Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum? – Sam Slaughter

are you afraid of the dark rum cover

“Nostalgia often evokes good feelings. Cocktails often evoke good feelings. That’s what this book aims to do.”

If there’s one thing better than a good cocktail, it’s a good themed cocktail. And I might be more of an 80s child than 90s, but I was up for some nostalgia and cool drink sipping. I really, really wanted to like this book, in other words – alas, it’s left me a bit meh.

I do like the concept, and I think the drink names and sense of humour that runs through the book are a lot of fun. The obligatory ‘tools and basic instructions’, plus a brief word on different types of spirit and liqueur at the start, and ‘syrups’ at the end, both read clearly and well.

However, the drinks themselves… well, hmm. I think there a half-handful that I could have made now without going and buying a new ingredient or three – and my cocktail cupboard is not sparse, by any means. I had to look up several of the liqueurs mentioned, never having heard of such things before. Cherry heering? Oh, cherry brandy will be fine! Fernet branca, dolin rouge, ancho reyes… oh dear!

I also found the specificity to be annoying, despite the foreword that these were ‘just recommendations’. Nope: give me the basic recipe, and say “And my preference is…”. Otherwise I, the reader, have to do a ton of work to figure out what’s a decent alternative to e.g. “Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask Finish Scotch Whisky.” I mean, really??

Overall, I’m a bit disappointed. I had images of a fun theme party, or at least a few new cocktails to try out. As it is, I’m tempted by a few but largely underawed.

NetGalley eARC: 132 pages
First published: 4th June 2019
Series: none
Read from 19th May – 2nd June 2019

My rating: 5/10

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Best Movie Year Ever – Brian Raftery

best movie year ever cover

“It was New Year’s Eve, and on a private beach resort in Mexico, a handful of couples had gathered to celebrate the end of the century.”

It’s weird when you start being old enough to have lived through periods that now attract a great deal of nostalgia, but the turning of a century is a pretty big deal. In this book, the author attempts to convey a sense of what was going on in the world at that time, and how that impacted the movies that were made.

To be honest, I’m not sure he’s convinced me that 1999 was indeed the ‘best movie year ever’, but it was pretty dang impressive. American Beauty won the Oscars (and the afterword does acknowledge the cringe factor of that and other things, in light of recent scandals), Star Wars got a very long-awaited new chapter, and the world was introduced to bullet time and the Matrix.

It’s fair to say 1999, perhaps inspired by the once-in-a-lifetime feel of the date and the world on the brink of change – possible catastrophic, with the Y2K bug fears – produced more than its fair share of ‘weird’ or groundbreaking movies. Or perhaps the real thing is that such films were embraced by audiences and have survived to critical acclaim.

Themes of the year included a resurgence in teen movies (10 Things I hate About You, American Pie, Cruel Intentions, Election), a bit of nostalgia for the past (Talented Mr Ripley, The Mummy, Man on the Moon, etc), and questioning reality, either directly or the ‘is this it’ feeling, with movies such as The Matrix, Fight Club, Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich, and the Blair Witch Project. The latter played with reality directly, pushing itself as ‘true events’ and keeping the not-dead actors away from the press to save the secret.

It’s amazing to realise that a ploy like that could work, or that UK audiences managed to see The Matrix without massive spoilers, when it opened several months after the US, or that anyone had the joy of the big reveal in the Sixth Sense. The internet was a different, fledgling beast in those days, obviously.

I loved reading about movies, it turns out, and the snippets of back story here were fantastic to a film geek. Stanley Kubrick took the world’s most famous actor (Tom Cruise) out of circulation for almost 2 years – and that impacted huge tranches of the industry. There’s a lot of revealing info about how much the studios like to meddle, and definitely a sense of how disconnected and damaging poorly devised marketing campaigns can be.

And through all this there’s the reminder of what life was like a scant 20 years ago. That a movie like Boys Don’t Cry was *so* shocking, whereas I’d like to think trans rights have come along a great deal, and today we’re more shocked by Lester drooling over a teenager in American Beauty.

Definitely recommended, then, especially for movie buffs (natch!). Be ready for debates about why some movies get whole chapters, and others brief – if any – mention. Austin Powers was released that year, and Dogma, and I could go on.

Now, can we have a series of these books for every other year, too, please?! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th April – 9th May 2019

My rating: 8/10

Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Outer Order Inner Calm – Gretchen Rubin

outer order cover

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since The Happiness Diary, and so her take on the current mania for decluttering – something I’m in need of doing rather a lot of post-move! – was always going to intrigue me.

There’s no overt backlash against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Marie Kondo (indeed, the book is mentioned near the end), rather this is a gentle “Some things work for some people, but what you want is what will make YOU happy.” This is unsurprising: her last book was The Four Tendencies, all about different personality types reacting to things very differently.

There is some good advice to be had in these pages, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed by the presentation. It’s not a narrative, just a collection of snippets and quotes that I felt like I’d read most of it already on her blog. And while the advice is perfectly fine, indeed very good in some instances, the brevity and style just made me feel like this was a low-effort money spinner, which was unexpected.

I’m not sure what else I wanted from the topic. It’s actually good that the subject matter isn’t drawn out just to make a bigger book. And yet… I dunno. Perhaps if anything had felt like more of a useful tip rather than a random musing on organisation?

As a collection of tips and a few motivational quotes, it’s fine. In terms of actually being inspired to go declutter – meh.

Hardback: 208 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 24th-30th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

How I Motivated Myself to Succeed – Shelley Wilson

how i motivated myself to succeed cover

Shelley Wilson previously wrote a book called How I Changed My Life in a Year, in which she set herself 52 challenges and did what it says on the cover. With this new book she tries to look behind the challenges and cover some of the methods she used to make those changes – so, rather than a memoir that may have had some self-help value, this one sets out to be self-help from the get-go.

I’ve not read the first book, which maybe would have helped, although this is meant to be readable as a standalone. And the advice in it is pretty good. The tone is also quite accessible, with a few stories in the ilk of “I’m not perfect, I have such difficulties too, but look – if I can do it so can you” which are fine.

And yet… I dunno. I’d hoped a couple of days thinking about this book would help me formulate my review, but instead I find very little from the read has stuck in my brain other than the author’s obsession with vision boards. I know as I as reading it I nodded a few times, thinking, yup that’d be useful, very sensible (planning, self-care, etc), but… obviously not inspiring enough for me to actually have started with any of the advice!

So. Nice. Good, practical advice. Wouldn’t not recommend, but didn’t quite click for me.

NetGalley eARC: 193 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 2nd February – 6th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

As You Wish – Cary Elwes

as you wish cover

“William Goldman once said about the movie business, ‘Nobody knows anything.'”

Along with many, many other people, The Princess Bride holds a special place in my heart. It’s a sweet, funny, action-packed, generally just lovely movie. It’s one of my go-to films when I need a pick me up. And who better to talk us through some of the behind the scenes, making of stories, than the dashing Westley himself, aka Cary Elwes?

Also known as one of the few Robin Hoods to actually speak in a proper English accent, it’s easy to hear Elwes’ gentle tones narrating the equally gentle tales of how wonderful making this movie was. Of course, he was a young actor near the start of his career back in the mid 1980s (TPB was released in 1987), so there’s also an element of an actor looking back at the ‘role that made him’. To be fair, he’s probably never managed anything living quite up to those highs again (even if I do get a little mental squee every time he pops up in a cameo somewhere!), so there’s a little bittersweetness to it.

There’s nothing shocking in this memoir. Like the movie, it’s a sweet kind of nostalgia, mostly told by Elwes but with regular snippets from many of the other cast members. How beautiful and kind Robin Wright was (and still is, I’m sure!), how funny Mel Smith was, how amazingly Andre the Giant lived.

There are a few background tales that will perhaps make some of the movie more impressive. The trouble it had getting made in the first place (inconceivable!), the astounding amount of training Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) put in to be able to perform – yes, themselves! – that fight scene. And now I will have to go and rewatch it to see if I can notice the moment Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) actually knocks Westley unconscious, or the parts where he’s limping having badly broken his toe messing around.

In fact, making me want to rewatch the movie is another great thing about this book. And since, like all sensible people, I own a copy, it’s definitely a case of “As you wish” 🙂

(one downside: my eBook edition really doesn’t cope with the included photos, even when I opened in on my computer instead of my phone, which is a shame.)

eBook: 272 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: none
Read from 3rd  September 2018 – 16th February 2019

My rating: 8/10