascinating. I love thinking about thinking, about  why things are the way they are, and how they came to be thought of that way. I love the ideas Camus posits in his essays – and I’m not going to go into them here because I’d rather you let his ideas speak to you directly. He does them justice; I can’t!

MoabHow wonderful is Stephen Fry? Whether it’s his accent, his lovely, slightly hoity-toity mannerisms, or the awesomeness that is his show, QI, there’s a lot to love. The most striking element of Moab Is My Washpot, one of Fry’s two autobiographies, is how brutal Fry is with himself. Not just brutally honest: actually almost cruel. I don’t think he has ever felt like a success. And he seems at best bemused by, at worst flummoxed by his popularity. I have such a soft spot for people who are so much more than they believe themselves to be.

anne

Anne Shirley. Who didn’t love the redheaded bundle of energy at the centre of Anne of Green Gables? Growing up, Anne was someone I revisited on more than one occasion. Recently I bought the whole series so I could get my nostalgia on. And I’ll definitely get around to reading them. Soon.

Bridget

I don’t trust people who don’t like Bridget Jones, as a general rule. This ridiculous, manic, endearing, so-very-relatable woman is one of my favourite book people. I hated her obsession with self help books (SO MUCH). I loved her social ineptitude. I despaired for her ability to be happy. I adored her relationship with Mr Darcy Mark Darcy. She’s the best kind of main character.

I’d love to hear about the books you loved before you blogged! Link for me, my pretties, in the comments!

The End of Your Life Book Club – by Will Schwalbe

bookclubThis is a biographical/autobiographical account of Will Schwalbe’s last years with his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. On the back of the ARC I found at work, it simply reads: A mother and a son. A life-long love of books. This was all I needed. Here’s what meeting Mary Anne and Will was like for me:

There’s no easy way to reconcile yourself to the fact that someone you love is going to die; and not in some vague, we’re-all-going-to-die-someday sense, but in the form of a terminal diagnosis. Will wasn’t ready to let his mother go – and neither was Mary Anne ready to leave. There was still so much to do. Over the course of her treatment and final years, Mary Anne and Will would meet for her chemo appointments and discuss whichever book they had both been reading, in an exclusive, two person book club. Their discussions were about the books, but also about their lives, their bond, and their grief. “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napolean Bonaparte

The Wolf and the Watchman – by Scott Johnson

I don’t often read biographies – it takes a pretty extraordinary person or life to warrant a book about it, in my opinion. In The Wolf and the Watchman, Scott Johnson examines his life with his Dad, a CIA operative working through the years of the Cold War. I read an article in the Age weekend magazine that turned out to be an excerpt from the book, and I was accidentally hooked from that alone! This is what I thought of the rest of Johnson’s story:

When he was 14, Scott’s father tells him the truth: the secret that explains why the family moved from New Delhi, to Belgrade, to Islamabad, to Williamsburg, Virginia. The reason people always looked a little sceptical when Scott said his father was a diplomat. The why behind his parents’ divorce.

Scott’s father, Keith Johnson, was a spy.

Espionage on the Home Front:

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