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REVIEWS.

BOOK OF THE WEEK UNCOMMON TYPE: SOME STORIES by Tom Hanks, William Heinemann, PS16.99 (ebook PS9.99) HHHHH HE'S a two-time Oscar winner, Hollywood royalty and widely considered an all-round nice guy. And Tom Hanks can now add writer to his already impressive credentials.

The star has just published his debut collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. In contrast to many other big-time actors that have attempted fiction writing in recent years, these tales are startlingly good.

Themed around Hanks' decades long hobby and appreciation for typewriters, each of these 17 stories leaps out from the page in their authenticity and whimsicality.

A second-rate actor who experiences fleeting fame on a junket tour, a young hipster who mistakenly buys a toy typewriter from a charity shop, a pair of polar opposite pals that embark on a side-splitting fling and a World War II veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder - are just a few of the folk you'll meet within Uncommon Type.

A spellbindingly easygoing read, it is hard to find fault, other than that Hanks is annoyingly talented and yet remains impossible to dislike.

FICTION A POCKETFUL OF CROWS by Joanne M Harris, Gollancz, PS12.99 (ebook PS6.99) HHHHH NO STRANGER to the genres of myth and magic realism, Joanne Harris takes inspiration from one of the 19th-century Child Ballads to craft a story of love, betrayal and terrible revenge.

A nameless girl who lives in the woods falls for the son of a Scottish laird, but after he breaks a promise and rejects her as too wild for his restricted, aristocratic life, she calls upon ancient powers to help obliterate her feelings.

Harris' descriptive skills - deployed so effectively in earlier novels such as Chocolat and Runelight - embroider emotional, humanising details onto familiar folkloric themes such as witchcraft, shapeshifting, nature worship and the fragility of civilisation.

While the characters are needfully sketched in broad strokes, keeping true to the fairy tale style, A Pocketful Of Crows never feels infantile or patronising and sits perfectly within Harris' catalogue of eerie, beguiling tales.

ORIGIN by Dan Brown, Bantam Press, PS20 (ebook PS9.99). HHH HH DAN BROWN'S readers will be familiar by now with his modus operandi. Pick a cultural European city - Paris, Rome, or, in the case of Origin, Spain's Bilbao and Barcelona, throw in Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, a young and beautiful female sidekick and a religious zealot who will kill to keep secrets from surfacing - and you're all set for a guilty pleasure of a page-turner.

With Origin, Brown teases his big revelation from the very start - Langdon's former student, Edmond Kirsch, an American tech millionaire, invites him to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao where he's planning to reveal the answers to humanity's most enduring questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? But before Kirsch can stream his controversial presentation around the globe, he's shot by retired Navy general. It's frustrating, but rest assured, Langdon and the museum's curator (and future Queen of Spain) Ambra Vidal will do everything in their power to publish Kirsch's research, most famous landmark, the Sagrada Familia.

Origin is like slipping on a comfy old pair of slippers, you know just what you're getting with Brown and Langdon - and it's an enjoyable romp over 461 pages.

FRESH COMPLAINT by Jeffrey Eugenides, Fourth Estate, PS16.99 ebook PS9.99) HHH HH Jeffrey GENIDES is best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning behemoth of a novel, Middlesex.

Fresh Complaint, his first collection of short stories, breaks Eugenides down into bite-sized chunks for both the time-stretched, long-standing advocate, and the wide-eyed newbie looking for an introduction to his work, with minimal commitment.

There is no theme to link the stories, which were written over a 30-year period, but characters from both Middlesex and his third novel, The Marriage Plot, re-emerge.

Air-Mail, perhaps the strongest story of the bunch, opens, rather boldly, with Mitchell's bad case of diarrhoea, and follows him on a journey to enlightenment.

In the story Complainers, we meet Della, an elderly woman suffering from dementia. It is a celebration of a long-standing female friendship, and highlights the importance of friends, as much, if not more, than family.

It is hard not to be captivated by Eugenides' writing, he writes like a dream, and this colourful collection of stories reinforces that.

NON-FICTION LOGICAL FAMILY: A MEMOIR by Armistead Maupin, Doubleday, PS20 (ebook PS9.99) HHHH H ARMISTEAD MAUPIN, the bestselling author of the Tales Of The City series and the novel The Night Listener, has a reputation for fiction that likes to take a walk on the wild side.

In this endearing memoir, he shows that sometimes life imitates art. We begin with the seeming paradox of the young, ultraconservative Maupin coming to terms with his homosexuality.

But Logical Family is far more than a hackneyed journey of sexual and self discovery: We also have a remarkably evocative portrait of the American South and an affecting description of a closeted career in the macho world of the military, not to mention the juiciest (and most self-deprecating) kissand-tell stories you will read this year.

Everything is told with Maupin's characteristic humour, and moments of loss and self-discovery are conveyed with such breathtaking candour that by the time of the book's end, the reader will feel they are parting from an old friend.

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK MALALA'S MAGIC PENCIL by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet, Puffin, PS12.99 (ebook PS8.99) HHHH H FIVE years after she was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, has started studying at Oxford University.

This week, she's also published her first book for children, based on her childhood experiences in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

Now 20, Malala recalls wishing she had a magic pencil as child, like the boy in her favourite TV show.

She would use it to draw beautiful dresses for her mum and a real football to play with so she and her brothers 'no longer had to play with an old sock stuffed with rubbish'.

On a rubbish tip, she sees a girl and two boys collecting scraps and asks her father why they're not at school. He explains some children have to work to support their families, so she decides she would use her magic pencil to erase war, poverty and hunger - and begins to work extra hard at school.

But then 'dangerous men' with weapons ban girls from school and Malala gradually finds her voice to speak out about injustice: 'I wrote alone, but people all over the world were reading my story... I had at last found the magic I was looking for - in my words and in my work'.

With simple drawings, it's a beautiful, inspiring and moving account of Malala's life, with a letter at the end telling younger readers: "When you find your voice, every pencil can be magic."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 28, 2017
Words:1156
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