Review: ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’ by Anna Kendrick

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

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’m a relative late-comer to Anna Kendrick fangirl status. I’d seen her in various shows, but got a crush on her as Beca in Pitch Perfect. (I fairly regularly get crushes on people who can sing. It’s a thing.) Then I listened to Scrappy Little Nobody on audiobook and it went from crush to true love. ❤

The first thing you should know is that Anna narrates the audiobook version of her autobiography, and she reads it in a conversational way that made it feel like she was sitting in the car beside me (I listen to audiobooks while I commute, mostly), ranting about her first relationships and her childhood awkwardness. And the thing was, it was all so relatable … despite me not being a cute actor and Broadway star. (I am about her height, though, and I’m a brunette, so we’re basically twins?)

Anna focuses for the most part on the first 20 or so years of her life — how she got into acting, her first few roles, her first crushes and sexual partners. After that, the chapters/essays tend to hop around a bit more, dipping into various, celebrity-based experiences, like dodging the papparazi and presenting at an awards show. Anna more or less admits that she could have gone into a lot more detail, hinting at the various assholes she’s worked with over the years, but that she still wants to be able to get a job in the industry afterwards. (I look forward to the tell-all book she writes when she retires.)

For me, the single most relatable part of the book was the section about Anna dating. She says at the start of the book that she’s changed the names of a lot of the non-celebrities she talks about. Given how raw she is about some of them, I can see why! Her first three partners were assholes in one way or another, or had asshole-ish moments, and she is brutally honest about how she put up things from them that she shouldn’t have, simply because she was young and inexperienced and didn’t think she deserved any better. That basically describes most of my twenties (Anna was a faster learner than I was). She describes how her first partner slut-shamed her for enjoying sex, her second one was a self-absorbed “musician” with whom she couldn’t enjoy sex, and her third called her a slut because she refused to tell him how many partners she’d had before him.

Ugh.

Anna is also rather casual about mentioning drinking and drug use (mostly weed), and even more casual about swearing (I never found it unwarranted, but I do occasionally have a potty mouth myself). Those combined with her mention of her shoplifting phase are the sorts of things that might discourage some parents from letting their teens read this book, but that would be a shame. There are lot of good messages to be found in here, especially for teenage girls.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes, so you can see what I mean:

“Don’t try to participate in anyone else’s idea of what is supposed to happen in a relationship. You will fail.”
“But at nineteen I did spend a short and regrettable period in a classic trap: trying to fit into something I hated, just to prove to myself that I could.”
“Some bitter boys reading this might accuse me of ‘friend-zoning,’ but I’d like to say that even if a girl has misinterpreted a situation that someone else thinks was obvious, she does not owe her male friends anything.”

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Review: ‘Obsidio’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza — but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys — an old flame from Asha’s past — reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

This series, you guys.

Obsidio is the third book in The Illuminae Files trilogy. (You can read my reviews of the first two books, Illuminae and Gemina, here and here.) It continues in the same vein as the first two books, told through “found footage” and transcriptions of camera footage. There is some art included, as was the case in Gemina — though not as much this time.

I love love love this series, you guys. I love the way it’s presented. I love that we get a sense of these characters through chat logs and camera footage and diary entries. I love that the lines of dialogue describing the actions of spaeships themselves swoop and twirl across the page, and that the lines belonging to everyone’s favourite crazy computer, AIDAN, are filled with glitches and code. As well as being a great story, this trilogy is a work of art, in the visual sense. Everyone should own it.

As far as Obsidio goes, specifically, I gave it five stars — the same as for the rest of the series — though, if I had to pick a favourite of the three, I think Gemina would win. It’s a near thing, though.

Asha and Rhys are older than the other leads in this series. They had a history as teens, and are now meeting up again in their twenties. But they aren’t the stars of Obsidio the same way that the other two couples are of their books, because Kady, Ezra, Hanna and Nik are all part of this story as well. The book switches between events on the Mao and events on Kerenza, the planet where everything kicked off in the first place.

It’s sometimes easy to forget how old the protagonists are in these stories; one of the things I liked about Obsidio was how some of the minor characters expressed horror at being expected to take directions from teenagers. (I’m not saying I like people ignoring teens — I wouldn’t read so much YA if that were the case — but it was very realistic to have a seasoned, grizzled adult express incredulity at some of the things that our four teen heroes have done. These kids have had a very bad few months.)

The Illuminae Files have broken the mould. I can’t wait to see what other books follow in their footsteps — and I can’t wait to see what Amie and Jay get up to next.


Review: ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli

Straight people should have to come out too. And the more awkward it is, the better.

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is — and what he’s looking for.

But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated.

Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal …

Before I start this review, let me just express my disgust at myself that I accidentally bought the movie cover edition of this book (which is the one I’ve included above, so my rant makes sense). Normally I don’t care much about that sort of thing, but in this case the movie cover edition actually renames the book to the movie name (Love, Simon) rather than the actual name of the book, and I can’t even. I mean, Love, Simon is a fine name for a book, but it isn’t the name of this book. Ugh! You’ll see in the pic below that I hid the stupid fake title so that you read the real one.

Now I’ve gotten that out of my system…

I’m coming to the love of Simon quite late, I admit — and not because the movie came out, as I haven’t seen it, but just because my TBR pile is two entire bookshelves and, like, a Kindle full of goodies, and I can’t seem to stop myself buying more books. (It’s a problem. Send help. Or a TARDIS so I can catch up.)

Still, I can now confirm first-hand that everything everyone has told me about this book is absolutely true. It really is an adorably cute story about a couple of in-the-closet gay guys who fall in love via email while remaining anonymous to one another. It’s told from Simon’s perspective, and so a huge part of the story is spent trying to figure out who the mysterious Blue is. (BTW, I don’t mean to brag here but I totally guessed it from the first scene he was in. Ok, I guess I do mean to brag. >.< )

As much as the romance is adorable, the story also explores bullying, blackmail, complicated friendships, coming out and families — but at no point does it seem preachy or overwrought. It’s basically the best.

If you like contemporary young adult, flirting and drama geeks, this book is totally worth a look.

Excuse me, I have to order the sequel.

 


Mini-review: ‘Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales’ by Justin Richards

WE ARE ALL STORIES, IN THE END…

Fifteen tales of ancient wonder and mystery, passed down through generations of Time Lords.

Dark, beautiful and twisted, these stories are filled with nightmarish terrors and heroic triumphs, from across all of time and space.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that — despite the name — the stories aren’t Time Lord fairy tales in the strictest sense. They aren’t fairy tales that Time Lords (the race of aliens that the Doctor is) tell their kids. Instead, these are retellings of traditional fairy tales, but as if they were told in the world of Doctor Who. There are five with the Doctor actually in them (Two, Nine, Ten and Eleven, from memory), and a bunch of others that feature the various alien races from the show.

The stories are, sadly, variable. Some of them are clever, a little unpredictable, and feature cameos from beloved characters. (For example, the lead character from ‘Little Rose Riding Hood’ is a younger version of Rose Tyler.) Others are kind of bland. I don’t know what fairy tale ‘The Twins in the Wood’ is based off, but despite that I found the story utterly predictable — it suffered from having no stakes whatsoever.

Still, the good stories did outnumber the bad ones, and if you’re a fan of Who, then the book is worth a read for ‘The Scruffy Piper‘ and ‘The Grief Collector’ alone. (Also, the hardcover is totally gorgeous, if a book’s aesthetic is important to you.)

If you’re not a fan of Who, read the Begin, End, Begin anthology instead — you won’t regret it.

 


Review: ‘Honest Love’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #1 in the Twisted Hearts duet

When you’ve got nothing left to live for, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

In one tragic moment, Cameron Lewis lost everything. His fiancée. His unborn child. His perfect life.

Now, he does what needs to be done in order to get by. Work hard. Play it safe. They’re his mottos, and he’s not going to break them.

Until a beautiful woman with the ocean in her eyes and freedom in her soul comes to his rescue. She’s never known the kind of tragedy he has — and that’s what makes her so damn appealing.

But can Cameron finally let go and risk that last piece of himself? Will honest love be enough?

Please note that my review will contain a tiny spoiler, one that is revealed in the first chapter or two of the story. If you’ve already bought the ebook, or are going to, and want to go in blind, then I’d suggest not reading any further.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: contemporary romance usually isn’t my jam, but Lauren K. McKellar is a contemporary romance author who is an auto-buy author for me. Her stories have that perfect combination of epic-level feels and the slow evolution of a relationship that never seems contrived. I love them!

After losing his wife, Bella, and his unborn child — and effectively losing his father — in a tragedy a couple of years before the story takes place, Cameron sought solace for a while in alcohol. One mistake during that period was enough to set him back on the straight and narrow: he drunkenly sleeps with a woman named Giselle, who bears a passing resemblance to Bella. Eighteen months later, she is sent to jail for drug offences (she’s a real class act) and hits Cameron up to look after her nine-month-old daughter, Piper.

Cameron is more than a little shocked to suddenly become a daddy, but he takes to it well. I really enjoyed the scenes early on where he’s adjusting to parenthood (especially parenthood in the light of his apparently untreated PTSD), and I adored Piper and her squishy cheeks and enthusiasm. McKellar wrote this story when her own child was a baby, and she really captured the wonder and worry of that time — although at least Piper is a good sleeper! If she weren’t, the story wouldn’t have gotten very far, I expect… 😉

The relationship with Everly develops slowly; her and Cameron’s attraction to one another is clear from the start, but Cameron struggles with the idea that he is being unfaithful to his wife, and that he is broken and unworthy of anything more. Everly is clearly hiding something about her previous relationship — I have my suspicions but won’t voice them here — but she is a midwife who’s good with kids and provides the sort of no-nonsense support that Cameron needs.

Once Cameron really grows attached to Piper, he naturally doesn’t want to lose her at the end of the three months and never see her again. I admit, I really struggled with this aspect of the story — through no fault of its own, but because the idea of losing access to a child really guts me. I had to put my e-reader down for a couple of days and come back to it. Still, McKellar’s writing (and my desire for closure) pulled me back in.

That brings me to the most important thing you need to know about Honest Love. I knew it was part of a series going in, but I didn’t realise the books were a two-parter — and that the first one ends with a cliffhanger! Aaaah! (YMMV, but I hate cliffhangers! Not wrapping up a metaplot works for me, but not cliffhangers!) The only good thing is that the sequel, Bitter Truth, is already out, so I don’t have to wait.

Thank goodness for that. 🙂

 


Review: ‘Ice Wolves’ by Amie Kaufman

Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

I read a lot of YA, but not a lot of middle grade fiction, which Ice Wolves is an example of. Still, I’m a fan of Amie Kaufman’s YA collaborations, so I decided to give this a go. And it was a lot of fun — I can see that it’s the sort of book I’d have loved when I was a teen. I mean, it has shape-changing dragons. And wolves. And a school where a boy learns to be a wolf (though he’s not that good at parts of it).

Of the twins, Anders is the follower. He’s clearly the introvert to Rayna’s extrovert, and after she is taken away from him, he struggles without her to take the lead and have his back. Watching him come out of his shell and make other friends is a delight. Still, he never forgets his devotion to his sister (in fact, his focus is a little single-minded at times). Rayna, on the other hand, isn’t in the story much; I had my doubts about her, but she won me over by the end of the book.

Bookworm loner Lisabet rapidly becomes Anders’s closest friend at the Ulfar Academy; she, Anders, and two other first years are put into a dorm together, in a way that is presumably designed to forge a bond between them and enable them to become a pack (in this context, a basic ice wolf military unit). Over time, he becomes friends with them all, as well as with a few other minor characters who we don’t see much of.

One of those minor characters, Jai, deserves a special mention. Jai is non-binary, and the book refers to them with a gender neutral pronoun without making a fuss. I loved that — I have a non-binary tween friend, and I squeed on their behalf, not gonna lie. I just wish Jai had been in the story more.

Another big diversity tick for the book is that Vallen is a trade town with a hugely multicultural population: Anders and Rayna are black, and I think Lisabet was white (honestly, I could only see her as Hermione, so I may be wrong there!). As with Jai, this was all accepted by the characters without a fuss. It was refreshing. (Also, check out the cover — hooray for the lack of whitewashing.)

That’s not to say that there’s no bigotry in the world of Ice Wolves — but instead of being based around skin colour or gender, it’s around the ice wolves vs scorch dragons dynamic. The ice wolves can’t see the dragons as other than selfish pyromaniac murderers, and Anders really struggles with this prejudice, even after his sister becomes one of them.

The story is easy to read and well-written; it has slower parts (a chunk of it is set in a school, meaning there are classes and research to deal with), but the pace does pick up towards the end.

Ice Wolves is a solid four stars for me, and I’ll be picking up the sequel when it comes out.


Review: ‘Johannes Cabal the Necromancer’ by Jonathan L. Howard

When I’m not releasing books, most of what I post on this blog is book reviews, so let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming (or irregularly scheduled, at any rate!).

A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.

Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire, to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

I picked up Johannes Cabal after a recommendation from the same friends that got me onto Brandon Sanderson; they were 100% right about that (I’m basically a Sanderson groupie now), so I was so here for this. Of course, Johannes is a very different type of story — a whimsical paranormal tale set on Earth (mostly) rather than high fantasy — but I still really enjoyed it.

As the blurb says, Johannes engages in a wager with Satan to win his soul back: gather one hundred signed contracts for the procurement of souls in a year or be killed and receive a one-way ticket to Hell. Of course, Satan isn’t totally unfair (ha!), and he is willing to loan Johannes the use of a Satanic carnival to help him on his way.

I rather liked Johannes, despite how amoral he is most of the time. He’s a man on a mission, and it doesn’t occur to him to pause and consider the ethics of his actions. In fact, he can be positively cut-throat; the fact he turns to a vampire to help him with the more human aspects of setting up a carnival is a pretty telling sign. It’s hard to know from this book whether Johannes’s personality is a result of his background (for a start, being a necromancer is rather grusome work) or whether it’s just who he is.

Given the story is set over the course of a year, it could have been quite long, looking at each of the hundred souls one at a time. Instead, we really only see a handful; the first is a bit of a case study for the approach Johannes and his crew tend to take. The middle chapters are mostly vignettes, as Johannes and Horst deal with one crisis or another, while the last part of the book deals with the last few souls and how the bet plays out overall.

This story is funny and, as I said, quite whimsical — especially the chapters set in Hell. At other times, it is quite dark. Under Horst’s influence, Johannes tends to target people who would have gone to Hell anyway — and we see enough of some of those people that I was sometimes left feeling like I wanted a shower. Still, the writing style reminded me a little of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, which is, needless to say, a high compliment. I laughed at inappropriate moments more than once.

Apparently the rest of the series isn’t quite so dark, or so I’m told. I’m curious to see where it goes next, and I enjoyed Johannes’s company. I’d be happy to spend more time with him in future — just not in a dark alley or similar!