Tag Archives: short story collections

Uncommon Type Book Review

A few months ago, my husband and I took a trip to Portland, OR.  It was a book lover’s/coffee lover’s/food lover’s/nature lover’s dream come true! We stayed in a little Air B & B apartment with a wonderful couple who filled us in on all the must-see things in Portland…one of which was going to Powell’s Book Store.

I had heard of Powell’s before…it was described as “a big Barnes & Nobel”…which is easy to imagine.  But “big” isn’t really a big enough word for how large this bookstore is…for a bibliophile, it’s near impossible to spend less than an hour in that store.  The shelves are stacked up to the ceiling with books…and the store itself is divided into several rooms, each filled – I mean FILLED – with books, gifts, and more. I was in trouble.

Since we flew into Portland with just one suitcase (#pros), I didn’t want to leave with a butt-ton of books that would weigh our luggage down…so I told myself I would buy one book.  Just one.  One lonely, little book from the City of Books.  And I stuck to it!

My one and only purchase at Powell’s Bookstore was a signed copy of Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by the adorable Tom Hanks.  The book had just come out, so I hadn’t heard much about it…but how could you go wrong with Tom Hanks?

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Much like Tom himself, these stories didn’t possess any flair or flash…they didn’t promise to be anything other than what they were – small glimpses into the lives of American people.  What ties all these stories together is the appearance of a typewriter – sometimes the main character in the story, other times just an object on a desk.

I hate to say that I struggled a bit through some of these stories…not in a bad way, just in a nothing-really-exciting-is-happening-and-I’m-getting-a-little-bored kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy this book and I love Tom Hanks as an actor and as a person, but I guess this book just didn’t live up to the hype I selfishly created for it.

Three stories in this collection really stood out to me above the others. One, titled “The Past is Important to Us”, tells the story of a man who travels back in time to the 1939 World’s Fair, drawn by a young woman in a green dress (slightly similar, yet more disturbing, than the film, Somewhere in Time). Another titled “These are the Meditations of My Heart” talks about how a young girl copes with her breakup by finding a bit of solstice in an old vintage typewriter. Finally the third story, “Welcome to Mars” is about a boy discovering his father’s infidelity. I found it so honest and true that it might just be my favorite one in the collection.

Was this my favorite collection of short stories ever? No. It didn’t surprise me or shock me or leave me wondering about a hanging ending; however, it did entertain. The stories in Uncommon Type were true and honest, albeit normal. They were about everyday people doing everyday things. Some stories are better than others, some stories are funnier than others, but just like Toy Story, You’ve Got Mail, or Sleepless in Seattle, it will most likely leave you loving Tom Hanks all the more.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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A Sand County Almanac Book Review

Sand_County_AlmanacA few weeks ago, I did a book review for My Ideal Bookshelf, a fabulous coffee table book filled with book recommendations from today’s most popular writers, musicians, and artists. I got a ton of amazing book recommendations from that publication, A Sand County Almanac being one of them.

Recommended by chef Dan Barber, A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America’s relationship to the land.

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With amazing illustrations scattered throughout the book, A Sand County Almanac takes readers on a journey through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere…giving readers a first-glance look at what happens in the sky, under the brush, and in our own backyards.

IMGP3510Beginning with a section documenting the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside and including other informal pieces author Aldo Leopold wrote over a 40-year period, this beautifully-written book makes you feel like you’re right there with Leopold, sitting on his porch, watching the world go about its business right in front of you.

Though it was written nearly 70 years ago, many of the themes in A Sand County Almanac remain the same today. A love, understanding, and appreciation of nature is at its heart and readers are sure to walk away feeling a deeper appreciation for everything the world has to offer, from the humble goose to the glorious prairies of the golden plains.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Corn Maiden Book Review

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I have to admit, when I heard about Joyce Carol Oates’s book, The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares: Novellas and Stories of Unspeakable Dread, I couldn’t wait to jump in.  I’m a sucker for stories that tingle the back of your spine, and with her reputation preceding her, I figured Miss Oates would deliver, and then some.

However, I was somewhat disappointed with The Corn Maiden.  The seven stories that are featured in this collection are anything but “unspeakable dread”.  I wouldn’t even classify them as nightmares.  A few are unnerving, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen in  Law and Order: SVU.    

Arranged in no particular order, the stories in The Corn Maiden are told from different perspectives and each contain different characters of different ages in different times in their life.

“The Corn Maiden” is perhaps the best of the stories in this collection.  It’s a nail-biting tale of a little girl who is kidnapped by her peer and raised to become a human sacrifice.  Perhaps the scariest of the stories in this collection is the last one, “A Hole in the Head”.  A short tale about a botched medical procedure, “A Hole in the Head” is gruesome and uncomfortable to read…and it will defiantly make you think twice about cosmetic surgery.

If you’re looking for blood and guts, monsters and vampires, look elsewhere.  The stories in The Corn Maiden are psychological in nature, toying with human suffering and the nightmares of the disturbed mind.  From human sacrifices to Botox gone wrong, these short stories are only scary in that they could happen in real life…and may have already.

However, despite the fact that I was disappointed that my expectations of the book weren’t true, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading the stories in The Corn Maiden.  They all captured my interest and I easily read the entire book in 2-3 days.  Each story did have me anxious to reach the end…to find out the outcome for these unfortunate and disturbed people, but often I felt the ending of the stories a bit of a let down.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Lost in Austen Book Review

Your name:  Elizabeth Bennet.  Your mission:  to increase your chances of marrying well and improve your small family fortune.  Equipped with the devices that make every Jane Austen heroine strong and loveable (sharp wit, natural good sense, beauty, and elegance), you embark on a mission filled with decisions and trivia, all leading to your ultimate romantic and financial fate.  Throughout your journey, you gain and lose points, build up connections, and create a list of fine accomplishments…as well as a much larger list of failings.

And so begins Lost in Austen, a fabulous “choose your own adventure” style book through the novels of Jane Austen.  Filled with hilarious scenarios, comical illustrations, and true Austen wit and charm, this wonderful read lets you decide whether Elizabeth (you) ends up with Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickam…or maybe another male figure in one of Austen’s other novels.  You decide what paths to walk, who to approach at parties, and what do to about sick sisters.  All of your decisions result in you either losing or gaining points, connections, accomplishments, or failings.  For the true fans of Austen’s wonderful books, this read is an absolute joy.

For those who are interested, here’s how my adventure turned out!

I started with 200 Intelligence Points which quickly diminished to 30.  Let’s just say I decided not to let Mr. Darcy get away with anything…and I paid for it!  Luckily my pride gained me more confidence points.  I started with 200 and ended with 230, so that’s not bad!  As for my fortune, I started with 50 and ended with 60, so not much of an improvement…I guess that’s why I have such strong confidence 😉

Throughout my travels, I gained two superior connections—Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Wickam—and didn’t manage to get any inferior connections, so that’s good.

My list of accomplishments included Fluent in French, ability to do screen covering, dancing the Boulanger, and being highly observant.  My much longer list of failings included being resentful, a love of walking in bad weather, no style, taste, or beauty, incredibly noisy, blind partiality, willfully prejudice (no surprise according to my point score!), and poorly timed liveliness.  Ugh…sigh.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Palo Alto Book Review

When I heard that James Franco was writing a book of short stories, I was super excited to read it.  First of all, I think he’s a brilliant actor with a wide range of abilities…so I figured his writing must be similar…weird, yet strangely entertaining.  The last thing I was expecting from this book was a trip back to Creative Writing 101.

Palo Alto:  Stories depicts the confused experiences of teenagers in Palo Alto, California.  The characters are often driven to violent ends because of a lack of self-esteem or self-worth.  Infatuations, drunkenness, boredom, and sexual frustration are themes in his collection, highlighting the major theme that growing up is stressful and painful.  While I wasn’t moved or impressed by many of the stories, I will say that Franco’s attention to character voice was fantastic.  Every story read as if a teenager actually wrote it, complete with the jargon and slang of middle school life.

I was perhaps most frustrated with the lack of resolution in the series of stories.  Time after time these characters perform inhumane acts of violence and greed, but never learn anything from their mistakes.  Holden Caulfield kept wandering in and out of my mind as I made my way through the collection as Franco’s “muse” for Palo Alto.  His frustration with life, love, and acceptance in Catcher in the Rye are mirrored in many of Franco’s characters.

If I had to pick one story in the collection, I’d recommend “Tar Baby”.  I thought it was the most creative and engrossing of all of Franco’s works.  Alone this story shows what a great writer Franco can be…if only he wrote outside of the lines a little bit more.

NEXT WEEK:  Death.  It doesn’t have to be boring.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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When You Are Engulfed in Flames Book Review

Death is a funny subject.  It can start conversations and end them.  It can make people uncomfortable and can cause fear in even the strongest of hearts.  It’s inevitable…the one fate we all have in common.  Ironically enough, for David Sedaris anyway, death is just the motivation he needs to start living.

In this collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames,  Sedaris discusses everything from his fascination with dead bodies, to moving to Japan to quit smoking…from a crude taxi driver to how his boyfriend, Hugh, was knighted “Sir Lance-a-lot”.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, you’ll find yourself wanting nothing more than to spend an evening with Sedaris and his wack-job family (yes, he’s the brother to the one and only Amy Sedaris, who makes a few appearances in these essays).

When You Are Engulfed in Flames is essentially an ode to Sedaris’s midlife crisis.  As he contemplates death and dying, the main theme of this collection begins to emerge:  how to quit smoking.  In his final essay, “The Smoking Section”, we journey with Sedaris and Hugh to Tokyo, Japan.  Set up as various diary entries, “The Smoking Section” is laugh out loud funny.  The cultural differences between east and west almost seem too stereotypical to be true.  The customs and traditions of the Japanese lifestyle both interest and scare Sedaris…and his various run-ins with electric toilets, poopy hands, and abrasive barbers make his journey all the more enjoyable…for us, anyway.

Ultimately, death always wins—regardless of how it claims a life.  “I never truly thought that I would die the way my mother did [lung cancer], but now I really, really don’t think it,” he says, after three weeks of not smoking.  “I’m middle-aged, and, for the first time in 30 years, I feel invincible.”  Thank goodness for that, both for his sake and his readers’.

NEXT WEEK:  Cooking got you down?  Tired of the same ol’, same ol’?  Why not try an aspic on for size?  Or maybe some calves’ brains?  The French may be fashionable, but their food…well, that’s another story.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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American Indian Myths and Legends Book Review

Stories and legends often represent the heart and soul of a culture.  They tell tale of creation of life, the supernatural, higher beings, and even explain such miniscule things as why the crow is black and why a beaver’s tale is flat.

Perhaps the greatest storytelling culture is that of the American Indian…a culture so committed and dedicated to oral history, myths, and legends.  In Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz’s colorful collection, American Indian Myths and Legends, nearly 200 stories help give reason to creation, life and death, spirits, love, human and animal relations, and thoughts on war and warrior code.  People familiar with traditional Native American stories might recognize some of these stories, and will definitely remember familiar faces like Iktome, Glooskap, and the ever so clever Coyote.

As is the case with most myths and legends, these stories are meant to teach a lesson; therefore, many of the tales in this collection deal with more adult themes, such as sexual intercourse, rape, incest, and murder.  While those tales are few and far between, the remainder of the book is filled with comical and meaningful tales meant to teach children and adults how to be good people.  Even those with no knowledge of the Native American culture will find it easy to take something away from one, if not all, of these stories.  You may even recognize themes from your own cultural history, such as mass floods, mystical saviors, and the creation of man and beast.

American Indian Myths and Legends is a great read for any story lover.  It is easily organized into major themes and each story is no more than 2-3 pages.  Since these are the tales of a culture solely based on oral history, many believe that one cannot get the full effect of a Native American legend without reading it out loud…so gather friends and family around the campfire and pass the book around.  You might be surprised at what you learn…

NEXT WEEK:  By the time Jenna Massoli was 16, she had accomplished more in her life than many 30 year olds.  She was making thousands of dollars a night performing, had numerous modeling jobs with various magazines, and had already starred in a few movies.  Never heard of her?  Well, you won’t find her movies on Netflix, that’s for sure…

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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