I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal is another Audible original that will delight listeners. The comedy begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the subject is at once unexpected and humorous. With Kevin Cline, Annette Benning, and so many others (including a star from Moana), the anonymous and unexpected nature of death is explored through humor and ridiculous situations in the public eye, as President David Murray appears to be losing his mind as he talks to himself in grocery stores, etc. Even as his conversations appear one-sided, he actually spends a great deal of time speaking to the anonymous grim reaper (Billy Crystal) and coaching him on how to be a good angel of death.

Even though there are twists in the story, which I found a bit predictable, I laughed a number of times while listening to this comedic story. It’s a tale of humor, but also demonstrates how we never know when death comes for us and we should live our lives with purpose and be sure things are in order before the angel of death does come. There are no second chances or do-overs for most of us.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal was a delightful surprise. With the award winning cast, it should not have been. Aesop in comedic form.

RATING: Quatrain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Halloween Review: Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex is a fun little parody of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which was the first book my daughter was given when she was born. She still reads it to this day and sometimes even takes it home from her school library even though she owns a copy.

This story is chock full of all that’s scary. Invading martians, pots of goo, werewolves, ghouls, and more. The rhymes mirror those in the original but with a horrifying twist. Our favorite part was when the monster was told by the werewolf child to get under the bed. Of course! That’s where monsters belong.

Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex is a dark, twisted take on the children’s bedtime story, but still goofy and fun to keep children from crying out for mom in their sleep.

RATING: Cinquain

Stranger Than Life 1970-2013 Cartoons and Comics by M.K. Brown

Source: Gift
Paperback, 248 pgs.
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Stranger Than Life 1970-2013 Cartoons and Comics by M.K. Brown begins with an introduction checklist of what makes a good cartoonist from Bill Griffith and a note from M.K. Brown. She says that there must be a spirit of “drawing without fear,” and when looking through this coffee table must-have, you can see fear plays no role in her cartoons or comics. Beginning in the 1970s, we see how Brown’s drawings (black-and-white, mostly) began and there is a bit of truth in these: that table you keep tripping over (Tripping Table) to the “Egg Solid Sandwich.” The ordinary people in her cartoons bring to life the squabbles of married couples, even those just starting out. From “housepeople” to people at work, it is clear that she has a keen sense of humor.

I love that Brown also provides some insight into what she was thinking when she created certain cartoons or comics, like listening to the Bee Gees or providing water to a thirsty grasshopper rescued from the drapes inside the house on a summer day. Even her inspirations are whimsical and funny. Imagine taking a grasshopper outside and giving it water when it fails to stand up on a succulent leaf. It takes a great deal of observation skills deduce the needs of a grasshopper, as it does to create witty cartoons about science and technology, particularly when a lot of the new stuff is hard to understand. Some of my favorites stem from those interminable waits on customer service lines.

Brown even takes some of the oldest gags and makes them sharp, like “you remind me of my mother” or those obvious questions you hear at cocktail hours, like “what do you do for a living?” Stranger Than Life 1970-2013 Cartoons and Comics by M.K. Brown has a bit of everything in it for those looking for well told, humorous stories of romance to those who just love a good pun. Highly recommended for a good laugh.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

M.K. Brown grew up in Darien, Connecticut and New Brunswick, Canada. Her cartoons have been in all sorts of publications, above- and under-ground. She is naturally a bit selfish, maybe a little self-conscious, and self-centered, yet has an enlightened self-interest and a healthy curiosity about any new technology which happens to coincide with her trajectory at the time. She lives in northern California and her cartoons are about that process.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore is a long-awaited follow-up to A Dirty Job, which I loved.  Readers should start with the first book before reading this one.

Charlie Asher, a death merchant, has taken on a new form, and his daughter is living with his sister even as his situation becomes more hopeless.  Minty Fresh reprises his role as comic relief, but there really is much more of that going around in this novel.  San Francisco is one again under threat from dark forces.  The Big Book of the Dead has sensed the change, and as things happen magically, the instructions in the book morph into dire warnings — most of which are ignored, at least until the banshee shows up.  Through a mix of characters from the previous book, Moore is at his best with these sarcastic, wise-cracking misfits who riff off one another like guitarists in a large band.  Their tune is haphazard but effective in this hunt for balance in the world of the dead.

“‘Sure, you could say talked. Ghosts mostly communicate by odor. Gotta tell you, you got a house that smells like farts, you got a haunted house.'” (pg. 75)

“With that, great clouds of fire burst out the twin tailpipes of the Buick and it lowered its stance like a crouching leopard before bolting out of the turnout.” (pg. 122)

Moore is a talented writer, who can write a funny quip and hilarious dialogue in one stroke and a gorgeous set of literary images in another. This duo of books combines the best of those talents, along with some great supernatural elements that are based not only on Egyptian mythology but also Buddhist teachings. This mash-up is unique and engaging, and his characters bring it to life easily. From Minty Fresh who wears all lime green clothes and owns a secondhand music store to Lemon who wears all yellow and has a calm demeanor that covers his dark motives, Moore’s characters will have readers laughing and questioning every turn of plot.

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore is a wonderful follow-up that will have readers wondering about where their soul is headed, who will guide it where it needs to go, and whether they will one day find themselves with a super-ability they never wanted.  It’s another winner from this author.

About the Author:

Christopher Moore is an American writer of comic fantasy. He was born in Toledo, Ohio. He grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University and Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.








Urban Art Berlin: Version 2.0 by Kai Jakob

Source: A gift from Emma Eden Ramos
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Urban Art Berlin: Version 2.0 by Kai Jakob does have words, but words as rendered in urban art, also called graffiti.  This collection is of art in Berlin, and what’s interesting is how artists have set their work on top of others.  Art here has no boundaries, nothing to pin it in.  The introduction and foreword are in both German and English, which is helpful for those who don’t know German, and in it, Jakob says that public space is in actuality free space.  Berlin is the home to many artists, including those engaged in graffiti.  Jakob says that as urban landscapes become very monotone and similar, it is a splash of color and an unexpected image that can provide visitors with a glimpse into the true heart of the city.

The photos in this book bring to life not only spray painted images, but those made of paper stuck on walls, stickers on street signs, and more.  I’d recommend this book for those interested in other cultures, graffiti, photography, and art.  Jakob has collected a wide variety of images from the streets of Berlin, and some are comical, while others are downright bizarre.

About the Author:

Check out the Street Art in Berlin Facebook page.

William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher

Source: Quirk Books
Hardcover, 176 pgs
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William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher is just what it espouses to be, a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars.  Doescher has clearly studied enough Shakespeare and is creative enough to pull this off, and as an avid reader and lover of Shakespeare and Star Wars, this one was a perfect fit.  In fact, I was chuckling to myself as I heard the movie version of Jar Jar Binks in my head speaking in near iambic pentameter.  It was hilarious.  If I could see this one filmed, I would.  There are people who hate Jar Jar, and there are people like me who just adore him.  What I loved about Doescher’s rendition of him is that there is more to the character than appears outwardly to the other characters.  The re-imagining of this polarizing character was fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next – even though I know the story.

Amidala: “A youth is no more frail than older folk,
No less intelligent, no less sublime.
Our steps are newer, yet we are no jewel
To be protected and encas’d by them.” (pg. 20)

Anakin: “Why do we worship at the shrine of change?
Hath change e’er put a meal upon our board?
Is change betoken to something positive?
Or may it be that change for changing’s sake
But changes good to evil, bad to worse?” (pg. 99)

This rendition can be read for its homage to Shakespeare and Star Wars, and it can be read for its humor, but it also is multi-layered with meaning. What does it mean to accept change so easily, and does it mean that youth is unequal to older people with experience? Doescher also speaks of the hidden commentary in Star Wars about perception and the “locals” of Naboo, in that the Jedi believe them to be primitive and less worldly. Fans of the movie franchise and its many incarnations have debated many things like these, as they have been debated in the study of Shakespeare and other literature, why not do it in a modern and fun mash-up like William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher.

ianAbout the Author:

Ian Doescher is a Portland native, and lives in Portland with his spouse and two children. He has a B.A. in Music from Yale University, a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. He is currently the Director of Nonprofit Marketing at Pivot Group LLC, a full service marketing, research and web agency in Portland, Oregon.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo

Source: Diary of an Eccentric
Hardcover, 240 pgs
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Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, provides the right amount of literary humor from classics like Jane Eyre to modern characters like Katniss and Peeta from the Hunger Games.  Readers can turn to this little gem again and again for a good laugh.  Text messages are sometimes completely off the wall, but totally in character with either the fictional people or the authors who send the texts.  However, readers will garner more enjoyment from the conversations if they are familiar with the books and authors involved.

From “Wuthering Heights” (pg 114-119 ARC)

“i love you so much i’m going to get sick again
just out of spite

i’ll forget how to breathe

i’ll be your slave

i’ll pinch your heart and hand it back to you dead

i’ll lie down with my soul already in its grave

i’ll damn myself with your tears

i love you so much i’ll come back and marry your sister-in-law

god yes

and i’ll bankroll your brother’s alcoholism

i always hoped you would”

Some are visited more than once in text conversation, particularly Hamlet, and those conversations are fantastically done.  It’s fun to see Regan and Goneril fighting via text, as it is also humorous to see Heathcliff and Cathy profess their love for one another in the most Gothic ways possible.  There are others that could have been better, like the one for William Carlos Williams.  While readers will see the intent to play off of his famous poems, the text conversations could have been more inventive.  And the text conversation with John Keats was uninspired, though it recalled his famous poem Ode on a Grecian Urn.

What readers will love about the book is the use of modern technology and text-speak as classical writers and characters could use them with both their antiquated notions and points of view mixed with a more modern sensibility in some cases.  Ortberg has clearly given her imagination free reign here, and while in most cases, it pays off with a chuckle or a snicker, there are some cases where it falls flat. Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, is a fun little bit of humor to cheer you up on a gloomy day.

About the Author:

Mallory Ortberg is a writer, editor, and co-founder of the feminist general interest site The Toast. She previously wrote for Gawker and the Hairpin, where she met Toast co-founder Nicole Cliffe.

Hitrecord on TV! Season One by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Source: Dey Street Books
Video, 8 episodes
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HitRecord on TV Season One by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a collaborative effort like the books, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Volume 1, 2, and 3, but these collaborations come to life on stage and in video.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the host of the show, but really he’s his own variety show in that he can act, dance, do tricks, play several instruments, sing, and coordinate all of these projects with hundreds of collaborators.  While this box set includes full-color, stylized booklets for each episode, its the downloaded episodes that will have people riveted.  This show is addictive.  It is not American Idol or The Voice, or any other competitive show about who is the best.  This is a creative engine that is generating a life of its own beyond the screen and the books to create its own artistic community of collaborators and re-mixers.  It is addictive to watch, and I’ve had the song, Freakin’ On My Front Lawn stuck in my head for days!

Each episode is chock full of facts, stories, and fun, JGL takes his role as collaborator and host seriously and he’s all about honest production and fun.  There is audience interaction at the live reveals and each piece begins with the germ of an idea.  Rather than focus on our actual trash production, the episode on trash spoke with John Waters to talk about what it means to make or be trash.  These interviews with the famous and famous in their own industry add even more flavor to the show.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt clearly loves these projects from beginning to end, and audiences will be infected with this sense of joy and inspiration from the moment they begin watching.

With only eight downloadable episodes, the season seems too short, but there are additional downloads from 17 songs/soundtracks to bonus content.  Do not forget about the books!  These slim volumes include so much in such a small space that they are little powerhouses unto themselves.  HitRecord on TV Season One by Joseph Gordon-Levitt would make the perfect gift for the artists in the family, but also for those looking for a fresh show the likes of Ed Sullivan.  The only drawback is these are downloads and not DVDs, and for some of us not quite versed in streaming from computers to televisions, etc., it makes it a little harder.  But it is well worth the effort.

About the Artist:

HitRECord founder and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting career has managed to garner a massive popular appeal while maintaining a widely respected artistic integrity. He recently starred in Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award-nominated Inception and received Golden Globe, Independent Spirit and People’s Choice award nominations for his performance in (500) Days of Summer. Currently earning rave reviews for his performance in 50/50, also starring Seth Rogen, his upcoming films include David Koepp actioner Premium Rush and Rian Johnson’s sci-fi thriller Looper, with Bruce Willis. He is currently in production on The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and will next begin work opposite Daniel Day Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic, Lincoln.

My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart

Source: HarperCollins
Hardcover, 240 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut by Hannah Hart is a more how-to guide for noncooks and those who have few resources on hand.  In many ways this is not your ordinary cookbook — yes there are ingredients listed but they are mostly suggestions, and there are few if any step-by-step instructions on how to recreate Hart’s creations.  “Unconventional” is one word to describe this cookbook, and another would be “fun.”  This is a cookbook about having fun in the kitchen, getting creative, and inviting your friends to join in the frenzy — and alcohol always helps.  Hart lets readers into her life and her kitchen — from her younger years in the lunchroom scrounging among friends to fill her belly with various concoctions of candy and crackers, etc.

From this cookbook, we selected Pizzadilla for my birthday party last weekend, which requires sauce, shredded cheese, and tortillas.  The recommended drink with this is cold beer of course, and we happened to have Sam Adams in the house.  You smear the sauce on the tortilla and then add the cheese before putting another tortilla on top — you can stack these on top of one another to make them taller — put them in the oven to cook.  It looks as though this requires some babysitting as there is no temperature listed for the oven, nor is there a time for cooking listed.  You’ll have to keep an eye out for the browning of the tortilla and the melting ooze of the cheese.  You can cut these into slices with a butter knife.  These all came out great within about 10 minutes or so on 350 degrees.  Everyone seemed to enjoy them, and we think they could be filled with other toppings, like peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, and other meat.

My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut by Hannah Hart is a fun cookbook for those not too worried about timing things and directions, who are interested in making creative dishes in the kitchen.  Beyond single people, bachelors, and drunk cooks, this book could be helpful in introducing kids to cooking.  It is humorous and fun.

***Silly me, we forgot to take photos of the creations, but perhaps we were too drunk.***

About the Author:

Hannah Hart, sometimes nicknamed Harto, is an American internet personality, comedian and author. She is best known for starring in My Drunk Kitchen, a weekly series on YouTube in which she cooks something while intoxicated. Apart from her main channel, she also runs a second channel where she talks about life in general and gives her opinions on various topics. She also has written a cooking book named My Drunk Kitchen – a guide to eating, drinking, and going with your gut.

47th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto

Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto is a guide to the mind of readers everywhere, and it offers some great tips on how to fake it for readers who may not have read some contemporary or classic authors that everyone else has been.  Leto is like many of us in that she says, “Considering yourself a serious reader doesn’t mean you can’t read light books.  Loving to read means you sometimes like to turn your head off.  Reading is not about being able to recite passages from Camus by memory.  Loving young adult novels well past adolescence isn’t a sign of stunted maturity or intelligence.  The most important thing about reading is not the level of sophistication of the books on your shelf.  There is no prerequisite reading regimen for being a bookworm” (page 8).  To that end, she discloses that she’s likely to be found with the latest Janet Evanovich in her hand when she has to fly anywhere.

The initial confessions read like that of any bookworm, with the boxes and boxes of books moved from apartment to apartment and from makeshift bookshelf to re-purposed material made into a bookshelf — in her case, a couple of old ladders (page 13).  Leto even offers a funny little bit about changing the readers’ mascot from a worm to a cat, but one of the most ironic reasons in the book is because cats hold grudges (page 63) — like many do against James Frey from A Million Little Pieces, who offers a witty quote about Leto’s book on the cover.

Through a series of chapters of advice on how to fake having read a particular book, using vague statements and comparisons to popular movies and other writers you may have read, Leto has created an unapologetic homage to reading as entertainment, education, enjoyment, escapism, and understanding.  She even includes a chapter on rules for the book club, which means talking about book club with others not in your club or about the books you are reading in the club as well as how best to end a disagreement over something that happens in one of the books read by the group.  Her observations on members of a book club and their roles from the leader to the quiet (usually girl) member are in line with many readers’ experiences, including those who might even fit those character types in one group or another.

Some of the best aspects of this book are the snarky comments about authors and readers of certain authors, like those who adore Chuck Palahniuk are boys who cannot read and those who love Chuck Klosterman are boys who don’t read.  Leto’s comments about the “Literati,” a chapter with an alternate title of “Why Ernest Hemingway Once Told John Updike Literary New York Is a Bottle Full of Tapeworms Trying to Feed on Each Other,” is hilarious and a warning for those would-be writers out there.  Judging a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto is not really about judging anyone, but it is about having fun with books and reading, making connections even with strangers, and finding happiness in a bent page — to paraphrase her (page 245).

About the Author:

Lauren Leto dropped out of law school to start the popular humor blog “Texts from Last Night.” She co-authored the book Texts from Last Night: All the Texts No One Remembers Sending. She lives in Brooklyn.

This is my 78th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.