It’s Zombie Week!

ZombieWeekHalloween is one of my favorite holidays. And zombies are one of my favorite monsters! To celebrate the beginning of the Halloween season – yes, October is the start of Halloween season even if Michael’s insists on putting out Halloween merchandise in August – I am starting October off with Zombie Week. Every review I post this week will be of a book that has zombies in it. To kick it off, here is list of my previously published zombie book reviews. Have you reviewed any zombie books? Put a link to your review in the comments!

Countdown by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #0.5)
Feed by Mira Grant (Newflesh Trilogy #1)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #2)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #3)

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland (White Trash Zombie #1)

 

 

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Planner Review: Weird But True Daily Planner: 365 Days to Fill with School, Sports, Friends and Fun! by National Geographic

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It’s back-to-school time! I don’t know about you, but the beginning of the school year is much like the start of the New Year, in that I start the school year with back-to-school resolutions. For example, I resolve to lay my daughter’s clothes night before every school day to prevent arguments over what matches with what in the morning. One of the biggest resolutions my kids and I always have is to be MORE ORGANIZED. To remember homework assignments and after school activities and permission slips. My oldest son in particular could use all the help he can get.

The Weird but True Daily Planner from National Geographic will help my son stay organized and have fun at the same time. A regular, boring planner might get lost in the bottom of his backpack after just a few days. This planner has bright, colorful eye catching graphics. Between that and all the fun stuff packed inside, this planner is one that he won’t forget about and will use daily.

WBT Planner Spreads_Page_3The planner goes all the way through to the end of June. At the start of each month, there is a spot to write monthly goals. Each two-page spread has four days and one weird but true fact on it. Some of the pages also have suggestions for fun activities or writing prompts. The front of the planner has a spot for your child’s daily schedule and the back pages are homework help pages with things like how to write a report or the multiplication tables.WBT Planner Spreads_Page_4

My son and I are both excited about him using this planner to help him to stay more organized throughout the school year. Happy Back-To-School!

 

 

 

(I received a complimentary copy of this planner for review.)

Book Review: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

The Rules Do Not ApplyThe Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: March 14, 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

When Ariel Levy left for a reporting trip to Mongolia in 2012, she was pregnant, married, financially secure, and successful on her own terms. A month later, none of that was true.

Levy picks you up and hurls you through the story of how she built an unconventional life and then watched it fall apart with astonishing speed. Like much of her generation, she was raised to resist traditional rules—about work, about love, and about womanhood.

In this “deeply human and deeply moving” (The New York Times Book Review) memoir, Levy chronicles the adventure and heartbreak of being, in her own words, “a woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.” Her story of resilience becomes an unforgettable portrait of the shifting forces in our culture, of what has changed—and of what is eternal.

Ariel Levy’s memoir is about her relationship with her pregnancy and her relationship with her spouse. She wrote a shorter version of this time in her life as an article for The New Yorker and decided to expand it into a book. I picked up this book because David Sedaris recommended it. Whenever he goes on tour he recommends a book that he thinks his fans should read.

I didn’t find Levy very relatable but then again, I have never been in the situations she has. The level of denial she had about her partner’s alcoholism was astounding to me. And it was hard for me not to blame her just a little for choosing to travel to a third world country while pregnant. My heart still ached for her though. Losing a child is just about the worst thing that can happen to a person. I still liked the book – I don’t need to agree with a person to enjoy learning about them and their life and to sympathize with them. Enjoy doesn’t really sound like the right word since this book was so sad but I’m not sure what word to use instead.

The Rules Do Not Apply is the kind of book that would be good to read when you need a good cry. It’s relatively short so you can read it all at once for a cathartic experience.


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Book Review: The Windfall by Diksha Basu

The WindfallThe Windfall by Diksha Basu
Publisher: Crown
Release Date: June 27, 2017
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

A heartfelt comedy of manners, Diksha Basu’s debut novel unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to “make it” in modern India.
 
For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha’s lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They thought they’d settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.
 
The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters. Hilarious and wise, The Windfall illuminates with warmth and charm the precariousness of social status, the fragility of pride, and, above all, the human drive to build and share a home. Even the rich, it turns out, need to belong somewhere.

Windfall is the story of the Jha’s, who live in East Delhi in India. Mr. Jha has just sold his website for 20 million dollars. The Jha’s are moving out of their middle class neighborhood, where they have lived for decades, to a rich suburb. This turns out to more of a culture shock than either of them could have imagined. Mr. Jha becomes involved in a very intense “keeping up with the Jones’s” battle with his new neighbors, the Chopras. He is frantically trying to learn how to be a “real” rich person. Mrs. Jha, on the other hand, feels almost guilty about becoming wealthy and leaving her friends in the old neighborhood behind. She is reluctant to give up her old ways. For instance, she still take bucket baths, even though the new house has an actual shower.

Ms. Basu writes as if the reader has a basic working knowledge of India and Indian culture. I read quite a bit of Indian literature so I didn’t have a problem understanding anything (with the exception of a bath mug vs. toilet paper. (I found some very interesting YouTube videos about that!) An average reader may have to look up a few words, but nothing that would be consequential to understanding the overall story.

After reading Windfall, I totally get the comparisons to Crazy Rich Asians. The Jha’s aren’t billionaires but they are new money and adjusting to it in a funny and often ostentatious way. The conversations Mr. Jha and Mr. Chopra have in which they try and one-up each other are cringe worthy. Poor Mr. Jha.

I love both books set in India and comedies of manners. Windfall is the perfect combination of the two – making it just the right book for me! If you’re looking for your next summer read, put Windfall on your list.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

Book Review: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment by Angela J. Davis

Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and ImprisonmentPolicing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment by Angela J. Davis
Publisher: Pantheon
Release Date: July 11, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

A comprehensive, readable analysis of the key issues of the Black Lives Matter movement, this thought-provoking and compelling anthology features essays by some of the nation’s most influential and respected criminal justice experts and legal scholars.

Policing the Black Man explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through sentencing.  Essays range from an explication of the historical roots of racism in the criminal justice system to an examination of modern-day police killings of unarmed black men. The contributors discuss and explain racial profiling, the power and discretion of police and prosecutors, the role of implicit bias, the racial impact of police and prosecutorial decisions, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, and the Supreme Court’s failure to provide meaningful remedies for the injustices in the criminal justice system. Policing the Black Man is an enlightening must-read for anyone interested in the critical issues of race and justice in America. 

Policing the Black Man is a detailed guide to how institution racism affects every aspect of the criminal justice system. It’s a compilation of essays, written by different authors, that includes topics such as the police shootings of unarmed black men, the prosecution of both black men in general and in police officers involved in shootings, the grand jury process, and the regular criminal trial sentencing process.

I learned so much from this book. Prior to reading this, I had mostly considered the racial bias of the police force and the judges in criminal trials. I didn’t really know anything about how the grand jury process works. And turns out, no one else does either. It’s highly secret and only the prosecutor and the jury know what happens behind the closed doors of the trial.

The essay on prosecutors was enlightening as well. I didn’t realize how much the prosecutor can affect the outcome of the trial. I figured that it affected how black men were treated as defendants but didn’t consider how the prosecutor affect the process when it’s a police officer on trial. I guess I assumed that the prosecutor always fights wholeheartedly for the government’s side no matter who he’s prosecuting. However, this isn’t always the case because of the close relationship between the prosecutor and the police. The police need prosecutors to prosecute the people they arrest and the prosecutors need the police officers to testify in the criminal trials. Therefore, the prosecutors might be reluctant to upset the police department by sending some of their officers to prison.

I liked the way Policing the Black Man was structured, in that each essay was about a different topic. It was easy to read an essay or two in a sitting without feeling like I was getting information overload. The essays are thoroughly researched with copious notes after each one. This book is a comprehensive look at the institutional racism present in the criminal justice system. I highly, highly recommend it.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

 

Stitch Fix Saturday!

Stitch FixIt’s Stitch Fix time! If you’re not familiar with Stitch Fix and how it works, read this post. The first Stitch Fix box I got this month was actually a total fail. I asked for all summer items and I was not happy with what my stylist chose. It included pants and a jean jacket. I don’t know where she lives but it’s 90-100 degrees for most of the summer here in Missouri! This is where Stitch Fix’s awesome customer service kicked in. I sent them a polite email explaining why I was not going to keep any of the items in my Fix and asked them if they could send me a replacement Fix and waive the $20 styling fee on it so that I wouldn’t be out $20 for not keeping anything from the original Fix. They said no problem! They assigned me a different stylist for my replacement Fix and she is AWESOME. Just look at what she sent:

Liverpool Phillip Straight Leg Trouser (Designed exclusively for Stitch Fix) and Papermoon Shiba Swing Knit Top

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Alice Blue Simona Henley Blouse (Designed exclusively for Stitch Fix) with the Liverpool pants from above.

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Liverpool Reed Bermuda Denim Short and Q&A Caroly Lace Trim Top

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Isn’t everything cute? And just what I wanted. I needed more sleeveless/tank tops to keep me from getting a farmer’s tan sitting at West’s baseball games and walking around outdoor places like the zoo. (Yes, I wear sunscreen but I still end up getting a little color. Just enough to keep me from actually glowing in the dark.) Anyway, I KEPT IT ALL! I was on the fence about the shorts because I have a pair of bermuda denim shorts almost exactly like them. However, because Stitch Fix gives you a 25% discount if you keep all five items, I actually would have lost money if I didn’t keep them. And who couldn’t use an extra pair of shorts? I am just giddy about this Fix. When you checkout, you fill out a feedback form where you can say why you did or didn’t keep something. You can also let them know if you want to keep your stylist, change to a new one or if you don’t care. I made sure to check that I want to have this stylist again. She nailed it!

If you’d like to sign up for Stitch Fix, I would love it if you used my referral link. I’ll get a credit and then when you sign up, you can refer friends and get a credit too! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about Stitch Fix.

Book Review and Author Event: Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: May 30, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences.

Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world. Theft by Finding, the first of two volumes, is the story of how a drug-abusing dropout with a weakness for the International House of Pancakes and a chronic inability to hold down a real job became one of the funniest people on the planet.

Written with a sharp eye and ear for the bizarre, the beautiful, and the uncomfortable, and with a generosity of spirit that even a misanthropic sense of humor can’t fully disguise, Theft By Finding proves that Sedaris is one of our great modern observers. It’s a potent reminder that when you’re as perceptive and curious as Sedaris, there’s no such thing as a boring day.

First, I want to say that Theft by Finding should not be the first work you read by David Sedaris. You need to know at least a little about him and his family to fully appreciate his diaries. Reading the diary of someone you know is usually going to be more interesting than reading the diary of someone you don’t know.

I felt like I was watching him grow as both a writer and a person in reading this diaries. His entries from the 1970s are brief, usually a paragraph or two and about doing drugs or being broke and trying to find work After he becomes a student at the Chicago Art Institute, the entries become longer and more insightful. By the 1990s, his entries are more like actual essays and the most humorous entries of the book.

It was fun reading the diary entries and recognizing the events that would eventually become stories in his books or one of his essays. For instance, he writes about using his Stadium Pal, which became a hilarious story that was published in Esquire and that he read on David Letterman.

Because the entries are short, ranging from just a paragraph to around three pages, this is an easy book to pick up when you just have a short time to read. He writes in the introduction that this book, “Seems like the sort of thing you might dip in and out of, like someone else’s yearbook or a collection of jokes.” I found it to be a great book to take to the pool because I’m interrupted what seems like every two seconds by my kids wanting me to watch some trick they can do in the water. (“Watch me Mommy, watch me. Mommy, WATCH ME!) However, it was interesting enough to me that when I read it at night before bed, I had a hard time putting it down.

I can’t imagine that a fan of David’s wouldn’t love reading this book to gain more insight into his mind and learn more about his life beyond his humorous essays and books. I know I did.

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My local independent bookstore brought David Sedaris in for an author event and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. It was an interesting set-up. He stood outside the bookstore’s front entrance using a PA system with a stack of his books on a table as a podium. The audience brought their own camping chairs and set them up in the parking lot. It was a balmy 90 degrees. I got there two hours early because I was worried about getting a good spot in the parking lot so I was able to snag a spot in the shade. He signs books both before and after his events and since I was there so early, I was near the front of the before line – yay!

He read selected entries from Theft by Finding and then he read some of his diary entries from Volume Two which will cover 2003-2017. As usual, listening to him read his writing made it one-hundred times funnier than it already is. After the reading, he took questions from the audience. I can’t remember what the question was but one of them led to him joking about how his book is number four on the New York Times best-seller list for hard-cover non-fiction and we needed to help him get it to number one. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s, Kevin Hart’s and Al Franken’s books were all ahead of him. He said he could see Neil DeGrasse Tyson being ahead of him but that Hart’s book and Franken’s book weren’t real books because real books don’t have pictures of the authors on the front cover. Then he said that even though Hillbilly Elegy was number five on the list, he still had to say that there was no way that J.D. Vance was a real hillbilly because he went to Yale. I thought that was particularly funny because I also feel like Vance isn’t that much of a hillbilly. (You can read my review of Hillbilly Elegy here.) After his rant, he apologized and says he usually doesn’t say anything bad about people. To which the audience laughed because he writes a lot of negative things about other people – in a humorous way of course.

If you ever get the chance to see David Sedaris live – take it! I think his live performances would be funny even to people who haven’t read any of his books. I’m seeing him again later in the year when he comes to the Kauffman Center and I can’t wait.

David always takes time to chat with every person in line  – which is why he often signs books well into the wee hours. The owner of the bookstore told me one of his signings lasted past two in the morning. I  bought a copy of his book for him to sign but also brought my advance copy with me. He asked me about where I got it and I told him about ChaosIsAFriendofMine. This is how he signed my book:

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He gives himself one star. So humble!

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Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: March 3, 2005
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words – and tired of his safe like at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called “The Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska is a coming of age story about Miles, aka Pudge, who goes away to boarding school for the first time at age sixteen. He makes friends with his roommate, Chip Martin aka The Colonel, Takumi, and Alaska Young, a mysterious, somewhat damaged girl. Miles didn’t have any friends when he went to public school so this is a new experience for him.

The school is divided into two main cliques: the Weekenders, who are the rich kids that can afford to go home on the weekends and everyone else. The Weekenders and the regular kids play horrible pranks on each other.

Miles predictably develops a crush on Alaska. I think the friendship between Miles and Alaska will appeal to most teens. How many love songs are written about a good-hearted boy trying to save an enigmatic, damaged girl? I know when I was that age, I desperately wanted to be that girl but I was just too nerdy to pull it off. I did smoke (I don’t now), like the characters in this book do and like them, I thought it made me cool. That’s the one thing I wish was not in this book. I feel like smoking was glamourized.

Looking for Alaska was the most challenged book of 2015. Watch John Green’s response to this dubious distinction below. Of course, I am against book banning on principle and definitely against it in the case of Looking for Alaska. Like it or not, most teens drink, swear and participate in sexual activity. John Green does not dumb down or simplify the story. It’s both funny and tragic. I highly recommend it to both teenagers and adults.

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Book Review: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians, #3)Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
Publisher: Doubleday
May 23, 2017
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*****This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend.*****

Publisher’s Description:

When Nicholas Young hears that his grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed, he rushes to be by her bedside—but he’s not alone. The entire Shang-Young clan has convened from all corners of the globe to stake claim on their matriarch’s massive fortune. With each family member vying to inherit Tyersall Park—a trophy estate on 64 prime acres in the heart of Singapore—Nicholas’s childhood home turns into a hotbed of speculation and sabotage. As her relatives fight over heirlooms, Astrid Leong is at the center of her own storm, desperately in love with her old sweetheart Charlie Wu, but tormented by her ex-husband—a man hell bent on destroying Astrid’s reputation and relationship. Meanwhile Kitty Pong, married to China’s second richest man, billionaire Jack Bing, still feels second best next to her new step-daughter, famous fashionista Colette Bing. A sweeping novel that takes us from the elegantly appointed mansions of Manila to the secluded private islands in the Sulu Sea, from a kidnapping at Hong Kong’s most elite private school to a surprise marriage proposal at an Indian palace, caught on camera by the telephoto lenses of paparazzi, Kevin Kwan’s hilarious, gloriously wicked new novel reveals the long-buried secrets of Asia’s most privileged families and their rich people problems.

Rich People Problems is the final book in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. I highly recommend reading the first two books, Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend before reading Rich People Problems. I don’t think it will make much sense if you aren’t already familiar with the characters.

Rich People Problems takes place about two years after China Rich Girlfriend left off. Nick’s grandmother is sick and probably close to dying. Nick was the heir apparent to Tyersall Park but he has been estranged from his grandmother since he married Rachel against her wishes. If Su Yi dies who will inherit Tyersall Park now? Nick’s conniving cousin Eddie thinks it should be him. He hasn’t changed a bit over the past two years – he’s still a pretentious snob. Some of what he does and how he acts is funny but sometimes I just wanted to punch him in the face.

Meanwhile, Nick’s mother is after Nick and Rachel to give her a grandchild. If you thought the lengths she went to try and keep them from getting married were over the top, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

We also check in with the Michael/Astrid/Charlie situation. Since getting rich, Michael has continued to become more and more of an asshole. He and Astrid are in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. We learn more about Charlie’s wife Isabelle, who has major problems of her own.

And then there’s Kitty, who has either forgotten or rejected everything her consultant Corrina taught her about fitting in with the old money Asians. Now that she’s married to Jack Bing, one of the richest men in Asia, she can and will behave however she wants.

The life-styles of most everyone in this book are even more outrageously lavish than in the two previous books. But Kwan, who grew up in Singapore has said that the way his characters live is totally based in reality. Regardless, it’s fun living vicariously through these people. I was mostly satisfied with the way Kwan wrapped up this series. My only problems were that Astrid’s ending seemed a little of character for her and Peik Lin’s ending felt rushed.

The book starts off a bit slow but soon returns to the level of humor that China Rich Girlfriend had. (I don’t think Kwan will be able to top Crazy Rich Asians.), including his droll and informative foot-notes. If you’re looking for a light, funny summer read, this is it.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

P.S. The cast list for the Crazy Rich Asians movie is out! (No release date yet.) What do you think? I think they pretty much nailed it. It says that it’s not known what role Ken Jeong will play. He is 100% Eddie! I’ll be disappointed if that’s not who he is. Everyone else looks perfect to me except Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin. Maybe she’ll look more like what I pictured in costume and without the glasses. I can’t wait for this movie!

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Audiobook Review: Nevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin

Nevertheless: A MemoirNevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: April 4, 2017
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

One of the most accomplished and outspoken actors today chronicles the highs and lows of his life in this beautifully written, candid memoir.

Over the past three decades, Alec Baldwin has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most gifted, hilarious, and controversial leading men. From his work in popular movies, including Beetlejuice, Working Girl, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Cooler, and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to his role as Jack Donaghy on Tina Fey’s irreverent series 30 Rock—for which he won two Emmys, three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards—and as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, he’s both a household name and a deeply respected actor.

In Nevertheless, Baldwin transcends his public persona, making public facets of his life he has long kept private. In this honest, affecting memoir, he introduces us to the Long Island child who felt burdened by his family’s financial strains and his parents’ unhappy marriage; the Washington, DC, college student gearing up for a career in politics; the self-named “Love Taxi” who helped friends solve their romantic problems while neglecting his own; the young soap actor learning from giants of the theatre; the addict drawn to drugs and alcohol who struggles with sobriety; the husband and father who acknowledges his failings and battles to overcome them; and the consummate professional for whom the work is everything. Throughout Nevertheless, one constant emerges: the fearlessness that defines and drives Baldwin’s life.

Told with his signature candor, astute observational savvy, and devastating wit, Nevertheless reveals an Alec Baldwin we have never fully seen before.

Alec Baldwin starts his book with his early childhood and ends in the present day, all the way up to the election of the current president. I thought he spent too much time on his childhood. I wanted him to hurry up and get to the good stuff.

Once he finally did, I was greatly rewarded. He included details about his marriage to Kim Bassinger and their divorce, the angry voicemail he left his daughter Ireland, his physical altercations with the paparazzi and more. I loved it. Dishing behind the scenes dirt is the primary reason I read celebrity memoirs. Baldwin is definitely not lacking self-confidence. He apologizes for most of his bad behavior but it’s usually of the, “I’m sorry but…”variety of apology.

Baldwin pulls no punches when talking about Hollywood insiders and fellow celebrities. I have a feeling he burned a lot of bridges with this book and couldn’t care less. One example is when he talks about being forced out of The Hunt for Red October and replaced with Harrison Ford. “One thing [Ford] does not have is an Oscar, which must frustrate, if not burden him, after his long career…Ford is “a little man, short, scrawny, and wiry, whose soft voice sounds as if it’s coming from behind a door.” Other times, he is less subtle, calling people assholes and the like outright. I listened to the audiobook, mostly in the car, so unfortunately I didn’t write down anymore examples. I wish I would have because they were great.

Baldwin narrates the audiobook himself and is fantastic. His velvety voice was made for voiceovers. I was surprised that he is also really good at doing impressions. He did the voices for all of the actors he quoted and they all sounded just like whichever celebrity it was.

I recommend Nevertheless to anyone who loves memoirs of famous people like I do. It is highly satisfying and you will not be disappointed.