Monthly Archives: December 2016

‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante

my-brilliant-friendstarstarstarstar(Neapolitan Quartet, Book 1) This is the story of two girls in a poor, rough neighbourhood outside Naples, Italy. Growing up on tough often violent streets, the girls learn to rely on each other but they are also often at odds or in competition, as young girls will naturally be. The author does an amazing job of describing this lifelong and complicated but touching relationship between two very different women.  In this coming-of-age story, Ferrante captures the angst and longing of adolescence and the fraught relationships that are complicated by circumstance and family interactions in small town Europe. This is definitely not chick lit, it is a rich literary work and it is just the beginning of the saga of Lila and Elena. There are three more books in the series which will carry on into the rest of their lives. The next one is called The Story of a New Name.

These great Italian novels have taken the books industry by storm, everyone is talking about them. I liked this book a lot and will definitely carry on with the series. It is quite character driven and doesn’t have much plot except for the intrigue within the lives of the people in the town. The author masterfully drew me in and I appreciated her intensely personal, yet unsentimental, portrait of a friendship and the fascinating portrayal of Italy in the 50s. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the author, who has not revealed herself publicly. The author’s real name is not Elena Ferrante. Recently CBC interviewed the translator of the books, who also does not know who the real author is.

Here is an excerpt which you might enjoy listening to, to get a flavour of the writing:

‘The Sparrow’ by Mary Doria Russell

the-sparrowstarstarstarstarAnne Kingman (Books on the Nightstand) was asked on her podcast what her favourite book of all time was. To a reader that’s like asking you to pick your favourite child! When pressed she picked The Sparrow. When asked what it was about, she had to reply, “Jesuits in space!” That got my attention and it’s been on my TBR pile now for years. I finally got around to reading it, and I’m so glad that I did!

Winner of the 1996 Arthur C. Clarke award, it truly is about a Jesuit mission to outer space, but it is so much more than that. Don’t take a pass if you are not a sci-fi fan. I’m not either, but I loved this book. It is a beautifully described, well paced, thoughtful, often humorous, and imaginative literary novel. Wiki calls it “a visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry”…and it’s a page turner! The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, after haunting music is transmitted from Alpha Centauri, but a series of small misunderstandings brings the expedition to a catastrophic end.

Emilio Sandoz is in a hospital in Rome, being questioned about the quest that he was the only survivor from. And he is not talking. What he has experienced was so traumatic that it will take some time and healing before he is ready to explain what happened. This results in tantalizing small reveals in regular doses for the reader, keeping the tension and building the suspense as well as giving empathy for this man’s own personal journey. The story is told in framed flashback, with chapters alternating between the story of the expedition and the story of Sandoz’ interrogation by the Jesuit order’s inquest.

There was a definite resemblance to more recent novels by Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life and The People in the Trees. If you like her books, which are usually described as dark and emotionally devastating (but in a good way), you’ll love this one and vice versa. The Sparrow does have a sequel called Children of God which I’ve heard is equally good. If you have read these two already and want more from Russell, she also has two historical novels set in the West (following Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to Tombstone, Arizona, and to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), Doc and Epitaph.

‘The Reluctant Midwife’ by Patricia Harman (Hope River #2)

the-reluctant-midwifestarstarstarIn this sequel to The Midwife of Hope River, Becky Myers RN, takes up the narrative. The novel is set in Virginia during the Great Depression, when men were out of work and women struggled to feed hungry children. Myers, a colleague and dear friend of the midwife Patience Murphy, has been an employee of Dr. Blum for many years. But when Dr. Blum is rendered non-responsive and completely dependent following a traumatic event, Becky becomes a reluctant but dedicated carer for her boss. Returning to Hope River in the midst of desperate economic times, the unlikely couple try to find a way to survive. Patience Murphy, the only midwife left in the region, is happy to have an extra pair of hands to help her with deliveries, although Becky would much rather be tending the sick than helping women deliver their babies. Desperate times demand the kind of courage and perseverance evident in all of Harman’s characters.

Though I liked the first book better than the second, having a different narrator for this one gave it a fresh outlook. Like the first in the series, this historical fiction carries the saga of birth and rebirth fairly compellingly to its rather satisfying, albeit slightly predictable, ending. Will there be a third in this series I wonder?

‘Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work’ by Liz Wiseman

rookie-smartsstarstarstarstarBe a perpetual rookie, always ready to learn and take on new challenges with a rookie mindset–curious, humble, and fun loving.

Can old dogs be taught new tricks? Is it still possible, even after decades of experience, to recapture the enthusiasm, curiosity, and fearlessness of youth and take on new challenges? It might take remembering the agility and resilience of a puppy!

Leaders will enjoy this book as they think about encouraging and challenging their employees to stay fresh and innovative. While experience provides a distinct advantage in a stable field—bridge building, ballet, concert piano performance—it can actually impede progress in an unstable to rapidly evolving arena. Studies have shown that novices can, in certain circumstances, outdo veterans. Expertise can blind us to new ideas. Like a rookie, people are often at their best when they are new to an undertaking and doing something for the first time because they are on a steep learning curve. Constant learning is sometimes more valuable than mastery. Even seasoned veterans can make their work feel fresh again. The key is being willing to learn. People who are willing to leave their veteran’s comfort zone and rediscover what it was like to be the new kid on the block, will find a renewed and engaging creative energy for their work!