Monthly Archives: February 2013

‘The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom’ and ‘Unusual Uses for Olive Oil’ by Alexander McCall Smith

The 2 1:2 Pillars of WisdomstarstarstarOne of Alexander McCall Smith’s lesser known series, is a comic one featuring the pompous bumbling Professor Doctor Mortiz-Maria von Igelfeld, pillar of the Regensburg’s Institute of Philology.  His scholarly but rather obscure topic of Portuguese Irregular Verbs is one that he misguidedly thinks everyone must be as enthralled about as he is. The funniest thing about his character is that he continues to get into all sorts of trouble, mostly caused by his own self-importance and social awkwardness. For example, von Igelfeld, thinking he is going to attend a  linguistic conference, realizes too late that he has mistakenly stumbled into a veterinary surgical gathering and ends up amputating a dog’s legs! He redeems the situation by designing a contraption for the poor animal so that it can still get around. The dog actually reappears in the ‘Unusual Uses for Olive Oil’ (also on its cover) when the device ends up needing a bit of maintenance.

On the romantic front, a woman who is bored by the Professor’s self-absorbed conversation about his work,  makes the observation that Portuguese Irregular Verbs are not very romantic. Von Igelfeld thinks this is hilarious because Portuguese is considered to be a Romance language! The humour is subtle and often becomes situationally slapstick in a Detective Clouseau kind of way. Like when he accidentally joins a mountaineering group and ends up doing some rather advanced climbing with near disastrous results, but ends up saving the day by being philosophically inspirational about it.

Unusual Uses for Olive OilOriginally published under three separate titles, ‘The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom’ is the collection of all three of the first instalments (Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances). ‘Unusual Uses for Olive Oil’ comes next and continues with more hapless adventures and satire about the world of academia.

‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness

A Monster Callsstarstarstarstarstar

This captivating, beautifully written, and moving story is about a boy whose mother is struggling with cancer. Complete with unique and dynamic illustrations it is not just something to read, it is an experience not to be missed.

Although written for tweens (9 – 13), this is an important book for adults to read because it gets to the heart of how a child’s thoughts and feelings can be conflicted and confused at a time of grief and loss. It is a sad story but not sentimental. The purpose is not to upset, but to bring about understanding and healing.

The backstory makes the authorship even more poignant. Patrick Ness was given an original idea from YA author Siobhan Dowd, who tragically died of cancer before she could write it herself. Here follows the book’s description, it is better that I don’t say more.

“The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming….. This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.”


‘Trains and Lovers: the Heart’s Journey’ by Alexander McCall Smith

Trains and Loversstarstarstar“Loving others…is the good thing we do in our lives.”

Train journeys are times to “people watch”. There’s also the beach (with sunglasses on), the airport, a park – any public place really. Even where our house is situated I can keep an eye on the comings and goings of our neighbours. It is a wonderful sport and I often spend time wondering what people’s stories are. Sometimes when I’m doing an airport pickup, to occupy myself while I’m waiting since I’m always early,  I’ll try to guess who people are waiting for. Is that man with a rose waiting for his girlfriend? Is that older woman waiting to see her grandchildren? Then I see if I’m right. Sometimes I’m (a little) disappointed because my own person arrives and I realize I’ll never know if I was right or not!

Alexander McCall Smith, himself loved around the world for his popular series,  situates this stand alone novel on a train where four strangers seated near each other share about how trains had changed their lives. It’s amazing how chatty some people can be! Of course fellow travellers are often not as amused or cooperative as the characters in this book. On a  journey from Edinburgh to London, each of the four share a story of love (first love, unrequited love, parental love and love as trust).  And isn’t love a journey itself?  A nice light novel for a trip on any form of transportation.

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlstarstarstarThrillers intrigue me but there’s only a handful of books that have truly made me scared, ‘Jurassic Park’ being the most memorable. While reading that one, I saw sneaky velociraptors just waiting for me around every corner, even though the movie was just silly. It was probably Michael Crichton’s ability to create a horrific yet plausible scenario. And I remember once finishing a book in our en suite bathroom after my husband had gone to bed, because I couldn’t stand being alone in the living room. It was some murder mystery – wish I could remember the title.

Somewhat in the style of S.J. Watson’s  Before I Go to Sleep, ‘Gone Girl’ is a psychological thriller with an ingenious plot. It is a smart and sassy suspense novel, not exceptionally well written, but well worth the read if you are not bothered by some crude language and adult content.  There are some very surprising twists and turns and after I reached the middle of the book,  I couldn’t put it down. Hollywood is on to it too. Reese Witherspoon has been identified for the role of Amy in the movie scheduled for 2015. Who will be the handsome Nick?

One morning a wife suddenly disappears from her home. The police suspect the husband but something feels wrong with this easy assumption. The book is narrated by both the husband and the wife so the reader can enjoy a comparison of their points of view. It becomes obvious that the five year marriage was disintegrating and Amy was afraid of her husband. She kept secrets from him and what about the persistent calls on his mobile phone? What did really happen to Nick’s beautiful wife Amy?

‘Hold me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love’ by Dr. Sue Johnson

Hold Me Tightstarstarstarstar


Recently I read an excellent article in our church magazine, which led me on to this book by Canadian Dr. Sue Johnson. Here is a link to that article by Irene Oudyk-Suk:
We’ve Been Married that Long?

If you don’t get around to the book, at least read Irenes’s article which captures many of the main points. If you are interested in more from Irene who works as a therapist in Ontario, Canada here is a link to her website:  Couples in Step

Without a doubt, this is one of the best books on relationships I have read. We’ve all heard about how neglected children who are never held or stimulated will fail to thrive. In studying ‘love’ and the brain, scientists have learned that emotional attachment is just as crucial for adults. Can I reach you? Do you have my back? Are you there for me? Will you value me and put me first? Do I matter to you? These are all questions which get at the very core of relationships and the key to strengthening and healing comes in conversations which focus on accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement.

This book is for everyone really: newlyweds, long-marrieds, gay or straight partners, and also for singles who need emotional attachment just as much,  finding it with friends, family, and community. The writing is simple and straightforward. There are throughout the book, many examples and ‘Play and Practice’ sessions with questions and answers. Though helpful for therapists, I found myself skimming through some of those sections to be able to not get bogged down and focus on the more ‘meaty’ sections which are easy to identify. This could be a book to read through for the main points and keep on the shelf for future reference.

Very affirming for those who recognize what has made their relationship so strong, and very helpful for those who are struggling. Highly recommended.

‘Inside’ by Alix Ohlin

InsidestarstarWhen I started reading this book, I thought I was going to love it. But after a fantastic, engaging start the book descends into a mediocre group of stories which jump around confusingly. The characters were bland and forgettable. Normally I don’t mind a number of different story lines progressing together, as long as they contribute in the end to a satisfying cohesive whole. Even though ‘Inside’ was a Giller finalist and had a number of glowing reviews, it just didn’t work for me.

The book is about a therapist who, while cross country skiing in Montreal,  stumbles across a failed suicide attempt in the woods. The themes are about lives intersecting and about how people try to help each other which is a good idea, but Ohlin’s writing was just too cliché to pull it off. William Giraldi in the New York Times says, “When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.” I really tried to like this book, but I’m afraid I have to agree with this reviewer.