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Book Review: Survivor – Recovering from Alcoholism, Heartbreak and Trauma by Kieran Youens-Byrne

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Survivor: Recovering from Alcoholism, Heartbreak and Trauma is an exceptional and heart touching memoir by Kieran Youens-Bryne.

In Survivor, Kieran shares his journey through addiction to alcohol, his heartbreak at ending his marriage to a narcissist and his emotional traumas from his earlier years.

It is a wonderfully inspiring read and includes literature in its various forms including poems, essays, quotes and even a playlist. The title of his book sums him up completely: Kieran is a survivor.

Kieran covers every aspect of where his addiction to alcohol took him, from his very first taste of an alcoholic drink, through the dark depths of active addiction and withdrawal and out the other end and into active recovery. Along the way he shared what worked for him, what didn’t and all the things he learned along the way.

Survivor is an brilliantly honest account of where addiction/dependency, a narcissistic partner and past traumas can lead to a person. But it is uplifting at the same time.

The book is written in an easy to read and engaging style. It demonstrates Kieran’s unique writers voice and is a piece of creative work that he should be very proud of.

I am pleased to report that Kieran’ story also has a satisfying happy ending. Kieran gets sober, at the time of writing this review he has been sober for more than a year. In the year sober, Kieran has completely transformed his life.

Kieran has rebuilt his confidence and self-esteem destroyed by his narcissistic ex-partner. Kieran has rediscovered his formally oppressed identity and learned to love himself once again. Kieran has faced past traumas and began working on healing and letting go of these traumas.

Kieran has gone on to write, edit and publish a further book titled Recovered, that I can’t wait to read. He is healthy and happy. I can’t wait to see what this amazing man does next.

Review soon,


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Book Review: The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara K. Lipska

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the-neuroscientist-who-lost-her-mind-barbara-lipska Imagine spending your life studying the brain and mental illnesses like schizophrenia, only to find yourself start exhibiting the same symptoms.

This is what happened to Neuroscientist Barbara Lipska in this powerful memoir, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind.

Lipska describes her life before any symptoms. She was/is highly functioning in all areas of her life. In her career she managed/manages a foundation and a brain bank.

In her personal life she has a loving husband, children and grandchildren. The family are into fitness and Lipska describes being physically fit and always pushing herself, to run further, to go faster.

Suddenly one day Lipska is on a run, a regular route she’s done thousands of times before, but she can’t remember where she lives.

This is just the start of the sometimes bizarre, sometimes difficult and sometimes downright scary symptoms. Lipska goes to the hospital, family in tow and is diagnosed with a brain tumor.

As the tumor is being treated Lipska’s symptoms worsen. She becomes abrupt and emotionally hurtful to her family. It is a strange thing. Looking back now, Lipska can understand how some of the awful things she said would have hurt her family and how she now knows that they were hurt by their reaction. Yet she can still remember how she felt and what she was thinking at the time. I think it would be fair to say Lipska losing her empathy was probably one of the most challenging symptoms for her.

Lipska describes her journey through the American healthcare system and how she managed to get enrolled into a clinical trial programme, after checking that her insurance would cover the costs, that probably saved her life. I must admit this part made me feel extremely grateful for the National Health Service (NHS) that we have here in the UK, which is free, paid for through taxation.

The ending is ultimately positive. As Lipska continues to be treated her symptoms start to lessen and eventually disappear. Her cancer goes into remission. Reading The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind made me feel like I’d made a new friend in Lipska. This is because stories, especially personal, intimate and ones involving vulnerability help people form meaningful connections with one another. I will admit that this book made me cry at one point, which is extremely rare and a testament to Lipska’s writing and honesty.

Despite the subject matter, Lipska’s tone is warm, engaging and makes the book a page turning read. I read it in a few settings, never wanting to put it down.

I would highly recommend The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind to anyone that likes memoirs, or stories about dealing with adversity.

Review soon,



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Book Review: Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

By Books & Authors, Inspiration, ReviewsNo Comments
big-magic-elizabeth-gilbert I first discovered the amazing Writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she did a TED talk on creativity (see this TED talk at the end of this post).

Gilbert became a huge success back in 2006, when her memoir Eat, Pray, Love became an international bestseller. It was later made into a film. Prior to this Gilbert had always felt that it was her responsibility to take care of her creativity, so wrote while holding down other jobs. This big success meant she could afford to write full-time. I intend to read and review Eat, Pray, Love at some point in the future.

Gilbert was inspired by creativity, the creative process and the concept of creative living. She began to explore how other cultures throughout history had viewed creativity and the artists that create. This lead her to study the ancient Romans and Greeks. Which in turn led to her quirky and unconventional views about creative living, which she explores in Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Big Magic

is split into six parts: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust & Divinity. Each section deserves to be written about individually, which is what I have done below:

Gilbert starts by defining what creative living means to her. She describes it as having the courage to follow your aspirations, longings and talents. Gilbert writes about desires, that you are driven to do from somewhere deep within. Things or activities that have great meaning to you. Gilbert’s examples include: writing, dancing, painting and basically anything with any sort of activity that has an element of creativity within it.

Gilbert writes about fear. She recognises that fear can and does stop some people from living creatively. But as she explains, fear is boring – as fear’s inner voice repeats the same things. Whereas living creatively is never boring. Gilbert advises the reader that fear is not to be conquered, but acknowledged and thanked for its concern. Then the reader should do the thing that scares them anyway.

Gilbert’s key message in this section is that the reader should follow their curiosity without being inhibited by their fear.

Gilbert believes that ideas are disembodied energy that wants to manifest. But in order to do that they need to work with willing, creative humans. Humans that will commit their time and energy to bringing the idea into reality.

A good lesson learned from Gilbert in this section is that you have to make space for the idea. Both physically and figuratively. Which is why in my workspace, my desk has been cleared, ideas have been listed on the wall (in the order that they will be completed) and that time is regularly set aside to work on the idea at the front of the queue.

Gilbert writes that if the reader commits to an idea, that they should try to keep their end of the bargain. Otherwise the neglected idea will eventually get fed up of excuses, waiting and will continue on its travels looking for another human collaborative partner.

Gilbert gives an example from her own life, writing about an idea for a book that got away from her and found its way to Ann Pattchett (another author who has an especially special place in my heart for writing The Magician’s Assistant, but I digress). Gilbert tells the story of a conversation she had with Pattchett:

I tried to summarize my ex-novel as concisely as possible. I said, “It was about this middle-aged spinster from Minnesota who’s been quietly in love with her married boss for many years. He gets involved in a harebrained business scheme down in the Amazon jungle. A bunch of money and a person go missing, and my character gets sent down there to solve things, at which point her quiet life is turned into chaos. Also, it’s a love story.”
Ann stared at me from across the table for a long minute.
Before I continue, I must give you to understand that – decidedly unlike myself – Ann Patchett is a true lady. She has exquisite manners. There is nothing vulgar or coarse about her, which made it even more shocking when she finally spoke:
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“Why? I asked. “what’s your novel about?”
She replied, “It’s about a spinster from Minnesota who’s been quietly in love with her married boss for many years. He gets involved in a harebrained business scheme down in the Amazon jungle. A bunch of money and a person go missing, and my character is sent down there to solve things. At which point her quiet life is completely turned into chaos. Also, it’s a love story.”

(From: Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, p. 53-54, 2015. Copyright © Elizabeth Gilbert 2015.)


Gilbert explains that she never felt the need to be given permission to begin writing; but that some people do feel the need for permission to create. So she advises the reader to give themselves permission to start living creatively. She advises the reader to label themselves, i.e. I am a Writer. Gilbert advises the reader to be authentic and live creatively, first and foremost for themselves.

Gilbert advises the reader to avoid getting into debt. According to Gilbert debt leads to trappings that will greatly influence the ability to live creatively. Being debt free is likely something that most readers will need to work on.

Gilbert encourages readers to keep going and don’t be disheartened if the first thing created gets no recognition. Take your time. Learn your craft. She reminds readers that people go to great lengths to create, often maintaining a day job, having busy lives, but always making the time for creativity.

Gilbert motivates her readers to protect the space and time to create from intrusions, distractions and most of all procrastination. Procrastination can be fear’s way of avoiding starting, continuing or finishing a creative project. So watch out – because fear can be sneaky in its tactics.

Gilbert advises of the perfectionism pitfall for creatives. She writes that done is better than good. Yes, by all means work hard to make sure the work is good, but good enough will do. Aiming for perfection is where most people set themselves up to fail, because perfection is an unrealistic goal that either drives a person insane or causes them to give up on an idea.

Gilbert writes that a creative should go where the idea takes them, even if it’s emotionally uncomfortable. Gilbert states that you should trust in the idea and continue with Stubborn Gladness.

For Gilbert, living creatively is all about following where curiosity takes her. She encourages the reader to follow their own curiosity.

Gilbert concludes by writing that creativity is scared and that the reader should start creative living immediately.

Throughout Big Magic Gilbert’s writers voice is warm and engaging. Gilbert tells many wonderful, meaningful and great little stories as examples of her ideas on creativity in action. She tells these stories exceptionally well.

Stories are not the most scientific form of evidence. But does there need to be empirical evidence for creativity and the creative process? After all, even those at the heart of creative processes struggle understand or explain how their creative process works.

What matters in Big Magic, is that Gilbert writes her truth. Every word is written for herself – so that she can further her study of creativity.

The audience for this book is anyone that wants to live a creative and fulfilled life. Gilbert is undoubtably clever, wise and inspiring in Big Magic. The reader will find that some, most or all of Gilbert’s work will resonate with themselves.

So go and buy Big Magic to lap up some creative living inspiration. Big Magic is available to buy on Amazon.

Review soon,


TED Talk – Your Elusive Creative Genius by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.
(From: TED, Last Accessed: Thursday 3rd December 2015.)


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Book Review: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

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a-million-little-pieces-james-frey-book-cover A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is addictive like crack cocaine. Once you pick it up and start reading, you’ll find it near impossible to put back down.

From the cover:

Aged just twenty-three, James Frey had destroyed his body and his mind almost beyond repair. When he enters a rehabilitation centre to try to reclaim his life, he has to fight to determine what future, if any, he has. His lack of self-pity, cynicism and piety gives him an unflinching honesty – a fearless candour that is at once charming and appalling, searing and darkly funny.

(From: Frey, 2004)

Frey takes the reader on his rollercoaster of a journey to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. It starts with him waking up on a plane with no memory of how he got there, what happened to his face or where he’s going.

A Million Little Pieces

is set during Frey’s stay in rehab; is well paced and has plenty of tension, conflict and resolution. Both internally and externally. He recalls memories of his dysfunctional and chaotic alcohol and drug using past.

Stylistically A Million Little Pieces lacked speech marks, but this was possibly deliberate. Not having speech marks was a noticeable stylistic change to the normal layout of a book. Frey was probably using this to subtly hint that his story wasn’t like the story of most people. Frey’s lack of dialogue tags was generally acceptable, but on the odd occasion where Frey had written a scene with a group of people, it did get difficult to establish who had said what.

Towards the end of A Million Little Pieces it began to feel fictional. As I was coming to the end of the book and had enjoyed reading it, I decided to look into other books that Frey had written.

After doing a Google Search, I discovered the story of A Million Little Pieces and understood why it felt fictional – because parts of it were.

A Million Little Pieces was commercially hugely successful both in the US and internationally after being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. But then The Smoking Gun revealed in an article titled ‘A Million Little Lies’ that some of Frey’s claims around his criminal past didn’t match up with court records.

Oprah had to respond to these revelations and interviewed Frey on a few occasions. The most recent, a few years after A Million Little Pieces was exposed as being in part fictional is available to watch below:

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I can understand while some people felt lied to, as A Million Little Pieces was promoted and marketed as a memoir.

But I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised that some of A Million Little Pieces was fact and some was fiction. Because that’s how it read. Who wouldn’t change some of their past if they had the chance? Don’t we all do that all the time? Change things to make them sound better or worse than they actually are with the aim of making our stories more interesting to our friends, family, co-workers, etc. Can we really blame Frey for doing the same for the reader?

Regardless A Million Little Pieces is still a great read. Worth reading if you are interested in addiction, crime, alcohol, drugs, rehab and recovery. Just hold on is a phrase often repeated in the book and was a phrase that I adopted when I was suffering from severe clinical depression.

My Friend Leonard is the follow up book and picks up where A Million Little Pieces ended. I’m currently reading My Friend Leonard and enjoying it just as much as I did A Million Little Pieces.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is available to buy on Amazon.

Review soon,



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