Monthly Archives: February 2015

‘The Hypnotist’s Love Story’ by Liane Moriarty

The Hypnotist's Love StorystarstarstarThis is another of Moriarty’s very readable novels. The story opens in a restaurant where Ellen, a hypnotist by profession, is having dinner with Patrick, a new promising candidate in a long line of failed relationships. He is acting a bit strange and suddenly leaves the table after saying he must tell her something. She really liked Patrick and is steeling herself for another rejection. But instead, when he returns, he tells her something quite unexpected. He is the victim of a stalker, an ex-girlfriend who just won’t leave him alone. Instead of being horrified, Ellen is strangely intrigued and her curiosity gets the better of her, especially when it turns out that Ellen has already met her.

The story is narrated alternately by the stalker and the hypnotist. Unless you are particularly interested in either of these subjects, there is not much engaging about this novel, not at all like her others which I couldn’t put down, especially The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies. The book felt a bit like a lost opportunity because there was plenty of good material to create a page turner. Having said that, I found it a pleasant enough read because I don’t mind character driven stories and I did enjoy her exploration of both hypnosis and what drives someone into stalking. The fact that the stalker was a woman and not a man, made for an interesting twist, but it’s nothing like Fatal Attraction!

‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’ by Brené Brown

The Gifts of ImperfectionstarstarstarstarstarBrené Brown simply tells it like it is. She doesn’t write books that make promises about how you can easily improve or change your life. She says she herself has developed a fairly sensitive “bullsh*t meter” when it comes to self-help books, and this is not a self-help book. She is brutally honest about her own struggles and failures. Brown (PH.D, LMSW) is a well respected researcher and storyteller. Her insights into shame, authenticity, and belonging have been groundbreaking and are hugely encouraging. Another book of hers called  Daring Greatly, is about having the courage to be vulnerable.

No one is perfect and when we inevitably fail, we suffer from shame and feelings of being “not enough.” We live our lives in fear of judgement. With perfectionism, shame is always lurking. Brown encourages us to choose authenticity and live a wholehearted life that cultivates courage, compassion, and connection, and lets go of the destructiveness of trying to be perfect. She says perfectionism is not the same as striving to be our best. It is about trying to gain approval. We all seek connection and long to belong and fit in. But she draws an interesting distinction here. Fitting in is not the same as belonging. Fitting in is about trying to become who we need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require any change–we can embrace who we are and belong, as we are. Being authentic invites grace, joy and gratitude into our lives. Like Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

This is an excellent guide to wholehearted living. This kind of book is so important in a world where we never seem to measure up to the ideals in the media or the impossible standards we set for ourselves.

‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is MissingstarstarstarstarstarGobbled up this stunning debut novel in no time…I just couldn’t put it down! How can a mystery be solved by someone who can’t remember the clues?

Might as well quote from the flyleaf, because it sets the story up best. “Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable–just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger. But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her best friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it. Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unveiled seventy year-year old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about. Everyone except Maud…”

This is a fantastic read, brilliantly executed, highly affecting, and thoroughly entertaining. It is a darkly comedic mystery/thriller but offers also a poignant insight into the life of someone with dementia. Because the narrator has dementia herself  (like in Still Alice by Lisa Genoa) the reader gains empathy for this frustrating illness–both for the person who suffers from it and for the carer. The voice of Maud herself is totally unforgettable.

‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenstarstarstarstarPost-apocalyptic is not usually my cup of tea, but I loved this one. It came highly recommended by someone who’s reading taste is similar to mine, and I was not disappointed. This is an elegant literary novel about memory, art, and survival. It is beautifully written and artfully atmospheric. Partially set in Toronto and partly in a world that has been devastated by a pandemic flu, the author seamlessly weaves together the past and the present. The book combines some interesting aspects of culture: quotes from Star Trek (“survival is insufficient”), Shakespearean plays, symphony orchestra performance, and comic book art. When everything is lost, what do we long for, what do we remember? Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.”

The story begins on a Toronto stage. The actor who is performing King Lear, collapses from a heart attack mid-scene and a paramedic in the audience rushes up to do CPR. But it is too late for Arthur, and for the world that is at that moment on the threshold of an unimaginable collapse. It is quite sobering to think about how vulnerable we really are, how little control we have, and how quickly the “world as we know it” could become a distant memory.

I don’t want to say more because this book needs to be experienced. While I was reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I know it will stay with me for a very long time. Though similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and is unsettling, I found this book less depressing and more hopeful. It is very thought provoking. Station Eleven is an excellent pick for book clubs and will definitely be one that will be talked about in many literary circles! It is one of those gems that is both approachable and extraordinary. Definitely not just for sci-fi fans!

‘The Book With No Pictures’ by B.J. Novak

The Book With No Picturesstarstarstarstarstar(K – Grade 2) Maybe you love children’s picture books as much as I do, especially if you have children to read aloud to, or grandchildren, or a classroom full of  them, or a library story hour…I still own all of our favourite picture books,  even though I don’t read ‘Goodnight Moon’ to our kids anymore when they go to bed in my house. 🙂 Although maybe they would let me if I offered. The truth is, the really great picture books appeal to the adults as much as the kids. And this one is no exception. If you do love picture books and reading aloud, then this book is for you! This mischievous book is laughter just waiting to happen! A picture book without…, pictures. You’re going to hear the eternal refrain, “Read it again!”

This interactive innovative book is best experienced, so here is a youtube sampler of B.J. Novak reading the first part of the book aloud to a group of children. Incidentally, you might recognize the author from “The Office.”

‘the first phone call from heaven’ by Mitch Albom

the first phone call from heavenstarstarstarMitch Albom is a master at exploring humanity and the meaning of life using a little page-turner. He seems to enjoy the topic of heaven, but in tackling the afterlife, he actually ends up saying way more about belief (and doubt, hope, and skepticism) here on earth. Coldwater, Michigan, normally a sleepy little town, has become a chaotic item in the news of the world because people are receiving phone calls from family members who have died. Miracles are a good thing right? But isn’t faith believing without proof? I enjoyed the ending, it was well crafted and satisfying. As a bonus, the book also includes some interesting history of Alexander Graham Bell and the creation of the telephone.

tuesdays with MorriestarstarstarstarstarThe memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, is still one of my all time favourite books. Album writes about how he faithfully visited an ill college professor every Tuesday when he was a young journalist. Although he went to comfort, he turned out being comforted. The book is an unsentimental simple tale about an old man, a young man, and some of life’s  greatest lessons. I always seems to be scribbling down quotes from Albom’s books. I’ve included some at the end of this post.

There are three more of his books which I have read over the years and can tell you about since I still remember them, and the others you can discover on Albom’s website (Mitch Albom Website).

the five people you meet in heavenstarstarstarThe Five People you Meet in Heaven is my second favourite, a stunning fiction which features an old war veteran who thought his life never amounted to anything much. How wrong he was. The five people in heaven tell stories that illuminate the good that he did, and comfort him by showing how meaningful and important his life really was.

for one more daystarstarstarFor One More Day is a beautiful novel of a mother and son. Wouldn’t it be great to spend just one more day with someone who we have loved and lost? Albom puts a lot of himself even into his fiction, and this one is largely based on his mother’s story. Several incidents in the book are real ones from his childhood.

have a little faithstarstarstarHave a Little Faith is a true story about an older suburban rabbi and a young inter-city pastor. Moving between worlds that are far apart, Albom highlights things like doubt and forgiveness, and how to carry on when things in life get difficult. Albom shares a view of disparate worlds while underscoring the importance of faith in hard times.

“Sometimes what you miss the most is the way a loved one made you feel about yourself.” –Mitch Albom, the first phone call from heaven

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” –Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” –Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

“You should be convinced of the authenticity of what you have, but you must also be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything. And since we don’t know everything, we must accept that another person may believe something else.” –Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith