Book Review: Not My Father’s Son – By Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son_Alan Cumming

The blurb:

“Dark painful memories can be put away to be forgotten. Until one day they all flood back in horrible detail. 

When television producers approached Alan Cumming to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show, he hoped to solve the mystery of his mental grandfather’s disappearance that had long cast a shadow over his family. But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan. 

Alan grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan’s father whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade when he reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to the very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan’s life forever. 

With a bald humour, wit and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as the celebrated actor of film, television and stage. At times suspenseful, at times clearly moving, but always incredibly brave and honest. Not My Father’s Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside. 

Why did I choose to listen to this book?

I watched Cumming’s interview in Philadelphia on Livestream a while ago. I was curious to find out his route to acting was more than just an act of utter determination but a better way of life than the one he had. During the interview he explained the title’s origins of his autobiography, which I will leave for you to find out about if you haven’t read or listened to it. What happened between Alan and his father is not something I would wish on anyone, but it still shocked me how a father could treat his sons like this. Mental illness or no mental illness.

What do I think about this book?

Firstly, I have a new found respect for Alan Cumming. It was so shocking but really moving account of living with someone like Cumming’s father. But read this book and admire what a life Alan has created for himself and look how he has proved his abilities, isn’t that endearing?

Secondly, this book might not have happened or it might have taken a longer period of time to write, had it not been for the show Who Do You Think You Are? in Blighty. It’s quite the measure of a man/woman who are awkwardly thrown dodgeballs whether they are expected or not, it’s another to successfully hold yourself with dignity throughout the whole thing. Alan does this with a smile on his face and with the full support of the rest of his supportive family behind him.

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Book Review: Bossypants – By Tina Fey

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The blurb:

“Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. 

TINA FEY is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.” 

Why did I choose to listen to this book?

Firstly, I have no idea.

Secondly, I found it on YouTube (of all places) when I was listening to Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. As soon as I saw it I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It was too tempting not to listen to it.

Thirdly, my dog smacked me so hard in the nose with her head that it made me cry sad tears like a baby, and so I knew Tina Fey would cheer me up. At the very least she’d probably make me laugh so hard I’d forget crying about my throbbing nose and cry laughing tears.

What do I think about this book?

Firstly, I still have no idea.

Secondly, the imagery that Fey uses is quirky and unique. This is an attractive quality in a book, so I love it. It also reminds me that I’m not alone in how I think. Although since Fey surrounds herself with comedians, it begs the question of the sorts I happen to surround myself with. The answer to that, is that they are usually the odd ones out. And weird. Very weird. But it has been scientifically proven that weird is good and that when we find weird people we should latch onto them and never let go. Tina Fey and the people she meets are weird.

Thirdly, there’s this thing I’d like to clear up. Critics seem to think that the British and the American sense of humour are two very different things. Having listened and read along to the audiobook and the pdf, I’ve come to the conclusion that it very rarely is. We have a lot of american tv shows on telly these days and believe it or not they are quite popular because they are quite funny. There are even repeats of ‘Fraiser’, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, ‘Scrubs’ and even ‘Friends’ for goodness sake. The only difference is that our American counterparts like to point out is that we just sound sexier because of our accent (of which there are many). There are even points in ‘Bossypants’ that Tina Fey exploits using the british accent which she masters with great success. I didn’t realise she could make us sound so funny.

Perhaps we can be as funny as Tina Fey, possibly as sexy depend on where you go and who you meet in the UK. But at the end of the day we can only be British in the same way that Tina Fey is Tina Fey.

To conclude, why is it that every time I want to Google ‘Tina Fey’, I accidentally type ‘Tiny Feye’? What even is a ‘Tiny Feye’ anyway?

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Book Review: My Family And Other Animals – By Clare Balding

My Animals and Other Family_Clare Balding

The blurb:

“Candy was my mother’s boxer and the pecking order was clear. In terms of affection and attention, Candy came first and anyone else, new baby included, came second. I adored her and she responded with an immediate, unquestioning sense of duty. She allowed herself to become a real-life baby walker as I used her to climb to my feet, wobbling on my plump little legs as she pulled me gently forward. 

It was a comfort that Candy was so protective. You see, I was a disappointment from the minute I popped out and there’s not a thing I could do about it. 

‘Oh,’ said my grandmother, it’s a girl. Never mind, you’ll just have to keep trying.'”

Why did I choose to listen to this book?

Firstly, from a personal perspective I knew just how important animals are in our lives regardless of age. I had known about her love of animals since she had been a well-known horse racer, but didn’t quite realise just how many animals she had had in her life.

Secondly, reading this was like entering into new territory for me as I’m not keen on sports autobiographies. Balding has done so much more than just sport, she’s a journalist and tv and radio presenter. From the tv shows I’ve seen her on, I’ve more or less assumed that she would be as funny as she is presenting as she would be in her autobiography.

What do I think about this book?

Firstly, it was better than I expected. It was far side-splittingly funny and far less stuck up than I thought it would be. I never expected to find out that Balding was a mischevious child and found herself in trouble a fair few times, as on telly she seems rather sensible. Looks can be decieving and a tv show can be edited to iron out anything that crosses the line and becomes too cheeky. Typically, she blamed most of the trouble she got into on her younger brother. I’ve been in this position involving my brother (4 years older), so it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who is subjected to this sibling-inflicted torture.

Secondly, and more importantly was Balding’s connection to the animals that she lived with and the relationships she created with them. She even called them her therapists. She looked after them and found consolation from them, and they in turn did the same for her. This only makes the book even more heartwarming.

To conclude, if you really love horses, dogs and british humour then this is the book for you. It comes highly recommended.

 

 

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Book Review: MI6: Life And Death In The British Secret Service – By Gordon Corera

   
The blurb: 

“The story of MI6 is the story of the human fcator that lies at the heart of spying. From shadowy work in the bars of post-war Vienna to recent high-tech missions in Iraq and Libya, secret agents are forced to play a bewildering variety of roles: as psychiatrists, confidants and interrogators. From the spymaster in London and the agents they run their elusive enemies, relationships are what drive espionage. These thrilling and often moving stories illustrate the dangers and moral ambiguities that come with working for British intelligence and reveal how the fictional worlds of Bond and le Carre have been drawn from reality and have in turn shaped the real world of spies. 

Grand dramas such as the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the September 11th attacks provide the backdrop for these stories of the men and women who have spied, lied and in some cases died in the service of the state.” 

Why did I choose to read this book? 

Firstly, the general idea of spies has always intrigued me in the same way they intrigue others. I wanted to know more about spies and the adventures that MI6 seem to have more of than their domestic counterparts. 

Secondly, I’m naturally quite an inquisitive person.

What do I think about this book? 

Firstly, it’s quite a dense read. The honest answer is as you near the end, the book starts growing more and more pages and it gets slower and slower to finish. You find that most chapters almost are like the Holmes and Watson equivalent of spy short stories. You can read the chapters episodically or read it from start to finish, yet it still maintains it’s non-fiction historical book quality.

Secondly, I’ve always had a fascination and love for history and its quirky, remarkable and sometimes downright dangerous. There are those like Daphne Park, who is both an outlier and revolutionary in how espionage works and develops in her chosen industry. Although discretion is still number one for obvious reasons, I can’t help but think of what it would have been like to be in the company of Park’s or others like her. Just to have the role and recognition must have taken a lot of stubborness to get on in the workplace despite others holding her back because of her gender. The women in such positions that Park had and higher up, might not have been given the opportunity for such a job had the likes of Park not achieved what she had. 

To conclude, although most of this work and the responsibility of this work remains at the door of such achievers who must remain anonymous, I have a new found respect for them and for those who endanger themselves and others to protect Queen and country. 

Book Review: There’s Something I’ve Been Dying To Tell You – By Lynda Bellingham 


The Blurb:

“The brave story from a much missed star who has brought comfort to millions. 

Lynda Bellingham was a tremendously gifted storyteller with a rich collection of tales of love, loss and laughter and this memoir brings her kind heart, courage and emotion to the page in vivid detail.

There’s Something I’ve Been Dying To Tell You is a brave and brutally honest memoir about Lynda’s own battle with cancer, written in what turned out to be her final months. Her story is an affecting and at times heart-breaking one but it is so often laugh-out-loud too and ultimately the way Lynda told her life story serves as a great inspiration to us all. 

This edition includes a brand new chapter written by Lynda’s husband Michael about his love for her, her love of life, and her glorious final send-off.” 

Why did I choose to read this book?

Firstly, I had watched her on Calendar Girls (the movie) and thought she was incredible and hilarious. I watched her on a well-known British lunchtime chat show called Loose Women (the American equivalent is The View) and thought she was quite feisty. She frequently said things which were straight to the point, regardless of whether people wanted to hear it or not.

Secondly, I genuinely thought the book would be a combination of the above when I bought it. Also I wanted to find out what life is like from the perspective those who are suffering with the disease, so I could understand how to better accomodate their needs.

What do I think of this book?

Firstly, this book is a really quick read. If you’re interested in reading a book that is quite conversational, over the top in the way that it is written, and full of details about her charity committments involving the British Royal Family then this is the book for you. I’ll be openly honest and tell you that it wasn’t my cup of tea. However, having said that, it is important to remember that those who have suffered from chemo-brain aren’t likely to think logically or systematically when it comes to thinking or writing. Lots of tea and sympathy are required for getting through this book.

Secondly, there are some really quite funny bits, for example, the name of her cancer treatment is also what Bellingham christens her cancer. I would write it here but my blog might get reported for offensive language and might get taken down, but if you buy the book you’ll find out.

To conclude, Bellingham lays her last few months bare, even the parts you might not ever expect to read in a memoir.

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Book Review: His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra – By Kitty Kelley


The blurb:

“Frank Sinatra has dominated the entertainment industry for more than fifty years. Even now, he continues to excite interest in his music, his women, his politics, and – most of all – his Mafia connections. 

Kitty Kelley, a celebrated investigative journalist, spent years researching her subject – interviewing hundreds of people, gaining access to never-before-published government documents, including Mafia-related material. 

Here for the first time ever, is the story of the real Frank Sinatra.”

Why did I choose to read this book?

Firstly, my parents had it on their bookshelf and I couldn’t believe they had bought a copy about him. My parents are quite liberal minded so I thought it was quite odd for them to own a copy since they weren’t fans of Sinatra’s either.

Secondly, I had heard Sinatra’s name bounded about but never really knew much about him.

What do I think about this book?

The best and worst parts of this book are quite venomous in equal measure. For someone like Sinatra and all of his misogyny, his cuddling up to politians, his ego-fuelled desire to be the best singer on the planet and have millions of girls swooning at every show, and his obvious mafia links, it is easy to paint him one-sided as a stereotypical villain. What most have to remember is that everyone isn’t one-sided. However, the above-mentionned are probably some of the most attractive qualities to a reader when they pick up this book because they want an exciting read. I understand why it could be, but for me it is venomous from start to finish and I doubted myself as to why I first picked it up to start reading it. My dad once read the first hundred pages and had to put it down because he thought it was so vile.

To conclude, I think Sinatra is a bit like Marmite: you either love him or loathe him.

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Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird – By Harper Lee

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The blurb:

“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of confidence that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird  became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into ten languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.”

Why did I choose to read this book?

Firstly, my mates kept banging on and on and on about it. They said it was their favourite book they had ever read and that it made them cry tears by the bucket-load. I’m so glad they did tell me about it because now it is one of my all-time favourite books (this is coming from someone who comes from a family where favouritism is banned).

Secondly, after her death nearly a week ago, what better way to celebrate Harper Lee’s life than to carry on the conversation her book started.

What do I think about this book?

The message is simple. It is a love story. It is also a book on how to be a good human being through the eyes of a mature 5 to 8 year old girl. This book’s relevance is just as clear today as it was in 1960 when it was first published. It can happen anywhere and not just about the civil rights movement. These days you could see it as a book about any form of rights’ movement taking place anywhere and everywhere all over the globe.

My favourite bit in the book if I had to pick one is in Chapter 3 (p.39), and believe it or not has become the number one rule I’ve chosen to live by for the rest of my life:

“‘First of all’ he said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You’ll never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-‘

‘Sir?’

‘-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'”

Cheers Ms Lee, for showing millions how to be better humans through the medium of literature.

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