Hello reading friends!
One look at my August reads and you may be forgiven for assuming I’m obsessed with Tom Hanks. And perhaps I am – just a bit. I’ve loved his movies for years and found his warm, gravelly voice perfect for the narration of Ann Patchett’s, The Dutch House. Naturally, the next step was to try his debut short story collection, Uncommon Type.
Short stories have featured heavily this month, as I also enjoyed Jojo Moyes’ uplifting feel-good collection, Paris for One and Other Stories. PLUS fans of Moyes’ (and that’s everyone, right?) be sure to click on the link to her new FREE short story, Lou in Lockdown.
Until next time… I hope you enjoy!
THE DUTCH HOUSE by ANN PATCHETT
A novel written by best-selling author Ann Patchett, narrated by my favourite actor, Tom Hanks – who could resist such a stellar combo? From the outset the title sets us firmly within
the Dutch House, a sprawling, stately, slightly ghoulish mansion nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But for young Danny Conroy and his elder sister Maeve, it is the place they grow up and call home. We then follow them through the next five decades, exploring their relationship with the property and why they find it impossible to let go. It’s a slow burn of a novel, examining sibling relationships and family ties, insecurities and resentments that linger long after childhood. It’s a family saga that weaves back and forth in time, until eventually we understand why the players play the parts they do. Hanks is superb as narrator, as he captures Danny’s personality perfectly. Let’s hope the duo of Patchett and Hanks get together again soon.
UNCOMMON TYPE by TOM HANKS – August 2020
It’s impossible to read Tom Hanks debut collection of short stories, Uncommon Type, without hearing his wonderful, rumbling voice. Before I started reading, I knew Hanks was an enthusiastic collector of typewriters, but what was a surprise was to discover how he weaves a reference to typewriters within each of his tales. In one or two of them, typewriters are central to the story, but most simply include a brief mention.
So, Tom Hanks is one of my favourite actors, but can he write? The short answer is ‘yes’. Perhaps unsurprisingly he is excellent at characterisation, focusing on everyday details that reveal so much. Dinner time with the Family Beuell was a show. Davey was in and out of his chair – the kid never sat through a meal. This is a gentle collection with a nostalgic feel, as Hanks looks back to when life seemed simpler. If I have one criticism – and I must clarify that I enjoy many, many American authors, as well as novels set in the States – however I found these stories peppered with references to particular American products, shops, television shows etc., which may resonate with an American reader, but as a Scot, at times, found they dragged me out of the narrative. That said, I loved the sneak peek into the issues Hanks chose to write about – mostly domestic, mostly warm, always entertaining.
THE HEART’S INVISBLE FURIES by JOHN BOYNE
The first fifty pages of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was so compelling that I wondered how he could keep up the pace for the next seven hundred – but he does. A word of caution though, as the coming-of-age tale of a homosexual man growing up in Catholic Ireland, the first half of the novel is dominated by sex. Boyne is particularly astute and empathic in drawing women, his characterisation is superb, but the plot isn’t perfect (there are a couple of rather convenient deaths). However, Boyne’s skill as a writer makes it easy to overlook the improbable and simple enjoy the experience of being swept along.
This may give the impression that this is an insubstantial read and nothing could be further from the truth, as we are confronted with the horrors that faced/face homosexual men, who simply want to love and be loved. The cover blurb describes The Heart’s Invisible Furies as a funny novel, and there are plenty humorous moments to savour, but it’s a dry wit, say in the style of John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. This was a book group choice that made lively discussion. A moving, thought-provoking read.
PARIS FOR ONE and OTHER STORIES – by JOJO MOYES
Fans of Jojo Moyes bestselling Me Before You trilogy were recently treated to a follow-up short story entitled, Lou In Lockdown, available here. Not only is it timely, but Lou and her mum made me laugh so much that I was delighted when I remembered I had a copy of Moyes’ Paris for One and Other Stories on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. A warm hug of a collection, these stories were first made available on radio and in magazines, brought together to create an easy-to-read coffee break compendium.
Composed of nine short stories plus two that are bit longer (arguably novella in length) they are feel-good tales with a cast of relatable characters, focusing on the everyday issues that beset women, told with gentle humour. Not all are set in Paris, but those that are – Paris for One, and Honeymoon in Paris – were my favourites. Perhaps because I honeymooned in Paris too – although without the fictional drama! An uplifting read, perfect for dipping into when a pop of positivity is needed.
MY MOTHER’S CHOICE by ALI MERCER
When I heard Ali Mercer discuss My Mother’s Choice during a Bookouture Live Facebook event, I knew this would be my kind of read… Dani was only four years old when her mum, Laura, was lost in a mysterious accident. Now a teen, Dani is confused by the secrecy that surrounds her mum’s death and is determined to unearth the facts. The story begins in the present day, as Dani pieces together the puzzle of what led to her mum’s passing, flipping to a decade earlier, via extracts from Laura’s diary.
Part family drama, part mystery, the story begins slowly before the pace picks up, revealing several great twists. I found myself firmly on Dani’s side throughout, as she seemed a lonely, vulnerable, awkward teen who is desperate to learn more about her mum. Whilst the caring she shows her friend, Josie, felt both poignant and true.
The only character I didn’t warm to was Dani’s Aunt Carrie, as her coldness felt a touch overdone at times and I longed for her to change. Dani came across as a bright, well-adjusted young woman, who was perhaps wilful at times (a normal teen), and I wished Aunt Carrie would cut her some slack and show her real love. However, it was also Mercer’s skilled writing that meant I so wanted Dani to not only find peace but lasting happiness too. Described as one for fans of Kate Hewitt and Amanda Prowse, this was my first Ali Mercer novel and I look forward to reading more.