Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

34389773*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Uncommon Type

Author: Tom Hanks

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: October 17, 2017

ISBN: 978110194615

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life.


As someone who doesn’t often read short story collections, I was pleasantly surprised by Hanks’ Uncommon Type. I don’t often go for fiction written by celebrities. They are usually highly publicized and are not always known for their strong prose. Hanks’ writing is strong and imaginative, which stands counter to everything I expected. I will admit, I was drawn in by the cover, but I was apprehensive at first about how this book would pan out. Without a doubt, I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of his stories. His writing is nostalgic and often reminisces back to a time passed. It’s a tribute to the analogue, especially the typewriter, which tugs at my heartstrings being a lover of typewriters, record players, the printed word, and so on. His stories have a touch of whimsy and are sometimes fantastical, but they and their characters also often portray reality and are relatable. Hanks’ writing is inviting and warm.

The stories aren’t too in depth, and could sometimes have been developed further. For this reason. I gave it 4 stars on good reads. But I think that the essentials are all there. The characters are endearing, the plots are charming and sometimes sad as well. Tom writes about the human experience. He confronts the past and the present, demonstrating the difference across time, but also the sameness of the human experience.

Overall, this book is well written and worth the read. For one who doesn’t love short story collections, I really enjoyed this book. I would definitely read more fiction from Hanks if he ever chooses to write more.

Advertisements

Review: Strange Fire by Tommy Wallach

25984653*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Strange Fire

Author: Tommy Wallach

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781481468381

Synopsis from Goodreads:
They said that the first generation of man was brought low by its appetites: for knowledge, for wealth, for power. They said mankind’s voracity was so great, the Lord sent his own Daughter to bring fire and devastation to the world. The survivors were few, but over the course of centuries, they banded together to form a new civilization—the Descendancy—founded on the belief that the mistakes of the past must never be repeated.
Brothers Clive and Clover Hamill, the sons of a well-respected Descendant minister, have spent their lives spreading that gospel. But when their traveling ministry discovers a community intent on rediscovering the blasphemous technologies of the past, a chain of events will be set in motion that will pit city against city…and brother against brother. Along with Gemma Poplin, Clive’s childhood sweetheart, and Paz Dedios, a revolutionary who dreams of overthrowing the Descendancy, Clive and Clover will each play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of this holy war, and the fate of humanity itself.

—–

In Wallach’s Strange Fire, humanity has been wiped out and the society that remains has been divided in into those of the Descendancy who follow the Church of Father, Daughter, and Holy Gravity, those in the city of Sophia who seek to understand the ways and technology of the society that came before them, and the Wesah warrior women. These societies all run counter to one another, but their limited population makes it impossible for one group to gain the upper hand over the others in this new world, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Those of the Descendancy shun the “anathema” — the technology that those in Sophia possess and are developing. The Church believes in only the Father and the Daughter and spreading the Holy message to all. Those in Sophia thing the Descendancy to be primitive and embrace learning and development. Lastly, the Wesah run a matriarchal society that operates on strength and often violence to survive. Each group keeps it’s own lands and borders and seeks to expand its following.

First off, I loved this cover. I think it really encapsulates the theme of this story–the contrast between the technology that is only just beginning to be rediscovered and the stark shunning of all advancement by a society that more closely resembles what we’d recognize as 18th or 19th Century civilization. The story is really neat, envisioning a post-disaster world where surviving peoples have reverted to extremes in order to re-establish societies and traditions. We only get a small glimpse into this world as our characters only have a small perspective and do not have the ability to go beyond the boundaries of their small world.

I did find the book to be pretty slow moving as a whole. I almost walked away from it a few times. I can’t say what the final version looks like, but my advanced copy was printed in a terrible difficult font to read. I found myself getting a little squinty–which is not something I’ve ever noticed while reading, and I didn’t particularly enjoy that part of the experience with this book.

In terms of plot, there’s not a ton of action, and even the action that does occur is short lived and has little build up. This book is first in a series though, so perhaps Wallach’s intention was to focus on world-building and to build more action into the next book. But for as interesting as this plot sounded, it was a little sleepy. I didn’t find any of the characters to be too interesting. Paz piqued my interest as her whole character is based on deception and she’s a strangely detached, manipulative, and unemotional character. The remaining characters, however, fell a bit flat for me. I was most intrigued by the premise of this book, but I can’t say I’m motivated to continue reading.

From the research I’ve done on Goodreads, it seems like people, as a whole, are enjoying this book. Wallach fans are super excited and eager to read it. I think it’s worth a shot. I didn’t love it, but I think that many others do. I’d encourage you to try it and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear some differing opinions! 🙂

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

26160470Title: Kafka on the Shore

Author: Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: First published in 2002

ISBN: 9781400079278

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.  


What an excellent book from legendary author, Murakami. I am slow to the punch with this one, but the more I read from Murakami, the more I have to read. And I’m never disappointed. Kafka on the Shore reads like a dream, but it touches ones emotions in a very real way. This is a story of coming of age, full of murder, loss, self-discovery, lust, the supernatural, the absurd. The author is a master at creating mind-bending worlds that run parallel to our own, so realistic, yet so in touch with the otherworldly.

The main characters, Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata, are opposites in terms of age, intelligence, and life experience, but their lives, unbeknownst to them, are intertwined. They’re realistic and almost alive. While Nakata struggles with even the simplest of tasks, he views the world and the people around him with unflinching honesty, observing life as he sees it, quite literally. Kafka is young and is embarking on a journey to truly find himself. Incredibly smart despite his desire to leave high school life behind, Kafka’s observations and musing are astute and studied. Both characters are on the hunt to discover that which is unknown. Their travels take them on adventures that they could have never predicted.

Murakami’s writing is excellent and his world, despite it’s absurd twists and turns, is accessible and not to difficult to understand. I think that many readers would relate to and connect with this particular novel. The characters are complex and truly lovely and there are so many surprises that it’s impossible to know how this book with turn out. Murakami is a true artist with the pen.

Review: Blame by Jeff Abbott

30842435* I received this book in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Blame

Author: Jeff Abbott

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: July 18, 2017

ISBN: 9781455558438

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The crash that killed him
Two years ago, Jane Norton crashed her car on a lonely road, killing her friend David and leaving her with amnesia. At first, everyone was sympathetic. Then they found Jane’s note: I wish we were dead together.

A girl to blame
From that day the town turned against her. But even now Jane is filled with questions: Why were they on that road? Why was she with David? Did she really want to die?

The secrets she should forget
Most of all, she must find out who has just written her an anonymous message: I know what really happened. I know what you don’t remember…


Never have I enjoyed a thriller so much as I enjoyed Abbott’s Blame. It has a surprisingly engaging plot and some completely unseen twists. I couldn’t put it down. It’s not often that I get too into the thriller genre, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. As a result of an accident, the protagonist, Jane, cannot remember the 3 years leading up to the crash that killed her childhood friend David. She is left a pariah, considered a murderer and an addict to nearly everyone in the town. Many in the town assume that because of her amnesia and the terrible accident that Jane is out of control. In this town, everyone has secrets, some far more terrible than others.

Not a single character is trustworthy, not even Jane. Abbott writes with with fingers pointed in all directions. Everyone can be a suspect here. Because our narrator is so profoundly unreliable due to her lack of knowledge–which even she acknowledges!–we cannot trust a thing that anyone tells her. The only things we know to be true are the small written facts we’re given along the way: a hand written note, a photograph, etc. Even Jane notes that anyone could tell her anything and she’d have to accept it as truth, because she knows no different. She is unreliable, but she is also incredibly vulnerable. Both Jane, and the reader, look to each character with mistrust and suspicion. It builds the intensity of the story and creates a frantic desperation to find out the truth…before it’s too late. Many innocent lives are at stake. The question of “why?” hangs over this tragedy, lurking in everyone’s actions and motivations. They all want the same thing, but there are things that someone is trying to keep hidden.

I’m just completely in awe of how much I liked this book. I can’t compare it to other thrillers, because it’s very unfamiliar territory for me. I can say that there were many characters that I did not sympathize with, and felt anger towards. But there are many redeeming characters who are open to forgiveness and willing to drop everything to help find the truth. Abbott has built a very interesting community in this tragedy stricken town.

While this book may not warm me up to this genre as a whole, as a stand alone book, I really appreciated Blame. I’m glad I took a shot to try something new, because it definitely paid off.

Review: The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

32621113*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Blood Miracles

Author: Lisa McInerney

Publisher: John Murray, a Hachette UK Company

Publication Date: April 6, 2017

ISBN: 9781444798890

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Like all twenty-year-olds, Ryan Cusack is trying to get his head around who he is. This is not a good time for his boss to exploit his dual heritage by opening a new black market route from Italy to Ireland. It is certainly not a good time for his adored girlfriend to decide he’s irreparably corrupted. And he really wishes he hadn’t accidentally caught the eye of an ornery grandmother who fancies herself his saviour. There may be a way clear of the chaos in the business proposals of music promoter Colm and in the attention of the charming, impulsive Natalie. But now that his boss’s ambitions have rattled the city, Ryan is about to find out what he’s made of, and it might be that chaos is in his blood.


From what I’ve seen online, I should have first read McInerney’s Glorious Heresies before reading The Blood Miracles. Many writers seem to be of the opinion that GH is necessary in order to understand the backstory and references throughout this new novel. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but I disagree with this statement. Without having read GH, I found The Blood Miracles to be a full, easily understood, suspenseful narrative. If there were any blanks, McInerney does an excellent job of filling them in, because I certainly do not feel as though I’ve missed out on anything by not reading her previous novel. Often with sequels, one cannot pick up the second or subsequent books to read on their own, but The Blood Miracles does stand on it’s own two feet. I found it to be incredibly engaging, moving, and well-rounded, with enough backstory that I walked away feeling satisfied that I knew the characters, where they came from, and where they were headed. I think I’m even more inclined now to pick up Glorious Heresies to see how it compares.

I love, love, loved that this book is written with Cork slang. It sucks you right into the story. You can hear the characters in a fully immersive, visceral experience. It brings Ryan to life in a very real way. Ryan is barely a redeemable character. In fact, I hated him in the beginning. And then I began to love him for evoking such conflict in me. He became a character that I loved to hate, yet I was rooting for him all the same. I do not generally read or enjoy stories as hard as this one, so I was very skeptical and a bit resistant to reading it at first. But there’s something about Ryan–a something that the women in this novel also experience–that just draws you in. Through him, I was able to let the story grip me and really take me on a dark adventure.

I now cannot wait to get started on Glorious Heresies. I think I’ll really enjoy it, based on the reviews I’ve seen and the recommendations I’ve received. I hope those who loved GH will keep an open mind about this new novel. From what I understand, this book takes a very different turn and many people seem wary of this change. But I think The Blood Miracles has a lot to offer. I know I, surprisingly, really liked it, and I hope you will too!

Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

356047.jpgTitle: A Complicated Kindness

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: 2004

ISBN: 9780676978568

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City’s East Village. Instead she’s trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that’s tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock ’n’ roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o’clock.
——

It’s hard to articulate how I feel about this book, so I’m struggling a bit to write this review. I can’t say I loved or hated this book. Reading it years after the fact, I feel like there was so much hype surrounding this book that when I finally got to reading it, there’s no way it could have ever lived up to my expectations. For that reason, I did not love A Complicated Kindness in the same way that I did The Flying Troutmans.

Nomi is a teen in a mennonite town ruled by it’s minister, Nomi’s uncle. There is no room for freedom and those who oppose the religion are banished. This leaves Nomi and her father without her mother and sister. They’re living an empty existence in this town. Nomi in particular is trying to reconcile the religious beliefs she’s been brought up with and the rebellious ways of her kin. Nomi is quirky and is seeking meaning her her life. She doesn’t have aspirations beyond the pre-determined life of working in the town factory, but she can’t help but wonder what it is her mother and sister saw outside of their community. Nomi is really the best part of this book. She is our eyes into this small community, showing us what it’s like and how she lives. Her perceptions are influenced by her youthful opinions and naiveté.

What I didn’t like about this book is that I found that nothing really happens. It wasn’t exciting or as engaging as it could have been. We’re really just privy to Nomi’s day-to-day life, but the conflicts aren’t fully developed and really could have been much more dramatic. I felt like there could have been stronger feelings or greater conflict between Nomi’s family and without that, I was a bit disappointed. It was an enjoyable read, but I wish I’d read this book back when there was so much buzz about it, and perhaps I could have been a part of the group of readers who were generating all that hype. Alas, reading it so many years later, I was let down a bit. Still, Toews is an excellent writer who creates interesting and well-developed characters. I will continue to make my way through her collection of writing!

 

Review: The Flying Troumans by Miriam Toews

2940207Title: The Flying Troutman

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date:

ISBN: 9780307397492

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children’s long-lost father, Cherkis. Eleven-year-old Thebes spends her time making huge novelty cheques with arts and crafts supplies in the back, and won’t wash, no matter how wild and matted her purple hair gets; she forgot to pack any clothes. Four years older, Logan carves phrases like “Fear Yourself” into the dashboard, and repeatedly disappears in the middle of the night to play basketball; he’s in love, he says, with New York Times columnist Deborah Solomon. But though it might seem like an escape from crisis into chaos, this journey is also desperately necessary, a chance for an accidental family to accept, understand or at least find their way through overwhelming times.


This book was my introduction to Miriam Toews (yes I know, I’m so behind the times!) and I LOVED IT! This is a story of family, mental illness, growing up, healing, and so much more. This novel was absolutely raw in it’s emotion, confronting difficult issues head on and doing so with a touch of dark humour. The book is filled with this family’s desperation as the characters confront the reality that their lives may never be the same again, but they find strength and support in each other. They come together in a way that even they did not think could or would ever happen.

I can’t say I had a favourite character because I liked them all quite a lot. Thebes is quirky and trying to assert her independence in a world that doesn’t always accept individuality as a good thing. Logan is moody and brooding, but his heart is soft and strong. He’s learning that it’s ok to be emotionally and show his true feelings, even as a young man. Hattie is a scattered mess all around, trying to get a grip on her own life. Her heart is big and her devotion to her family is even greater, even if she struggles to know if what she’s doing is right and ok and even though she mourns the life she’s lost.

I couldn’t get enough of this book. I zipped through it in a few nights. I couldn’t get enough. I can’t wait to read even more of Toews books.