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?


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.


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


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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Half-Minute Horrors Book Review

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

“My father and I lay tensely side by side in total darkness, not daring to breathe.  The space was small and smelled bad.  We were flat on our backs, scarcely able to lift our heads.  Above us, the ting shifted restlessly on its bed, grunting.  I hoped it would settle itself soon.

Finally the thing stopped moving.  I counted seconds.  Was it asleep?  Or just lying there awake, waiting?

‘Now,’ my father whispered in my ear.

And very slowly we reached out and up to grasp the child’s ankles with our cold, dead hands.”


And so begins Susan Rich’s engrossing collection of ghost stories, Half-Minute Horrors.  This little gem of a book holds more than 70 30-second ghost stories written by some of the biggest names in literature today, including Lemony Snicket, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connelly, Gregory Maguire, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, R.L. Stine, and many more.

While most of these stories are geared towards kids and tweens, this twenty-somthin’ gal found herself shaking in her boots after reading a few of these stories.

This is a great book for a campfire or a rainy night spent with family and friends.  Read it cover to cover or pick and choose stories based on your favorite authors.

Half-Minute Horrors is a treat for fans of The Goosebump series, campfire ghost stories, and those who just like a little shiver down their spine!

NEXT WEEK: Things are not always the way they seem when you look through the looking glass…and for Alice Liddell, life in Wonderland was anything but a golden afternoon…

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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Because God Loves Stories Book Review

A Book for those who love stories

There are two things that Jewish people love above all else:  talking and eating.  My aunt, who lives in Israel, always says, “it wouldn’t be Jewish if we weren’t all around a table talking, laughing, and eating.”

Because God Loves Stories:  An Anthology of Jewish Storytelling is the result of 36 Jewish storytellers sitting around a table and telling stories, each of whom spin tales of old to express his or her own visions of Jewish culture.  Stories from the Bible are carefully woven through family accounts of Jewish summer camp, Holocaust stories, and stories about the core of the religion itself.

I often found myself talking back to these storytellers, saying out loud how I agree or disagree with their point of view…how their story reminded me of something my great-grandfather used to say…and how I can relate to the pain and confusion that goes along with not knowing where you belong.  This is a brilliant look into Judaism and the blood that keeps it thriving.  It’s also a great guide for those who are, for whatever reason, separated from their roots, lost in religion, or need some reminder of what anchors them to their ancestors.

For those who are not Jewish or are not familiar with the stories of the Jewish people, do not pass this book up.  Chances are there’s at least one story in this anthology that will touch you, inspire you, or motivate you.  They are each told with such love and care that it would be impossible not to be somewhat spiritually renewed and regenerated after reading them.

One of my favorite stories in Because God Loves Stories was brought up by storyteller Nina Jaffe.  “The Most Precious Thing” is a story with the backbone of a tale from the Talmud spun with themes almost all of us can relate to:  love, marriage, and divorce.

In this tale, a couple experiences great sadness after living many years without having children.  At that time, the law stated that the couple had grounds to divorce if the woman was unable to have a child…and this thought was brought up by the couple many times over the years.  When they finally agreed that a divorce would be the best thing, they sought the advice and help of one Rabbie Simeon Bar Yochai.  They told him about their inability to conceive and how they thought a divorce would be the best thing…that way at least the husband can find a woman with whom he could reproduce.  The rabbi, who was a very wise man, looked at the couple and could tell that a divorce was really not what they needed.  What they needed was each other.  He told them to go back home and cook a splendid Sabbath dinner and celebrate the many years they have shared.  They agreed and left for their home.

On the way home, the husband turned to the wife and told her how much he loved her and how he was so appreciative of her being faithful to him for so many years.  He told her that before she was to leave the following day, she could take the one thing in the house that was most precious to her.  She agreed.

That night the couple feasted to their hearts content.  The husband ate and drank and eventually fell asleep, exhausted and full.  When he awoke, he was in a place he did not recognize.  He saw his wife and asked her where he was.

“Don’t you remember your promise to me?” she replied.  “You told me before we parted that I could take with me the most precious thing I could find…I looked over all we owned, but I could find nothing as precious as you.”

When he heard those words, the husband smiled and took her in his arms.  He brought her back to their home where they continued to do as they have always done…living life happy and content with one another.

Like all Jewish stories, this one has many versions and endings.  In one ending, the couple return to their home and shortly after are blessed with a child.  In another version, the couple return and live the rest of their years together, always knowing that the only thing they need is each other.

“The Most Precious Thing”, like so many other stories in this collection, could reach anyone of any religion.  Because God Loves Stories is solely a collection of the stories we all know…with a few more “oye veh’s” and sprinkled with Yiddish wit.


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Armchair Reader Goes Hollywood Book Review

The Stars are out tonight! 🙂

I’m a sucker for non-fiction—especially books about people I respect and admire, movies and TV shows I love, and the history behind creating some of the brightest stars on the silver screen.  So when I drew the title Armchair Reader:  Goes Hollywood out of my jar of book titles, I got a little too excited.  I jumped into the book right away and finished it in a couple days.  If you are a fan of current or classic cinema, you’ll want to check this out.

Armchair Reader:  Goes Hollywood is similar to the Uncle John series, where the articles can be read at random and the book does not have to be read cover to cover.  Search around for information about your favorite movies and stars and read articles that may convince you to add some movies to your Netflix queue (who would want to pass up on a movie called Frankenhooker?  I mean, come on!)

Armchair Reader:  Goes Hollywood is chock full of Hollywood secrets, stories, scandals, set stories, and even advice on how to get your puppy into show business.  Here’s a little peek at what you’ll find in AR:  Goes Hollywood:

*Hollywood was originally built as a preservationist society where modern excesses would not be tolerated.

*Marilyn Monroe studied literature at UCLA while under contract with FOX.

*The Wizard of Oz, one of the most viewed films of all time, only cost 2.8 million dollars to make.

*Blow up dolls were used to fill the stands in some scenes in Seabiscuit.

*The cast of Casablanca had no idea how the movie would end until they were shooting it, so what you see on screen is the actor’s true reaction to the script.

*Clint Eastwood’s first movement as Mayor of Carmel, California was to legalize ice cream parlors.  They were previously banned because the ice cream was making the sidewalks sticky.

*Steven Spielberg applied to the university of southern California’s film school and was rejected three times.

*You know the famous HOLLYWOOD sign?  Of course you do.  Did you know, though, that various Hollywood stars have “adopted” the letters to keep the sign from being knocked down?  Proud parents include Hugh Hefner, Gene Audry, and Alice Cooper.

*Jaws was the first ever summer blockbuster, rolling in 129 million dollars; however, the production of the movie was about as disastrous as a shark out of water…and thank goodness it was, because if everything went according to plan, the movie we know would not exist.

AR:  Goes Hollywood is a great gift for any lover of current and classic cinema.  Keep it handy as you work your way through your movie collection and experience your films on a whole new level.

NEXT WEEK: ATTACK OF THE TALKING KUGEL!  No, it’s not an upcoming Yiddish monster movie…as amazing as that would be–

All of my Jewish readers, take note…you’re going to want to be here next week.

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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