Audio Book · FrighteninglyGoodRead · nonfiction · Over 18

NonFiction Friday: Me by Elton John

Elton John has been a major star my entire life. I remember him singing at Princess Diana’s funeral and I have always been impressed by the work his AIDS foundation does for the world. I love all of his popular songs and I was aware of his struggle with addiction. But I wouldn’t have considered myself an Elton John fan. That is, until I read Me, his new autobiography. All of the things that knew or liked about Elton John have been transformed into full blown admiration.

me
cover of Elton John book “”Me” featuring Elton wearing rainbow sunglasses

Here are the Top Ten things I learned and love about Elton John.

10. Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex. Pinner sounds like every small town everywhere in the developed world. His talent in music was evident from an early age and he quickly went from playing his grandmother’s piano to winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

9. Elton John only met his long time writing partner Bernie Taupin when he was rejected for a job with Ray Williams. Even though Elton had been in Bluesology and working as a studio musician for years, he was really going nowhere until he met Bernie. Rejection + Happen Chance meeting = the success we know today. The mega-star Elton John we know today is a direct result of a failure.

8. Elton John was a late bloomer and didn’t understand sex or that he was gay until he was 21.

7. Elton John has a terrible temper and he knows it. I know a lot of people with terrible tempers but the ones that are aware of this defect in their nature have always been near and dear to my heart since I myself fly off the handle like a cartoon character on occasion.

6. Elton John is always looking for a new challenge and this desire for self improvement has led him to say yes to numerous opportunities he intially thought were outside of his comfort zone. The Lion King is just one of those projects. I can only hope that one day my growth mindset leads me to such an opportunity.

5. He maintains a strong connection with all the performers that inspired him and believes that artists should support the next generation of performers. Lady Gaga has changed his children’s diapers and he is Eminem’s sobriety sponsor. He found artists that inspired him and recorded with them, performed with them, or found them jobs when their jobs ran out. This open door policy didn’t always mean that he got along with everyone (ahem, Tina Turner), but it does mean that his mind is always open to the possibility of collaborating. This open door policy also applies to people who hold different ideals than Elton.

4. Even though Elton John is a gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s and he sang on, “That’s What Friends are For,” in 1986, he didn’t become the fundraiser and humanitarian for AIDS that I always thought he was until the 1990s. His inspiration for getting involved was after the death of Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury’s subsequent death in 1991. In 1992 he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation and, to date, it has raised over $450 Million dollars. It is never to late to get involved and make a difference.

3. Elton John loves his hometown football team of Watford. At one point he was a chairman for the team and he still takes his boys to games.

2. He knows that the surest way to failure is to surround yourself with people who always agree with you.

1. “There’s really no point in wondering ‘what if?’ but instead to focus on ‘what’s next'” is the quote Elton puts at the end of his autobiography. This sums up his life so perfectly.


I had the pleasure of listening to this as an audiobook and Taron Egerton is absolutely perfect as the narrator. I haven’t seen the biopic of Elton’s life starring Taron but it is clear that he really understands Elton John at his core. If I was going to make one criticism it is that now I am having a difficult time not picturing Taron Egerton as the real Elton John.

This will definitely be one of my top audiobooks of 2020.


Tell me, please!

Which autobiography is your favorite?


 

Audio Book · Thriller

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

According to my Apple Watch this book is exactly what my Mom assured me it would be,  a, “heart pounding thriller to the last page.” I realize I am not acclimated to reading action packed books but I literally scrubbed my walls while listening to this book because I could not sit still. This audiobook is not safe for listening to while operating heavy machinery.

thepresident is missingPresident Bill Clinton and bestselling novelist James Patterson have written a spellbinding thriller, The President is Missing.

As the novel opens, a threat looms. Enemies are planning an attack of unprecedented scale on America. Uncertainty and fear grip Washington. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the cabinet. The President himself becomes a suspect, and then goes missing…

Set in real time, over the course of three days, The President Is Missing is one of the most dramatic thrillers in decades. And it could all really happen. The President Is Missing is Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s totally authentic and spellbinding thriller. Goodreads.

The audiobook version features the narration of Dennis Quaid, January LaVoy, Peter Ganim, Jeremy Davidson and Mozhan Marno. The majority of the book is read by Dennis Quaid. While he has an occasional unevenness to his delivery I genuinely enjoyed his narration of the story. It certainly helps that you could easily picture Dennis Quaid as President Duncan.

Perhaps that is because President Duncan is the type of President only fiction and Hollywood can bring us. President Jonathan Duncan was a Marine who was captured during a mission in the Middle East but never broke under torture. He has survived the loss of his adored wife to cancer while in office and remains a loving father to their daughter, Lily. Just to pile on sympathy (and an additional pressure facet), the President has a chronic blood condition which has flared and has to be constantly monitored by physicians. On top of everything else, the President is being investigated by the Speaker of the House for his dealings with terrorists and the word “impeachment” is being thrown around.

All of that is background for the stunning news that there is an imminent threat to the safety and security of the entire nation. President Duncan has received word that a cyber attack is coming that will return the United States to the Dark Ages. The question is, who is attacking? He should be able to turn to his well-stocked cadre of government officials but there is only one thing he knows for certain: there is a traitor in his inner circle.

I know that nothing I read in the book actually happened. Even though hour after hour I could not figure out how they would undo the damaging cyber attack or work around the need for secrecy, I thought that the resolution of the story would bring me an alleviation from the adrenaline rush this book provides. Instead, the story has stayed with me and I will admit to eyeballing books on preserving food and figuring out how much water I would need to stockpile for the end of modern times.

This espionage story has caught the attention of many readers who wonder, “How much did President Clinton really contribute to the book?” I don’t actually care what percentage belongs to each author but it was clear to me that certain passages can only come from a President. The insight into the office and the personal perspective of President Duncan just felt too accurate to not come from President Clinton. Not to mention that large portions of President Duncan’s impeachment troubles remind me of Benghazi. There is an excellent article about this subject from The Guardian if you are curious. Regardless of individual effort, this heart pounding thriller was non-stop action from the first page to the last!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever read a book that left you exhausted from the action?


 

all ages · Audio Book · Science Fiction

A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

The worst thing about writing only positive reviews is when you go through a terrible dry patch. Combine that with a fairly deep and weird non-reading period and it looks like I have abandoned my reviewing completely! But, the good news is that I am baaaack!

princessscoundrelfarmboyI tried listening to a LOT of audiobooks over the past few weeks. I am burned out with a specific style and so I turned to a completely new genre. Well, a new audiobook book genre anyway. I borrowed The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken from my local library. Admittedly, I briefly considered not listening to it when the introduction marked the book as a re-telling of A New Hope but this whole mood reading can only go on for so long. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and finish a book! I am so glad that I persevered because this is an excellent audiobook.

Told in three parts by two extremely talented narrators, this book transported me back to the magic that was my first Star Wars experience. Aided by sound effects and selections from John Williams original score, the audiobook reminded me of my beloved Star Wars, A New Hope LP.  Here though, the author cleverly expands the inner thoughts and experiences of the three main characters to give me what all Star Wars fans want most: more Star Wars. Listening to Leia’s childhood reflections, her concerns regarding her usefulness to the Rebellion, Han’s growing admiration for both Leia and Luke and his fear of losing them, and Luke’s introduction and growing awareness of the Force stayed so true to Star Wars canon without becoming trite. It is glorious!

The whole time I was listening I could not stop thinking that this audiobook might be the perfect way to introduce young children (or older new fans) to Star Wars. The audiobook gives all the excitement and adventure, as well as wonderful character development, as the movies but without some of the scarier visual images that the film so masterfully uses. While there is no replacement for the first time you see Darth Vader’s cape fan out as he stalks down the corridor with The Imperial March thundering in your ears, this audiobook is an auditory treat. And, since I loved it after seeing the film countless times, it would be perfect for new fans and rabid older fans alike.

I have to mention as well that this book has a wonderful theme. Star Wars is my basis for explaining everything but I have never really considered how these characters break societal and self-imposed labels during their adventures. Leia is more than a Princess, Han is only a Scoundrel when he wants to be and Luke is SO much more than a Farmboy. How the world sees them and even how they label themselves changes and grows  during their time together and it is wonderful to behold. It is also an important message to send children – you can change who you are and you can change how you think about people.

I cannot recommend this audiobook enough! Whether you’ve enjoyed Star Wars since childhood or are a reluctant (but curious) fan, this is a wonderful retelling.


Tell me, please!

If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, what is holding you back?


 

Audio Book · funny

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Library by Robin Sloan

I am always going to pick up a novel that has the word, “book,” “bookstore,” or “library” in the title. So, when Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan popped up as immediately available through my library borrowing app, I had to check it out. Serendipitous joy! This book is everything you could want; a quest, old friends, new friends, foes and a mystery 500 years in the making.

mr.penumbraClay Jannon needs a job. The Great Recession has caused his bagel company to rebrand and subsequently fold. When Clay sees an opening at the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore he applies. Clay’s only goal is to avoid living in a tent and, even though this job will not develop any connections or skills for future jobs, it will keep him in rent money. That is no small feat for someone living in San Fransisco.

Mr. Penumbra is as mysterious as his store. He asks Clay only, “What do you seek here?” before hiring him and forbidding him from looking in the books. More curiously, no one buys anything at this bookstore. Elderly people scurry in and out while exchanging huge tomes. Day after day Clay keeps track of the visitors in the log book and fetches books from the way-back list high up on the vertical shelves. After about a month, he can no longer resist. He peeks. The mystery he finds will take him across America, through time, and tax the combined efforts of all Clay’s resources to solve.

This book is epically entertaining. A unique mixture of history, computer science, cryptology, mystery, coding and humor all swirl together to paint an absolutely riveting story that transcends expectations. And, except for a very few references to sex, boobs and the bookstore’s proximity to a strip joint, the book could be for all ages. Because at its heart the book tells a tale of what happens at the intersection of old and new.

If you had asked me how it all ended when I was half-way through the book I would have guessed and I would have been wrong. At three-quarters of the way through I thought I knew with a certainty the ending and I was still wrong. Not only is the ending surprising but the writing is sharp with interesting characters at every turn. Some reviews have complained that this book is full of exceptional people but I think Clay was able to see where people were exceptional and employ their skills in that manner. The audiobook was extraordinarily well read and really brought the characters and action to life.

This book was a surprise that I didn’t even know it existed until it showed up on my Libby app. It is odd then that my love of books and my use of technology brought me to this wonderful story about the overlap between the two.


Tell me, please!

Do you have any subjects or cover art that will make you always pick up the book?


Audio Book · series

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

oddthomasIn 2013 Anton Yelchin stared as Odd Thomas in the film of the same name. I really enjoyed the movie and, like most great movies, I was unsurprised to find out that it was based on a book. I quickly added it to my Goodreads TBR shelf and forgot about it. But, since I am making a concerted effort to systematically work through my physical and electronic TBR, I borrowed the audiobook from my local library. Truthfully, I had forgotten what a wonderful writer Dean Koontz is and I quickly lost myself in Pico Mundo with Odd Thomas and all his ghosts.

Odd can see dead people. He can also see beings he calls bodachs. Bodachs surround themselves with evil and are present before and during moments of violence while they feed on pain of the victims. With the Chief of Police, his boss Teri, his best friend Little Ozzie and his soulmate Stormy Llewellyn as his psychic secret keepers Odd uses his sixth sense to intercede on behalf of the innocent people of his hometown. “I see dead people. But then, by God, I do something about it.” Odd says.

In this first book a new man in town dubbed “Fungus Man,” gains Odd’s attention when he appears surrounded by bodachs. Odd has never seen such a collection of these evil entities and, as such, knows that this stranger is planning to bring massive suffering to his town. As he investigates we learn more and more about Odd Thomas, his strange upbringing, and his social circle while we search along with Odd for clues as to what Fungus man is doing.

At times this book was so suspenseful that I found myself standing completely still while listening to it. The whole last two hours I dubbed “not safe for driving” because I kept startling. I was well and truly impressed by the sheer storytelling and character development of the book and, while I knew the basic ending because I had seen the film, I still found myself thrilled by the action sequences right to the very end.

As with most series books the first one includes tremendous set up. There were times when this book felt too long and too full of characters. But, for a series and for a storyteller like Dean Koontz this is all intended for future books. There are six Odd Thomas books and three graphic novels. If the subsequent stories are anything like this one I cannot wait to read more. However, I think I will read them myself, the audiobook proved to be excellent but too intense for me.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever found a new friend in an old series?


Audio Book · fiction

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I don’t remember adding this book to my to be read shelf and, honestly, I couldn’t have told you what it was about at all. And so, it languished for years in TBR purgatory. But, since I am still deeply into my New Years resolutions I delved into it when I saw, by chance, that it was immediately available to borrow from my library

curiouscaseAnd I loved it. Many have labelled this a coming of age story and, while that is accurate, it is also a story of metamorphosis. That enormous moment in time between being a child and becoming an adult when you suddenly understand that your parents are people (not simply your parents) and there is far more grey in the world than there is black and white.

Except, for main character Christopher, it would be more accurate to say that there are more colors than red and yellow and brown. Fifteen year old Christopher is clearly highly intelligent but struggles daily with an exceptionality that is not labelled in the story. He attends a school with other children with exceptionalities but he is planning to sit for his A level Maths.

Christopher’s world falls crisply into two timelines. Before the dog Wellington is murdered and after. Before Wellington’s murder Christopher knows that seeing five red cars in a row on the way to school makes it a very good day but seeing yellow cars in a row makes it a bad day. Before Wellington’s murder Christopher knows that his mother is dead and he loves math and dreams of being an astronaut. After Wellington’s murder Christopher is still those things but now he is also a detective. And once he begins to investigate Wellington’s murder he finds mystery after mystery in the world around him. Will he be brave enough to figure out what is happening?

I loved Christopher, his Dad and all of the other characters because they were interesting and unique without being cliche. The author seemed to both embrace the positives to being an individual with exceptionalities and the strain that being different puts on a person and his family. Also, I really appreciated that the story allows us to see how having a child like Christopher can radically change you as a person and as a parent. I laughed, I sighed (but never cried) and I listened anxiously while Christopher solved the numerous mysterious of his world.

If you have read this book, please come over for a cup of anything so that we can talk in detail about all the best parts. If you haven’t yet, do read it and let me know what you think!


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy stories featuring unique characters like Christopher?


 

Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

One of my longstanding personal quotes is, “Laugh or Cry, you choose!” I say this to myself when I become overwhelmed and I try to reflect on the humor in the situation. But, I know that mental health is no joke and it can rob people of the ability to control this choice. So what do you do if your life is deeply affected by mental health? Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) forced herself to be “furiously happy” to balance those times her mental illness makes her unfathomably sad. She invited us on her journey in accepting her mental health and the hilarity of it all in her new book Furiously Happya Funny Book about Horrible Things.

furiouslyhappyI have never read Jenny Lawson’s blog, I didn’t follow her on Twitter and, honestly, she wasn’t on my radar at all.  But, someone highlighted her book on WWW Wednesday and I dutifully added it to my to-be-read pile. Mostly, I fell in love with the hilarious taxidermy raccoon (Rory) on the cover of the book. When the audiobook caught my eye I downloaded it simply because I needed something to listen to during my commute and it was immediately available. All of these cosmic connections resulted in my listening to and falling deeply in love with Jenny Lawson. (I hereby promise I will not stalk you Jenny, tell Victor not to worry).

Now see how I have referred to this total stranger by her first name? And, I write as though I know her husband? This is the talent of a well-written memoirist. They make the reader feel like they have a new friend, one they know and understand on a deeper level. But what elevates this memoir to a whole new level is that my new friend Jenny managed to weave awareness and understanding of mental illness through her book so seamlessly. After listening to her read her own story I feel like I have a much better understanding of mental illness, taxidermy, depression, the perils of traveling through Australia, and the power of acceptance in equal measure.

Jenny’s decision to live Furiously Happy has changed her life. Perhaps her book will alter yours. All I know is that I would really like to thank her for explaining the nuances of mental health to me. And I would really like to hold Rory for a bit. Please?!?


Tell me, please!

What books do you recommend for understanding mental illness?


Audio Book · fiction · humor

Today I Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I was surprised by how much I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? and so when I saw that Marie Semple had a new book out I knew I would read it. I was even luckier to have the opportunity to enjoy the audiobook version of this book because the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite, did an amazing job capturing the feeling of all of the characters. Perhaps that is why she also narrated Bernadette!

todaywillbedifferentIn Today I Will Be Different Eleanor Flood, her famous husband, Joe, and her son Timby live in Seattle. Eleanor and Joe are New Yorkers and atheists. While Joe has found grand success as a sought-after hand surgeon in Seattle, Eleanor has been struggling to fit into their community and especially with the parents at Timby’s school. She begins the morning by setting small obtainable goals that she feels will make today different. She makes a promise to herself to shower and get dressed, to take her son Timby to school and then attend her poetry lesson, and to initiate sex with her husband. But before she can quietly change her day in these small ways her son Timby plays sick. That small change in her plans, unintended by Eleanor, alters the course of her life dramatically.

Maria Semple delivers, in Eleanor, another complex female character that I could not help but connect with deeply. Her problems may be first-world ones but they are so common that if you can read this book and not see women you know then you either; (a) don’t know any women or (b) you aren’t paying attention. Eleanor’s quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor furthers my love of this character and keeps the story moving. As Eleanor and Timby work through their day we see the subtle (and not-so subtle) layers of Eleanor more and more clearly. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette there are twists and turns. But, for me, the characters drive this story and Eleanor will stay with me much longer than any the plot.

The narrator for this audiobook has a wonderfully gravelly voice that captures both the New Yorker feel of Eleanor as well as the other characters, especially Timby, perfectly. Perhaps it is because I just finished The Princess Diarist but her voice reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s. This is also a short audiobook, only about six and a half hours, and it goes too quickly.

If you enjoyed Maria Semple’s first novel you are sure to enjoy Today Will be Different.


Tell me, please!

If you read this book, what did you think?

If not, what are some of your favorite female characters?


Audio Book · nonfiction

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I remember hearing long long ago that Carrie Fisher did not love Princess Leia and she was tired of being compared to her. I vividly recall being crushed by that idea. Princess Leia was my hero growing up. She was strong, confident, beautiful, smart, capable…basically the total package. If you had become famous and synonymous with a character, wouldn’t Princess Leia be the ideal?! But, as I grew I began to understand how having your personal identity become confusingly intertwined with a fictional character might be difficult. When I saw that Carrie Fisher had recorded her audiobook of The Princess Diarist I wanted to listen to it and I hoped she would be able to explain her complex feelings about one of my favorite sci-fi characters.

The Princess DiaristI was thrilled that Carrie spent a great deal of time in her book addressing her lifelong relationship with her silver screen alter ego. Of course, there were some wonderful stories about her childhood and adolescence, her experience auditioning for Star Wars, and the long hidden affair she had with Harrison Ford. But her beautiful words about her ever-changing perception of herself and how being identified interchangeably with Leia affected her were truly life changing for me. Her story helped me redefine how to reconcile self-identification with the public’s perception of who they think you are.

I cannot talk about Carrie Fischer without stopping to reflect on her amazing writing skills. Her daughter, Billie Lourd, read the diary sections from her time filming Star Wars and her writing skills at 20 were jaw dropping. I found myself sitting, parked in my car, just letting the gorgeous phrases roll over me. I knew that Carrie had worked as a script doctor and I have read at least one of her prior books but, truly, I had not taken the time to recognize incredibly talented she was as a writer.

It has been almost a year since Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. I could not have imagined listening to this audiobook earlier in the year but as the anniversary came closer and closer I craved just a few more minutes with my first Princess. The book gave me that and so much more. If you are even vaguely interested I heartily recommend listening to this Grammy award winning audiobook.


Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Please, if you don’t love Star Wars, don’t admit it to me because then I will have to defend my fandom and I have huge chunks of time in the coming weeks that I can dedicate to this.

Audio Book · nonfiction

So That Happened, by Jon Cryer

The movie Pretty in Pink came out in 1986. I’m not sure how old I was when I saw it but I remember absolutely hating everything about it….except Ducky. Since the moment Andie chose Blane (for the love of all that is holy….Blane??) over Ducky I hated Molly Ringwald and pink dresses forever. But, I have held a special place in my heart for Jon Cryer. So, when I saw he had a celebrity memoir out I wanted to read it. I worried that he would stoop to gossip but I still wanted to take the opportunity to spend more time with the delightful actor whose career I have followed all of these years.

sothathappenedHe has wonderful stories of growing up in New York City and of his mother’s and father’s careers on Broadway. Truthfully, I didn’t realize how incredibly varied his talent was until I heard about his life. The sheer amount of work he put into honing his craft is impressive but learning that he attended the prestigious Bronx School of Science added an additional, and alluring, facet to the actor. Since he frequently plays neurotic or anxious individuals who are nerdy it is nice to know that he connects with these characters on a personal level.

With celebrity memoirs there is always the possibility of gratuitous gossip. Jon does talk about his first famous girlfriend (Demi Moore), his costars in Pretty in Pink, and a variety of other famous people who have crossed his path. But, at no time did I feel like he was being mean or spiteful. I didn’t learn anything about anyone else that I didn’t already know. He kept the focus on himself and his own drama. Still, when you work (twice) with Charlie Sheen and you have a front row seat to the implosion that was Charlie’s last year on Two and a Half Men it is hard to tell your story without including Charlie. I would argue that he did so in an incredibly respectful manner. In fact, I would have been comfortable listening to this book with Charlie Sheen.

Now, I did learn a whole lot about the movie business and how a storyline can dramatically change. For example, did you know that Ducky and Andie were supposed to end up together? But the test audience (those horrible people) thought Andie deserved the rich guy and they had to re-film the ending!! They ruined it. This and many other wonderful anecdotes were shared by Jon.

I had the added bonus of listening to the audio version of this book. Jon Cryer read it himself and he is as talented a narrator as he is a storyteller. I enjoyed the way he loved the characters he portrayed and you could certainly feel the his enjoyment he gets from acting.

My only complaint about this audiobook was it was only 9+ hours long. I could have spent at least another 9 listening to Jon’s stories. He may not actually be Ducky but he managed to make me love that character even more.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever loved a character enough to follow the actor forever?