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

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Flip the Single Switch – Bonny Albo

flip the single switch cover

I requested this book from NetGalley on something of a whim, thinking it was vaguely appropriate with Valentine’s day approaching, and hey – who knows, right? 😉

I’m almost certainly not the target audience for this. Yes, I’m single, but pretty happy to be so, for the time being at least. I think this was aimed more at people who aren’t happy alone but who have been choosing disappointing possible mates. I’m not sure the advice works well for those of us more likely to be accused of being too picky (hah).

Interestingly, I think some of the process could be quite valid for other situations in life. If I take a step back and look at this as a book about building confidence and breaking bad habits in general, there are useful little nuggets. However, the focus on dating and particularly the last chapter (sit in a coffee shop and filter out anyone who looks appealing; your soulmate is in the leftovers? Hmm) left me a little more baffled.

On the plus side, this is kept nicely short so very little unnecessary waffle. If you are trying to break a bad dating habit, this might just work. Personally, I’m thinking of seeing if I can apply some of the techniques to snacking, vegging in front of the laptop, or generally boosting my life confidence.

NetGalley eARC: 50 pages / 6 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 14th-17th February 2019

My rating: 6/10

A Dangle A Day – Angela Porter

a dangle a day cover

“A dangle is a beautiful string of charms you can use to decorate all kinds of things, including alphabets, shapes, borders, illustrations, quotations, and anything else you can think of.”

I got into zentangling a while back – sort of doodling with rules – and I’ve been meaning to get back into it for ages. I’ve also taking to Bullet Journalling in a big way, finding it a fab mix of my needs to be organised and a bit creative. So when I spotted A Dangle A Day on NetGalley, it looked just my thing – and I was right!

The first section is on lettering. This has always appealed to me, and there are plenty of step-by-step examples – one for each letter and number, each in a different kind of style to mix and match – which will be very handy when I’m stuck for inspiration.

The second section is on seasons. Doodles and ‘dangles’ can look quite simple, but coming up with ideas is half the battle. The author took that work out of the equation for me, providing dozens of examples of just the kinds of seasonally-appropriate little doodles I was after, be that holly or bells for Christmas, hearts and flowers, or more abstract designs, plus colour schemes that match the seasons.

The actual ‘dangle’ part of the title refers to stringing doodles together in streamer-like chains, and while I wasn’t too sure about that part to begin with, the description of using them as BuJo section breaks was a lightbulb moment. They were also perfect for decorating my Christmas card envelopes.

Dangles and zentangling and doodling are lovely, relaxing and just ‘nice’ activities that I recommend wholeheartedly, and this book is a fantastic resource for inspiration. There are sections after each example for you to have your own go, if you have the physical book, but even if not – get the pens out, and have a play about. It’s great for the soul 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 147 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 9th February 2019

My rating: 9/10

Brain Chatter Declutters – Leonid Altshuler

brain chatter declutters cover

“All I know today about different meditation techniques I learned in Nepal, where years ago I spent some time living in a monastery where I had a teacher, Master Bishal.”

As stated in an earlier post, I’ve been practising meditating for several years now, but I always like reading books that can perhaps bring a fresh insight into the whole thing, or just remind me why I enjoy it. This is not that book.

It starts off in a very forced, chatty style that instantly got on my nerves. The author was so desperate to attend a retreat to ‘fix’ himself, he then gets there and doesn’t even give it a chance before he’s announcing it as a waste of time – I smell “Let’s pretend to raise doubts my audience might have!” Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a magic cure, for the author and then in the second part for his ‘case study’ whose tale is told in exactly the same irritating tone.

All of which would be fine, if not for the quasi-medical tone. “It is well known” and “several studies have shown” is not actual scientific research, even if backed up by a handful of random links at the end. Either do science properly, or – even if what is being said is true – it comes across as wishy washy faux pseudo-science.

Mercifully short, this still manages to repeat a whole block of information – despite the author also giving over a few paragraphs on why he’s keeping the book so short – as if putting it in twice somehow legitimises the medical premise.

The thing is, the information could well be true. The author might indeed be a doctor. And there’s nothing new or controversial in claiming that meditation can help with all sorts of health issues – in fact, the link between mindfulness and stress really is ‘well-known’ and scientifically backed. The link to ‘metabolic syndrome’ and insulin resistance might well be too, but the way this book is written makes it all feel very flaky and doubtable, or that to really benefit you, too, would have to go spend months at an exotic retreat.

Not recommended, although meditation is well worth doing regardless of such books.

NetGalley eARC: 45 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th-27th January 2019

My rating: 3/10

You Are Not Your Thoughts – Frances Trussell

you are not your thoughts cover

“There’s a quiet revolution going on, people everywhere are beginning to wake up from the daydream of their thoughts.”

I’ve been meditating, to a certain extent, for several years now, but there’s always space for another refresher on some of the whys and wherefores. Step forward You Are Not Your Thoughts.

I don’t think there was anything ‘new’ for me in this book, but it was very well put together, reminding me why I meditate and some of the different approaches I could think about revisiting (my practice has probably fallen into a rut). For newcomers to mindfulness and meditation, everything is laid out very straightforwardly to get you started, and the quick introduction to different forms will let you figure out if one type of meditation suits you better.

I loved the tone of the writing. Mindfulness books can so often either go towards total ‘mystical’ airy-fairy-ness, or try too hard to go the other way and end up being almost insultingly dumbed down in a chatty, pop-culture “Oh, it’s just so cool, yah?”. YANYT straddles the line perfectly, leaning a little towards the more spiritual but in a very accessible, down to earth fashion.

This is definitely one of the better meditation books I’ve read. I used my bus journey home from work to read it, slowly, and I can genuinely tell you that I’ve never found traffic jams so relaxing!

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 20th December – 20th January 2018

My rating: 8/10

Iain M Banks – Paul Kincaid

Iain Banks – with or without the ‘M’ initial to separate his sci-fi – is one of my favourite authors. Crow Road has the best opening line ever (“It was the day my grandmother exploded” – perhaps influencing my habit of collecting opening lines in fiction reviews here); Player of Games remains one of my favourite books of all time, and it was fascinating to get another viewpoint on it and the rest of the collection.

And here it is: a discussion of the man’s work, looking at themes and motifs in the novels, alongside briefer discussion about the political landscape and literary scene at times of writing, with the overall aim of showing the importance Banks had in the revitalisation of the sci-fi genre. Various interviews with Banks are used to add depth to the discussion, including a long reprint at the end.

Although Paul Kincaid mentions all of Banks’ books, the dissection-level is primarily aimed at the sci-fi – the ‘M’ – books. Given that these are sometimes multi-layered affairs, playing with structure and time lines, there were a few points of this book that had me going “Oh!” – and for that alone, I thank it. Perhaps not enough of those, as given the quantity of work to cover and fairly short length of this book, most are kept more to the overview plus a few random observations.

Also worth noting: this is a book for people who have already read Iain Banks’ work. There are a few of the later tomes that I am still saving/savouring (or, eking out so I don’t finish altogether!), and I did have to skip or at least skim the sections on those to avoid spoilers – obvious, given this is a book discussing those books, including the endings!

It was really great to read someone taking a body of work I love and looking at it with such care and attention. However, I’m not entirely sure about the tone: on the one hand, it’s very readable, but it tries to stay quasi-scholarly, whereas I think a bit more personal, heartfelt “I love these books!” (except for the ones he didn’t – no shying away from some being less than brilliant, if still always intriguing!) might have connected with the reader a little more. On the other, perhaps going a little more academic would have tightened the structure, maybe having topic sections instead of just a book-by-book approach with surrounding discussions feeling a little meandering.

Overall, this book is a great look at some fantastic works, and if nothing else has left me desperate to re-read most if not all of Iain Banks work – and quite possibly refer back to what was written here about it.

NetGalley eARC: 208 pages
First published: 2017
Series: Modern Masters of Science Fiction
Read from 18th June – 29th July 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

Indite: a notebook crafted for writers – Adam Simone, Helen Savore

I love notebooks. I mean – LOVE notebooks. I have a huge stash and best intentions to use some before I buy any more, but that would go out of the window in a heartbeat for a physical copy of Indite.

The word means ‘write or compose’, in case you’re wondering, which is exactly what this book is for: custom made for writers, this “notebook with a purpose” is intended to be a “work in progress guide and historical record for your work’s progress”.

It’s split into three sections: craft, scratch, and productivity.

‘Craft’ is about building the foundations of your novel (if it’s a novel you’re planning; I’ll assume!), the plot and characters and so forth. You’re prompted to write your ‘Big Idea’ (a few examples are given, e.g. “a self-aware dog”), ‘Pitch’ (one sentence – go!), and explore your ‘what’ – what is the unknown you’re exploring in your story? What kind of structure and/or device are you using – here’s some blank space to ‘brainstorm’.

At first I thought putting these upfront was a little too soon – especially for the pitch – but the end of the section does have sections for query, hook, basic info etc – so actually I see why the split. You might prefer to fill these sections in later, but actually it’s really useful to have an idea – and written down, not just in your head – of what you intend the story to be. Referring back to this when you get a bit lost in the ‘saggy middle’ is invaluable! Besides, you can always change it later, right?!

Next comes several blank form pages for character sheets and ‘interview’ prompts, and settings sheets – all excellent things to think about, and have as a reference for later. There’s also a blank graph to ‘visualise momentum’ – i.e. plot narrative flow against pacing, looking for anyplace your story drags. To be honest, I felt this page needed a lot more explanation – it’s nice to have it there, but I would have to go look up how to make use out of it.

The middle section (‘Scratch’) is largely a collection of blank pages, several lined and then several dotted. A few of these have prompts, e.g. “Your character opens a door and…”, “Write a story in 100 words or less including these four words…”, “Draw a map that would be relevant to your character”, etc.

The final ‘Productivity’ section includes some writing session logs, space for a to-do list, and asks you to answer some important questions, e.g.: why are you working on this project? What parts of your craft do you want to improve? I really like this: it’s not just plotting or examining your characters, it’s about YOU, the writer, too. I have a feeling reading the answers to these would be highly motivational once the initial shiny glamour has worn off, and the going gets tougher.

I was initially a bit cynical about this book, given it’s 90% white space, really. I’d also have to suggest that it really doesn’t work so well in eBook/electronic format. However, even just reading through (rather than filling it in), I completely came around to the idea of having this kind of log for a writing project. It asks some really great questions, reminds you of several important areas to consider for a project, and generally just felt kind of exciting – a blank map to be filled out, as you start on your writer’s journey!

Very glad I got to have a look, thanks to NetGalley, and looking forward to getting my hands on a physical copy.

NetGalley eARC: ~206 pages
First published: 2017 (expected in May)
Series: Notebooks with a Purpose (www.atomandink.com)
Read from 3rd-10th February 2017

My rating: 8/10