Review – Tin Man, by Sarah Winman

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Tin Man
by Sarah Winman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Length: 214 Pages

Release date: July 27, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

A novel celebrating love in all of its forms and the little moments that make up the life of an autoworker in a small working-class town.

This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.

Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.

But then we fast forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?

Tin Man is a love letter to human kindness and friendship, and to loss and living.

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I had a… complicated relationship with this book. This was a story of first loves, heartache, and loneliness, and while I was drawn into the emotions of the characters, I felt less so with the story itself. (Was there much of a story? It felt rather thin, honestly, even taking into account the short length.) Winman’s writing style was at times quite lyrical and melancholy, full of quotable moments such as this: “And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.”

However, the narrative structure was endlessly frustrating to me. The novel bounces around time seemingly without regard to coherency. It creates a stream of consciousness effect which I suppose was meant to draw the reader into Ellis and Michael’s heads, but the lack of clarity instead had the effect of drawing me out of the story, particularly in the first half of the book, which is told from Ellis’ perspective. (The latter half, from Michael’s perspective, seemed much more coherent.) Combined with Winman’s eschewing of the use of quotation marks, trying to make sense of what could have been a quite lovely book felt like somewhat of a chore.

There’s something about first love, isn’t there? she said. It’s untouchable to those who played no part in it. But it’s the measure of all that follows.

I adored the relationships in this book, and I don’t at all regret reading it. However, I have to confess I’m a bit confused by the number of five-star rave reviews on GoodReads. To me, it felt like a novel which was certainly great at moments, but overall, a bit lacking.

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Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Have you read Tin Man or other works from Sarah Winman? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Review – Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Nonfiction, Self Help

Length: 288 Pages

Release date: September 22, 2015

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

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If you’re in need of a burst of positivity, this is it. There are a lot of takeaway messages to this book, but my personal favorite was this: do not be afraid to make bad art. For the overwhelming majority of the human population, there is only one way to make great art, and that is to make a lot of bad art first. And even if you never achieve Great Artist status, if you enjoyed making whatever you created, that is reason enough. The pure joy of creation is reason enough. If you are the only person who ever gets joy out of your art, that is sufficient justification for its existence.

Gilbert also takes on the depressed, tormented artist stereotype in this book. She challenges the perception that deep inner turmoil necessarily makes for good art. (Side note: this section brought to mind Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, Nanette, where she talks about Van Gogh and his struggles with mental health. If you haven’t watched it yet, at the very least, watch this clip.) Gilbert talks about writers she’s known who are afraid to seek help for their depression, substance abuse, or other mental health issues, because they are afraid that health and happiness will stifle their creativity. Gilbert contends that this is a deeply harmful mindset and that artists who succeed in the midst of mental health struggles do so in spite of those struggles, not because of them. (As a former psychology student, I’d like to break in for a moment to say that lack of motivation is a big symptom of depression; that’s not exactly a precursor for making great art.)

The main drawback I saw to this book, and perhaps you’ll see it differently, was Gilbert’s semi-spiritual connection to creativity as a concept. She seems to view inspiration as an almost sentient entity, one that can be reliably wooed if you create just the right mindset. Some of these passages got a bit too new-age for my taste. Art is practically a religion for Gilbert, and the goddess of creativity speaks to her.

Overall, this was a great read. Gilbert radiates positivity and reminds you at every turn that fear is boring. Learning to move beyond the fear and do what you love anyway is the most exciting thing you can do.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

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Review – The Book of Essie, by Meghan Maclean Weir

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The Book of Essie
by Meghan Maclean Weir

Genre: Contemporary

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: June 12, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.

Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

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The Book of Essie opens with this: “On the day I turn seventeen, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter and I know that I have none.” There is no easing the reader into the drama with this one; you know what the crisis is right from page one. What you don’t know is who fathered Essie’s baby, and that will remain unsaid for the bulk of the book.

Essie’s family is deeply conservative and religious. Despite this, the book does not come off as overly preachy, nor is it critical of that religiosity. Instead, a criticism of hypocrisy is woven throughout the story from start to finish. Essie’s father preaches humility to his congregation and the country at large, all while living in a mansion and wearing $300 ties. Essie’s disgust with her family is palpable.

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“It’s men who trust they will suffer no consequences for their actions, while women suffer no matter what they do.”

The novel has three separate point of view characters: Essie, Roarke (the boy she hopes to marry to legitimize her pre-marital pregnancy), and Liberty Bell (a reporter and former member of a conservative cult). Essie is the clear main character, this being The Book of Essie, but I would have liked to see a bit more development for the other two point of view characters.

Liberty has a tragic backstory informing her choices, but it honestly feels like she could be cut as a POV character without the story losing much of value. Her backstory felt like a distraction and was frankly overkill, considering Essie’s story already explored similar themes: a young girl who becomes a victim of her hyper-conservative family’s choices and somewhat infamous on a national scale. This was probably intended to provide symmetry, but instead it simply felt superfluous.

Roarke’s story revolves around his deep, dark secret, which is revealed fairly early in the story and wasn’t terribly difficult to guess prior to that point. (On that note, most of the big reveals in this story were just a tad too predictable for my taste.) He never comes to feel like a totally fleshed-out person. Instead, it feels like he exists as a plot device, as something for Essie to obtain. That whole portion of the story feels very hollow, which is a shame because Roarke had some potential to be really engaging.

Essie’s interactions with her family members, especially her estranged sister, are the strongest aspect of the book. Essie has been content to play the “perfect Christian daughter” role for her family and their hit TV show prior to the start of the book. Now she’s fed up with pretending and being on display for the whole world, and just beginning to push back when we join her in her story. The Book of Essie is, in a lot of ways, about a young woman finding her strength and her voice. Overall, this was a good read, but it had the potential to be great.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read The Book of Essie? What were your thoughts? Please share in the comments!

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Feel-Good Books for When You’re Feeling Down

Sometimes the world feels like a dumpster fire and you’re in desperate need of a comfy book to give you a case of the warm-and-fuzzies. Look no further, friends! Here are some fluffy books to help raise your spirits.

(Side note: Briana the Bookworm inspired me to [finally] finish this list. She has a lovely book blog and you can check out her list of feel-good books here!)

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepperby Phaedra Patrick
Arthur Pepper goes on a whimsical adventure to discover more about the life of his late wife from before they met. This is a book for fans of A Man Called Ove who are in need of a story somewhat less likely to rip your heart out.

Goodbye, Paris, by Anstey Harris
Grace has spent years content to be the Other Woman before circumstances and people who love her force her to examine her life. This is a story of a woman belatedly coming into her own and finding a sense of self worth through friendship and her love of music. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the only way to rebuild a better life.

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Edgedancer, by Brandon Sanderson
This is an offshoot of The Stormlight Archive, but could be read as a standalone book. An enchanting high fantasy story, this revolves around Lift, a pre-teen girl with magic powers who is an utterly delightful side character in the main series. Follow her in her quest for answers and also pancakes… lots of pancakes.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
In the mood for a classic? Tolkien’s famous children’s book is suitable for all ages. While LOTR is a large, sweeping fantasy, this smaller book is some hobbit-sized fun. Complete with talking dragons and singing dwarves, this will nurture your inner child.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
This one has more than a touch of darkness; Nobody Owens is the last surviving member of his family, but he’s been raised and nurtured by the friendly ghosts in the graveyard where he lives. The Graveyard Book has adventure and danger, and will help you find whimsy in the darkness.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren
Or maybe romance is more your jam? This is a new release from the writers of Roomies coming September 4th. When Hazel first meets Josh, it’s at a drunken college party where she promptly throws up on his shoes. Well, that’s about as far from a meet-cute as you can get. But ten years later, when they meet up again, Hazel is determined for them to be Best Friends. Just friends, though, obviously. Right?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
When all else fails, return to childhood comforts. Relive all the magic with the Boy Who Lived. Because it’s never too late to get your Hogwarts letter. Really, though, this entry is a stand-in for whatever your personal favorite book was as a kid. For me, Harry connects me to what first sparked my love of reading. What do you think of when you ask yourself what made you a bookworm? Rereading that book will always feel like going home.

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The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
“Is this a kissing book?” Why, yes, yes it is. Dive into a fantastical adventure with giants, princesses, rodents of unusual size, and true love. (Side note, this is one of those rare gems where the movie does the source material justice. If you’re not feeling up to reading, pop some popcorn and soak it all in on screen.)

The Martian, by Andy Weir
If you’re the type to chase away the blues with laughter, especially a bit of gallows humor, this is the obvious choice. Mark Watney opens his story by telling you he’s “pretty much f****d.” What follows is his quest for survival against all odds, punctuated by technical ramblings and comic book references. The Martian is a treasure for any self-described nerd.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Looking for a self help-esque book to give you a burst of positivity and inspiration? Big Magic is all about a quasi-spiritual connection with the arts and having the courage to create. Your art doesn’t have to be great; it doesn’t even have to be good. Big Magic urges you to create whatever moves you, purely for the simple joy of creation.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
One last classic to round off the list! This book is absolutely bonkers, but I’ll let you in on a little secret… all the best books are.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this post gave you some inspiration for when you need a little pick-me-up! Do you have any favorite mood-enhancing books? Share in the comments!

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GoodReads Giveaway – My Real Name is Hanna

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Hello, friends!

Back in June, I posted a review for My Real Name Is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih, and it remains one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. I wanted to call your attention to a GoodReads giveaway for the book which is open to enter until September 14th.

This book is an absolute treasure and I really encourage you to pick up a copy when it comes out in September. This YA Historical Fiction novel explores one of the darkest periods in history with a remarkable sense of hope and faith in the fundamental goodness of people. This is a book about tenacity and human connection which embraces and celebrates our differences.

Inspired by real Holocaust events, this poignant debut novel is a powerful coming-of-age story that will resonate with fans of The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray.

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

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WWW Wednesday 08/15/2018

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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So, let’s begin!

I’m currently reading…

 

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
I’ve read plenty of Roxane Gay’s essays, but now I’m finally getting around to reading her novel. The story of a Haitian woman who is kidnapped and suffers horrific sexual abuse, this is a really dark, heavy read.

No One Cares About Crazy People, by Ron Powers
I was a psychology major in college, and mental health and the social and systemic issues faced by the mentally ill are very important to me. This particular book isn’t really holding my interest very well at the moment, though. It feels like Powers has chosen a scope of topics a bit too broad, and the book consequently feels a bit unfocused, like one anecdote after another thinly strung together. Also, a lot of the topic is repeat info for me because of my educational background, and I might end up DNF’ing this one.

The Witch of Willow Hall, by Hester Fox
This is a NetGalley ARC. I’ve only just started it so I don’t have much to say yet. Here’s the blurb:

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

I recently finished reading…

 

I had another big reading week. The standout book this week was, by far, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. 

I have reviews up for One of Us Is Lying, The Grownup, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoNightingale was an ARC and a review will be up on its release date, Sept. 25, 2018.

Hunger was a good read and I definitely recommend it if memoirs are at all your thing; I won’t be posting a full review of it, as I’m not keen on critiquing someone’s heartfelt expression of their own personal struggles. I’ll make an effort to get reviews up for Big Magic and The Book of Essie soon!

Up next…

 

The Woman in the Window is a repeat from last week’s post, because I got sidetracked with other books, as I tend to do.

The Psychology of Time Travel is a NetGalley book that just came through for me. I’m always a sucker for female-centric science fiction, so I’m ready to give this one a go!

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What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

Review – The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

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The Grownup
by Gillian Flynn

Genre: Short Stories, Horror

Length: 64 Pages

Release date: November 3, 2015

Blurb via GoodReads: 

A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

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The Grownup is a short story which features what seems to be the archetypal Gillian Flynn protagonist: a dark, gritty woman with somewhat of a chip on her shoulder and an unapologetic attitude. She is pragmatic and has grown up doing whatever needed to be done for survival; as a child, that meant begging for money with her mother, and now it means giving handjobs to lonely businessmen or telling fortunes to gullible customers. Honesty is for people who can be sure where they’ll be getting their next meal. She doesn’t have the luxury.

The story was fun and creepy. Flynn writes full-length novels so well, and I had wondered how her skills would transfer to a short story, as she seems to be a master at crafting slow-burning stories. The pacing of The Grownup was quick and engaging; I practically got whiplash trying to keep up with the plot twists.

Flynn seems to have a penchant for leaving the reader hanging in a moment of tension. While this worked really well in Gone Girl, it left The Grownup feeling somewhat lacking, perhaps due to the shorter length of the story. (If you’re only going to give me 64 pages to enjoy, at least give me a resolution at the end of them.) The ambiguous ending felt frustrating rather than tantalizing.

I loved the story, but I need some closure here, Gillian Flynn.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read any good short stories lately? Share in the comments!

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