Tag Archives: review: non-fiction

Nasty Women- 404 Inc.


Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis

‘Nasty Women’ is a series of essays written by nasty women, that is women who apart from being marginalised because of being women are also marginalised for other reasons e.g. being gay. being of non-white descent. The essays talk of life for women in the world today.

Review

I’ve really been into feminist books recently (apart from this I have recently read Moranifesto and Animal, and I’ve started Yes Means Yes), so when I saw this on netgalley it instantly caught my eye.

Nasty Women is inspired by Donald Trump’s comment about Hillary Clinton being a “Nasty woman” and the following twitter trend, because of that I sort of presumed that the book would be written by American women. I was wrong, it doesn’t matter to me, just a comment. 404 Inc. are based in Scotland so, understandably, a lot of the writers were British, and many of those Scottish. In a way I maybe prefered this being British myself because that made a lot of the essays easier for me to relate too.

Having said that I do think I’m a privileged woman. My everyday sexism stories are few and far between, I’m straight, I’m white, I’m educated. Some of the people in these essays aren’t as lucky as I am, and those essays were eye opening. I don’t want to go into too much detail, there were elements I recognised and connected to, and those I didn’t so much but which I could understand.

As far as readability goes it was quite variable. Most of the essays were easy to read, I’d say the conversational types, it doesn’t mean the ones I had to concentrate on more weren’t good, just harder going.

The fact that Donald Trump won though really makes me angry. Partly as a woman, mainly as a human being.

4/5

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Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole- Allan Ropper and David Brian Burrell


Synopsis (from amazon)

What is it like to try to heal the body when the mind is under attack? In this gripping and illuminating book, Dr Allan Ropper reveals the extraordinary stories behind some of the life-altering afflictions that he and his staff are confronted with at the Neurology Unit of Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Like Alice in Wonderland, Dr Ropper inhabits a place where absurdities abound: a sportsman who starts spouting gibberish; an undergraduate who suddenly becomes psychotic; a mother who has to decide whether a life locked inside her own head is worth living. How does one begin to treat such cases, to counsel people whose lives may be changed forever? Dr Ropper answers these questions by taking the reader into a world where lives and minds hang in the balance.

Review

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole was one of my five star reads last year, but my lack of blogging means I haven’t actually reviewed it yet.

In fact I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction drive over the last year. In so far as I’ve been reading this year proportionally I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction.

It’s a little bit like ‘The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly’ combined with ‘House’. Lots of real life medical symptoms which seem to have obscure reasons behind them. That tends to be a lot of physical symptoms which have neurological causes, or neurological or psychological symptoms which actually have a physical cause. It’s part of what I always found interesting about House, so it’s even more interesting to see it in real life.

In other ways it’s a lot like some of Oliver Saks work. However I found it easier to read than the things that Saks had written (and I’ve read).

I also liked that you got to see a bit of the hospital itself and also the authors own learning curve. It added a little something. I guess you could say it’s a human element which you don’t get from standard case studies.

5/5

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Delusions of Gender- Cordelia Fine


Synopsis (from amazon)

This is a vehement attack on the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes – with the scientific evidence to back it up. Sex discrimination is supposedly a distant memory. Yet popular books, magazines and even scientific articles increasingly defend inequalities by citing immutable biological differences between the male and female brain. Why are there so few women in science and engineering, so few men in the laundry room? Well, they say, it’s our brains. Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology, “Delusions of Gender” rebuts these claims, showing how old myths, dressed up in new scientific finery, help perpetuate the status quo. Cordelia Fine reveals the mind’s remarkable plasticity, shows the substantial influence of culture on identity, and, ultimately, exposes just how much of what we consider ‘hardwired’ is actually malleable. This startling, original and witty book shows the surprising extent to which boys and girls, men and women are made – and not born.

Review

This book has been on my kindle since 2014 (according amazon anyway), which makes me wonder how long some of my ‘real’ books have been on the shelves unread.

I kind of wish I had read it sooner, but I’ve been on a bit of a roll when it comes to non-fiction recently, so maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind before.

It was a while ago so more exact details are lost to me, but there are certain things which still stand out, and in a way doesn’t that make for a better review? I was helped a little to remember by reading Ruth’s review (which I recommend).

Delusions of Gender did take a little getting into, in terms of a ‘sciencey’ book it was easy to read, and it was interesting, but not necessarily immediately engaging.

I did find some of the arguments a bit repetitive, which makes sense when you’re talking about different but similar studies, but not so much when you are talking about the same one. It is difficult though if you are referring to something said earlier to know how much to say to make sure the person you are writing to knows what you are referring to.

The main thing I got out of it really is about how much difference small things might be able to make, especially when a child is still trying to work out their identity. Would not gendering a child change this? I’m not so sure, at some point the child themselves would want to know what they are, and I’m sure they could work it out.

In a way those little things seem hopeless, because they’re the type of things that you don’t even think about, so how can you hope to have a gender neutral environment.

4/5

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Furiously Happy- Jenny Lawson



Synopsis (from amazon)

In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.

Review

I loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened so I was excited when I heard Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) had a new book coming out.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was hilarious, so I was expecting the same from Jenny’s new book. It was very funny, but it had more of a serious side than her first book had. I still liked it, but it wasn’t as easy a read.

This one featured a lot about Jenny’s mental illness. That made it less light, although a lot lighter than you would expect of a book which has a high content about mental illness. She had a philosophy of always being Furiously Happy when her illness would allow her. A way to show that she could have a good, happy, time, a way to say that that illness is not her.

Jenny says she wrote this book with people who have the same problems as her in mind. So I wasn’t exactly the target market, but I still found the book pretty uplifting, and I definitely enjoyed Jenny’s sense of humour.

If you loved the first one you can’t go wrong with this, but I think you may be better off starting with the first.

4/5

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Other reviews:

Alison McCarthy 

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The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly- Matt McCarthy


Synopsis (from amazon)

In medical school, Matt McCarthy dreamed of being a different kind of doctor the sort of mythical, unflappable physician who could reach unreachable patients. But when a new admission to the critical care unit almost died his first night on call, he found himself scrambling. Visions of mastery quickly gave way to hopes of simply surviving hospital life, where confidence was hard to come by and no amount of med school training could dispel the terror of facing actual patients.

Review

McCarthy’s autobiography is an interesting and eye opening look into the American healthcare system. It would be interesting to see how it differs from a doctor’s experience in the NHS.

I must admit that I expected to see lots about patients who couldn’t afford the healthcare that they need, the idea of no NHS is not one I like, and I never really understood people who are against ‘Obamacare’ in the US. There was a little bit of that, but in was only really a very small part of the book, and I wouldn’t even say it was particularly hard hitting. At one point McCarthy was interning in the medical centre, which seemed pretty much like a drop in centre would be here in the UK, except that the same patients would keep returning. I say like a drop in centre because the treatment seemed rushed, and fairly basic, for example medication over other possible solutions which a specialist might recommend. Plus it seemed like it was mainly run by interns, which suggested a lack of continuity of care. McCarthy found that it was difficult to get to grips with the patient notes because there was a rush and lots of notes to read. He found reading just the latest notes wasn’t enough, but reading further took too much time. Part of this I think was to do with his approach, but it seems that with this patients would end up falling through the gaps.

There was also a section where he went to se and treat the homeless. This bit was too brief I felt, but he only did it for one night. There was certainly enough to give me admiration for people who do it. I think this bit would be pretty much the same in the UK, I imagine homeless people easily don’t see GPs, or go to appointments at hospitals, just because they are hard to keep contact with, and I’m not even sure if you can register with a doctor if you don’t have an address.

Anyway I am going on somewhat of a tangent. I really enjoyed this book. There were plenty of ups and downs and at times you thought that maybe Matt wasn’t cut out for it. After all being a doctor is one of those jobs where a mistake can really cost someone, even to the point of death. But everyone has to start somewhere and it was a real eye opener on how hard things are for doctors, especially those still training.

The hours were absolutely ridiculous. I mean you’d think that you want someone that important to be as sharp as possible when they were working, but the long days meant that was practically impossible. It certainly gave me more sympathy for the junior doctors over here (and I already supported them).

Despite the subject having the potential to be either over emotional or too dry I thought McCarthy did a really good job. There was emotion when it mattered, but it a way you had to be like a doctor and not get too bogged down in the emotions- and the way McCarthy wrote helped with that. He actually made it quite an easy read, and entertaining, which I hadn’t expected. I had expected it to be interesting, and it was, but I did expect it to be so entertaining. I thoroughly recommend

5/5

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Why Not Me?- Mindy Kaling


Synopsis (from amazon)

Mindy Kaling has found herself at a turning point. So in Why Not Me?, she shares her ongoing journey to find fulfilment and adventure in her adult life, be it falling in love at work, seeking new friendships inunlikely places, or attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behaviour modification whatsoever.

Review

I love Mindy’s show The Mindy Project, when I read her first book last year I adored her even more, I watched The US version of The Office just because I needed a Mindy fix (despite being a bit against American adaptations as a general rule, and yeah actually I was proved wrong on that one). When I heard she had a second book coming out I was excited, but I was finishing buying a house, and was on a self inflicted book buying ban (and well, even on amazon the paperback is almost £10, that’s a lot for a paperback…yeah I’m like that).

In the end I got it as a Christmas present, and it was the first of my present books which I read. I did really enjoy it, but I think I prefered her first. I think the first one was just a bit more accessible. In the first book she wasn’t famous, or becoming well known I suppose. It just meant a lot of what she talked about was a bit more recognisable. In Why Not Me for a good part she was well known, and for some I would go as far as to say she was famous. Her stories, whilst still entertaining didn’t quite have that same sense of reality.

I think it was a bit less thought provoking too. There were still elements which were thought provoking, but not in a way that hit me like the occasion with the dress in Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Part of the problem I had I think was that there was so much build up for me. I was excited from back when I knew the book was going to exist. That’s quite a while to anticipate something.

I still love Mindy. I would still recommend this book, I did really like it, but it is less memorable than her first for me, and I don’t think it quite meets up to it.

4/5

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Hallucinations- Oliver Sacks


Synopsis (from amazon)

Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing?

Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one’s own body. Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them.

In this book, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organisation and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.

Review

Oliver Sacks is probably generally seen as one of the most accessible neuroscientists of modern times.  Considering that, and my interest in psychology it’s quite surprising that I haven’t read anything by him before now. I can see why he is seen as accessible from his writing style, however I did find Hallucinations a little hard-going, more because of repetitiveness than anything else.

The book was split into sections based on causes of hallucinations (e.g. particular illnesses, sensory reasons, drugs), which made sense in some ways, however it also meant that when more than one cause for a particular type of hallucination could be found a description of that type of hallucination would be given in each chapter about each cause. There were different first-person accounts, which was interesting in it’s own way because different people hallucinate different things, even within a set type of hallucination. Even that did have some repetitive air to it though.

Having said that it was very interesting. I think Sack’s main aim was to make hallucinations more acceptable. They are generally seen as a sign of madness, and they can be that, but usually they aren’t, there are many more things that can cause them, and lots of different presentations of hallucinations which many people wouldn’t consider.

In fact he described what one would call a migraine aura usually as a type of hallucination which is interesting. I suppose calling it an aura makes it seem less serious or scary- but is that just because of a sort of stigma put on the idea of hallucinating. I do sometimes find migraine auras distressing- would they be more distressing if I called them hallucinations? Anyway it just shows that hallucinations aren’t all what one’s first thoughts of hallucinations would be. They aren’t always ‘real’ things. They aren’t always pictures even.

I did find it very interesting, and it probably changed my view of hallucinations a bit. It could have done with a bit of editing though. I’ll certainly read more by Sacks, and I already have Musicophilia and Migraine on my wishlist.

Oliver Sacks sadly died this weekend, which is what prompted me to write this review over the others that are waiting to be written.

3.5/5

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)- Mindy Kaling


Synopsis (from amazon)
Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: comedienne, actress, obedient child of immigrant professionals and, now, writer. With a blend of witty confessions and unscientific observations, Mindy writes about everything from being a timid young chubster afraid of her own bike to living the Hollywood life, dating, friendships and planning her own funeral – all executed with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls.

Review

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? has been on my wishlist for so long. I heard about it before I even knew Mindy Kaling existed (oh, sad times). I just heard it was funny, and it seemed like the sort of thing I would like. Then I saw The Mindy Project, and I realised I really wanted to read it. However due to my thing of not actually buying off my wishlist I didn’t end up buying it until it popped up on the kindle monthly deals this month (yay!).

I read it a couple of weeks ago when I was ill. It took me a few hours, less than a day. It’s been a long time since I last read something that fast (of course I was stuck at home with nothing to do). I really loved it. I had to start watching the US version of The Office afterwards to stop me getting withdrawal (I had avoided it so far because usually US remakes are a bit rubbish, and I only occasionally liked the original version of The Office), which I’m now on the seventh series of (so yeah, I am liking it actually).

I love how Mindy blossomed I suppose. She was a pretty shy kid, you could still see a bit of that Mindy quality, a sort of no cares attitude, although it had it’s quivers. She really was a self-made woman. It sort of reminded me of how Stephen Fry and his contempories came up. They started as their own thing and sort of got ‘discovered’. I like that, it’s genuine.

I also like how she tried to use her position to teach girls who might admire her. There was one scene (and, God, I hate People magazine for this) where Mindy was going to a photo shoot, something about beautiful people. Nice yeah? At the time she was a size 8 (which I think is a size 10 in the UK) so about average. The stylist only had size 0s, which is just rubbish, especially when you are showing someone ‘normal’ who was beautiful, and then to suggest they couldn’t wear nice clothes because they were too ‘big’. It just makes me mad. And Mindy is really pretty. It still makes me mad now.

So despite the fact that most of the time it was funny there was a serious side too, and now I love Mindy even more. I just wish I didn’t have to wait all the way until September for her new book

5/5

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Other Reviews:

Alison Mccarthy

Girl Vs Bookshelf

Ink and Page

Words for Worms

Recovering Potter Addict

Chrisbookarama

Silly Little Mischief

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The Dirt- Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars


This book was read as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon, but I’m a bit meh about it)

Ten years ago, Motley Crue’s bestselling The Dirt—penned with rock chronicler extraordinaire Neil Strauss—set a new bar for rock ‘n’ roll memoirs. A genuine cultural phenomenon, this turbocharged blockbuster, with more than half a million copies in print, has now been reissued to celebrate thirty wild years with rock’s most infamous band. No band has ever lived this hard, and lived to tell the tale. You won’t just find sex, drugs, violence, fast cars, and every rock & roll cliche turned on its head inside, you will find uses for burritos and telephone handsets that you couldn’t have even imagined in your wildest dreams. This is the classic book that’s made countless ordinary mortals want to transform into lawless rock stars, and created countless spin-off books for Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, and Mick Mars, who hold nothing back in this outrageous, legendary, no-holds-barred autobiography.

Review

Right from the offset Motley Crue make their intentions clear, they are out to disgust and disturb you, for they are the world’s most notorious rock and roll band- and they are going to prove that.

For all of the first few chapters they seem to be out to shock you more and more, even if you think it can’t get worse- except then it does. It even got to the point that it seemed almost normal- which is possibly worse.

I think it was probably planned that way. Nikki in particular seemed so egotistical that I can see him wanting to be the most scandalous band, which makes you wonder if you should believe it all. Indeed at some point each of the members mentioned how it was an expected rock and roll lifestyle- like they had to do it o have any credibility, which is a bi crazy.

Later on things get lighter, as the band members get married and start having kids, and at times it is rather sad.

I don’t really know anything about Motley Crue. I knew the names of the band members, but not in relation to the band. And I don’t think I could name any of their songs, they’re not really my style to be honest. I don’t think that mattered though, I could still read the book, sometimes I got a little confused with who was who and especially who was dating who, but I’m not sure how much easier that would have been if I knew the band.

In a way I would say it’s a bit of a coming of age tale. As the band begins to change and grow, even what they write seems less egotistical and more introspective.

If you can make it though the first disgusting bits then you will be rewarded by the end (and I think the beginning is needed for the balance).

4.5/5

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We Should All Be Feminists- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Synopsis (from amazon)

A personal and powerful essay from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, based on her 2013 TEDx Talk of the same name.

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. With humour and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences – in the U.S., in her native Nigeria – offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a best-selling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

Review

I wanted to read this little book, or essay if you want after seeing it around on a few blogs.

For me despite it being so short it still seemed to have things which longer feminist writings have. It said a lot of the same things that Everyday Sexism says, but I didn’t review that because it made me angry for the wrong reasons. We should All Be Feminists talks of some of the same sort of level of sexism, a sort of thing which seems so ingrained that it’s almost seen as normal and therefore acceptable.

She also talks of the sort of attitudes towards feminists which makes feminism into some sort of bad words. I know women who would say that they aren’t feminists, but that’s like saying men are better, that they should get better chances and opportunities. How can you be a woman but not be a feminist?

She talked widely of her experiences in Nigeria- her native country, and made it seem that sexism is worse there, maybe it s, maybe not, it could just be what she is sharing.

It’s a good book for people who wouldn’t really consider themselves as being feminists, women and men alike.

I feel my own review is lacking something, I wish I hadn’t left it so long. Bex’s review is what convinced me, and is much better than mine.

4/5

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More Fool Me- Stephen Fry


Synopsis (from amazon)

In his early thirties, Stephen Fry – writer, comedian, star of stage and screen – had, as they say, ‘made it’. Much loved in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, author of a critically acclaimed and bestselling first novel, The Liar, with a glamorous and glittering cast of friends, he had more work than was perhaps good for him.
What could possibly go wrong?
Then, as the 80s drew to a close, he discovered a most enjoyable way to burn the candle at both ends, and took to excess like a duck to breadcrumbs. Writing and recording by day, and haunting a never ending series of celebrity parties, drinking dens, and poker games by night, in a ludicrous and impressive act of bravado, he fooled all those except the very closest to him, some of whom were most enjoyably engaged in the same dance.
He was – to all intents and purposes – a high functioning addict. Blazing brightly and partying wildly as the 80s turned to the 90s, AIDS became an epidemic and politics turned really nasty, he was so busy, so distracted by the high life, that he could hardly see the inevitable, headlong tumble that must surely follow . . .

Review

Having enjoyed Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles I was rather looking forward to reading the latest instalment of Stephen Fry’s memoirs. Plus The Fry Chronicles had ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger with Stephen taking his first snort of cocaine, which suggested we could expect some excitement.

Unfortunately More Fool Me really didn’t capitalise on those promises, and I found myself rather disappointed.

The first 60 or so pages were a re-cap of Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. Fine if you haven’t read either, or if you have the memory of a sieve. I started off reading them thinking that it had been a long time since I read Moab is my Washpot. Turned out I didn’t need such a detailed recap. I got bored around about 20 pages in and spent the rest of the time flicking through just reading a sentence or a paragraph here and there to see if I had forgotten anything, I hadn’t.

The next few pages were probably the best bit of the book. They showed the sort of wit that I would have expected from Stephen Fry, and a certain amount of self-criticism. He told a little of his early drug taking days and explained what attraction cocaine held for him. He promised that by the end of the book we would understand why taking cocaine was such a mistake.

I was really getting into the book when I find the section ended and a new section began, ‘The Diary’.

What followed was basically a copy of his diary for a few months during this time, with the occasional footnote to explain. There are no other words for it, it was dull. There was next to no introspection. It was written as you would write a diary to yourself, semi-note form, no great prose or witty remarks. A lot of the time it seemed to be lists of names and places, and ‘got drunk’ ‘took coke’ type references. There were a few more detailed and interesting entries, which were mainly when he was writing The Hippopotamus, and not doing drugs- maybe that was what he meant by we would know why it was bad- there wasn’t anything else which suggested anything really negative.

Half the time I couldn’t follow who all the people were, they were often refereed to by just first name, which might be fine in terms of Stephen reading his diary ut how was a reader expected to remember after just one explanation who everyone was?

All I really got out of it was an addition of The Hippopotamus on my wishlist.

Skip this one, Moab and The Fry Chronicles are worth reading, this one, not so much.

2/5

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Night- Elie Wiesel


This book was read as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon)

Born into a Jewish ghetto in Hungary, as a child, Elie Wiesel was sent to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. This is his account of that atrocity: the ever-increasing horrors he endured, the loss of his family and his struggle to survive in a world that stripped him of humanity, dignity and faith. Describing in simple terms the tragic murder of a people from a survivor’s perspective

Review

I have started and stopped this review a number of times. I want to write it, but somehow it seems that reviewing a book of somebody’s experiences, especially such horrible experiences, makes it loose some of its importance. I’ve written reviews of this type of book before, but only when I’ve been asked to, in which case I feel duty bound to write a review, even if I feel it trivialises something, This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book like this by choice, and to say anything that isn’t the highest praise seems wrong.

I suppose what that means is that I am not one of those people blown away by Night. There is one thing about autobiographies, when it’s something which is real you can be more matter of fact about it, or writing re-feels the emotions, which makes it more matter of fact. With fiction it’s more detached, you are writing about imagined emotions, it can still be hard, because you are attached to a character.

We had to write autobiographical pieces when I was in sixth form, I wrote about my osteoporosis (which I spoke about here, when discussing Handle With Care). My teacher praised my piece because of a lack of self pity, but for me it’s nothing special, it’s just my life, matter of fact.

When it comes to something emotional though, I think this can make it less hard hitting than fiction. In a way Wiesel’s experiences didn’t seem to be the worst. Not that they weren’t horrible experiences, but you didn’t get the same sort of descriptives that you might get in a fictional book, which made it seem…less. It was partially balanced out by knowing that it was real. Fiction is fiction, even when based on fact, you can’t know how much can really be close to how it really was. With non-fiction at least you know what you are reading is true. Maybe it’s less descriptive, less emotional, but in the end it means more.

Sometimes I think that I read too much about the Holocaust, like I’ve become somehow sensitised to it. Did that make a difference to how I viewed Night? Probably. Did the fact that it has been so praised mean that I was expecting more? Possibly. The first edition of Night in a similar version to what we now read was published thirteen years after the end of World War Two. At that time it may have been more powerful. It was probably an event which lived much more in the memory at the time, and people would remember finding out the full truth of what the Nazis did. Those who had been through the concentration camps may have had enough time to start talking, and I imagine there was not much literature about the events, it was too soon. It would have given people truth that they may not have otherwise seen.

Night is still powerful. Still important. The writing is still good writing. However there was a certain lack of detail which I hadn’t expected, maybe I would have liked that. It is reported that Wiesel said he had originally written a manuscript in Yiddish which was over 800 pages long, maybe the less edited version was more detailed, maybe too much so. Would it make it harder to read, and therefore read less widely?

I’m not going to give a score because I don’t feel this can be scored.

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How to be a Heroine (Or What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much)- Samantha Ellis


Synopsis (by me)

In ‘How To Be a Heroine’ Ellis revisits her bookish heroines from the past and evaluates whether they really deserved to be heroines, and why they were her heroines to begin with.

Review

I mentioned in my review of Texts From Jane Eyre that this book has probably overtaken it in terms of book I am most likely to recommend. That’s probably true, although Texts from Jane Eyre may hold a wider appeal.

How to Be a Heroine is part memoir, part literary analysis, part feminist, part religious discussion. I didn’t expect all that. I expected a book simply about books.

It was interesting to see what Ellis got from her re-reads, and what her younger self had got from her initial reads. Sometimes she couldn’t see any heroism in the characters she had once wanted to emulate, sometimes she saw that the real heroines in the books were not the ones you would expect. Of course it all came together. Even if she couldn’t see someone as a heroine now they had helped shape her.

Ellis’ storytelling was what really drew me in. I really got a sense of what life was like for her, maybe because I saw some similarities with myself (whilst also having tons of differences).  I often wanted to read the books she had described when she wrote about reading them for the first time. Sometimes her more recent images made me change my mind, which was a shame in a way, but then maybe that means I’m not in the right stage of life or frame of mind to appreciate the books as she did first time. At other times her changes of mind made me want to read things more, or just the same, but maybe for different reasons.

I thoroughly recommend it, especially for female book readers (although there is no reason a man couldn’t enjoy it).

5/5

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Filed under Biography, Feminism, Memoir, non-fiction review, Politics, Reading/reviews

DNF: The Teacher Wars



Disclaimer: I was given this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Teaching is a wildly contentious profession in America, one attacked and admired in equal measure. In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been similarly embattled for nearly two centuries. From the genteel founding of the common schools movement in the nineteenth century to the violent inner-city teacher strikes of the 1960s and ’70s, from the dispatching of Northeastern women to frontier schoolhouses to the founding of Teach for America on the Princeton University campus in 1989, Goldstein shows that the same issues have continued to bedevil us: Who should teach? What should be taught? Who should be held accountable for how our children learn?
She uncovers the surprising roots of hot button issues, from teacher tenure to charter schools, and finds that recent popular ideas to improve schools—instituting merit pay, evaluating teachers by student test scores, ranking and firing veteran teachers, and recruiting “elite” graduates to teach—are all approaches that have been tried in the past without producing widespread change. And she also discovers an emerging effort that stands a real chance of transforming our schools for the better: drawing on the best practices of the three million public school teachers we already have in order to improve learning throughout our nation’s classrooms.
  

Thoughts

I wanted to like this book, I really did. In a way I was enjoying it, I did find it interesting. However I also found it difficult to connect with because I have no experience of the American education system. I began to find things a little repetitive, and I found myself reading it less and less (although to be honest I’ve been finding that a lot recently with my kindle reads). I’ve read about three other kindle books since I last looked at The Teacher Wars, I had intended to finish, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen.

I do think if you have an interest or knowledge of the American education system you will find it interesting, and it is a fairly easy read for a none-fiction book

DNF

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Me Talk Pretty One Day- David Sedaris


This book was read as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon)

Anyone that has read NAKED and BARREL FEVER, or heard David Sedaris speaking live or on the radio will tell you that a new collection from him is cause for jubilation. His recent move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious new pieces, including ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that ‘every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section’. His family is another inspiration. ‘You Can’t Kill the Rooster’ is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.
Review
I don’t know what it is but there is some link in my mind between David Sedaris and Alan Carr, it probably unfairly biases me because Alan Carr really annoys me (seriously, I don’t get why he’s so popular).
I must admit I didn’t take to David Sedaris himself. I felt he was rather self-satisfied, and that he thought he had to be better than everyone. At times his stories were funny, but not usually the ones focused on him. I liked Paul ‘The Rooster’ best, I could have happily read more about him, but he was a brief character.
3/5
 
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31 Songs- Nick Hornby


31 Songs is also known as Songbook.

I read this book as part of The Rory List

Synopsis (from amazon)

31 Songs is best-selling author Nicky Hornby’s ultimate desert island disks

Through thirty-one songs that he either loves or has loved, Nick Hornby tells us what music means to his life. These personal and passionate pieces – refreshingly free of pretension – are a celebration of the joy that certain songs have given him. Together with additional writings on music from his column in the new Yorker – seen in the UK for the first time – 31 Songs is for Hornby what many of us have always wanted: a soundtrack to accompany life.

Review

31 Songs is not really a book of music criticism. It’s an ode to music. Nick Hornby talks about music the way one might talk about a beloved friend. He focuses specifically on 31 Songs (plus 14 albums, and with a quick mention of the top ten albums when he was writing). They are not neccersarily his favourite songs but they are songs which he has played obsessively at one point or another. Sometimes they are songs which he connects with memories, and that’s part of what makes them special. Sometimes he talks about how much he loves the lyrics, or the music.

The songs do tend to be in a similar vein, with a couple which break the trend- songs like I’m Like a Bird. Sometimes he really made me want to listen to the songs- which were often ones which I wasn’t familiar with. The Beatles- Rain I still want to listen to, but it’s not on Spotify.

Actually I think I prefer Nick Hornby’s non-fiction to his stories (although I’ve enjoyed them too). There is a certain amount of passion in it, although it’s interesting to see how some of the music he loves links to some of his novels- especially (as would be expected) High Fidelity.

Probably the main thing which I’d say negative about this book is that it is a bit dated. There are a couple of extra sections which update it, but they are still a little out of date. There is a discussion of the top 10 albums in August 2001- but that’s a good 13 years out of date (wow that makes me feel old- I remember most of those albums), but it’s generally negative, so the same love for music doesn’t come through. Then there’s a list of favourite songs from 2000-2010, but it’s just a list, no discussion.

I tried to listen to the songs on Spotify. Unfortunately there were some songs missing, however if you’re interested you can have a listen to what is there.

 

Oh almost forgot, I bought this book in Shakespeare and Company!

4/5

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened- Jenny Lawson



Synopsis (from amazon)

Have you ever embarrassed yourself so badly you thought you’d never get over it?

Have you ever wished your family could be just like everyone else’s?

Have you ever been followed to school by your father’s herd of turkeys, mistaken a marriage proposal for an attempted murder or got your arm stuck inside a cow? OK, maybe that’s just Jenny Lawson . . .

Review

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened has been on my radar and on my wishlist for a long time (it was listed on my 2012 wishlist on goodreads, which I used to choose books for The Wishlist Challenge last year). As with many things which I actually buy from my wishlist it was on special offer when I bought it- I have the awful tendency to add things to my wishlist but then buy things which are not on it. Part of me wishes I had bought it sooner, but then I wouldn’t have got a bargain. Anyway I am waffling.

Jenny Lawson is probably best known as The Bloggess but that’s not how I ‘discovered’ her. I read a few reviews of Let’s Pretend The Never Happened which compared Jenny Lawson to Caitlin Moran. Seeing as I pretty much got a girl crush on Caitlin Moran as a result of reading How To Be a Woman I basically had to add Let’s Pretend This Never Happened to my wishlist. Then it sat on my wishlist for about a year before I saw a few links to The Bloggess and decided to check her out. I knew it was Jenny Lawson so I’m not sure why I hadn’t looked at her blog initially, but it made me want to read the book even more, then it was on offer on kindle so I snapped it up.

First off I should say if you are easily embarrassed then don’t read this in public. You will not be able to contain your laughter in certain parts. (And guess what? If you try to explain to your boyfriend what you’re laughing at he will just look at it like you’re crazy, and say something about how it cannot possibly be true, because what person would think that making a squirrel into a puppet and pretending that it’s magic is good children’s entertainment?) I suppose I should say that there are bits that people might be a bit squeamish about (lots about taxidermy, and hunting, and wearing dead animals…yeah). At times I was squeamish myself but then something was funny, and I would forget things like Jenny accidentally running inside a deer (yes, that did happen).

As with How to Be a Woman there were serious bit too. Although  most things had a funny spin put on it. It was good to see Jenny Lawson explaining things in a more serious mode however, some things require a more serious tone. I think Caitlin Moran has a very similar sense of humour to Jenny Lawson too, although I also think I preferred How To Be A Woman, maybe because it was closer to my own experiences. I should really get around to buying Moranthology– that’s been on my wishlist since it came out.

5/5

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Other reviews:

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Alison McCarthy

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Owl Tell You About It

Words For Worms

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The Elements of Eloquence- Mark Forsyth



Disclaimer: This book was sent to me free of charge (by the publisher) in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

In an age unhealthily obsessed with substance, this is a book on the importance of pure style, from the bestselling author of The Etymologicon and The Horologicon. From classic poetry to pop lyrics and from the King James Bible to advertising slogans, Mark Forsyth explains the secrets that make a phrase – such as ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright’, or ‘To be or not to be’ – memorable. In his inimitably entertaining and witty style he takes apart famous lines and shows how you too can write like Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. Whether you’re aiming for literary immortality or just an unforgettable one-liner, The Elements of Eloquence proves that you don’t need to have anything to say – you simply need to say it well.

Review

When I heard Mark Forsyth had a new book coming out I was really excited. I had a bit of a book crush on The Etymologicon, and loved The Horologicon too. So I immediately snatched it up when Icon Books e-mailed me, and read it more or less straight away.

I was a bit unsure if I would like it as much as the previous two, because it was about using words rather than their meaning and history. It’s certainly less quotable (I did a whole separate post of snippets from The Etymologicon), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, just different.

In some ways The Elements of Eloquence is more useful. You can use what is in it to make your writing, and speaking, better, or I suppose more stylised. A lot of the elements were things I recognised as being right, but didn’t really know why, it was interesting to see a bit of why. It was also good to learn the elements that I didn’t know.

I read this whilst doing NaNoWrimo, and I do think it improved my writing a little, or at least made me more aware of how I was writing things- even if I would have written it like that without reading The Elements of Eloquence.

Mark Forsyth is great to read. Easy, but interesting and informative. Intelligent and witty. I would certainly recommend his books to anyone interested in English and words. And his blog too. He was, after all, a blogger before he became a ‘writer’. I also recommend the hardback over the kindle version, it’s a beautiful book.

I certainly advocate a return to learning rhetoric in schools, and all the students should be set this to read! n fact they should just read it anyway.

4.5/5

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The End of Your Life Book Club- Will Schwalbe


The end of your life book club, will schwalbe, book, book review, cancerSynopsis (from amazon)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.

Review

This book is about books, it’s about dying, and it’s about building a relationship. Will uses books to connect with his Mum. Sometimes they just choose books which they enjoy, but other times books are used to communicate with each other. Some things can be said so much more easily in words.

Mary Anne has a great belief in the power of words. She knows books which explain what she has seen during her work for international charities much better than she can see herself explaining. The books are also used for her a lot of the time as an opening to a wider topic. One of the last things she wants to do before she dies is to see the project she has been working on come to fruitation- that is the building of a library in Kabul, I think that says a lot about what she believes about the power of words.

There was something very admirable about Mary Anne. She had spent most of her adult life going to dangerous places, most notably Afghanistan, to help others, she’d been shot at, she’s caught diseases, she’s seen people in great suffering, but she’s not given up. Even when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer she has no self pity. She just worries that she won’t be able to do everything she wanted to do. She still says she is lucky in comparison to others. She is suffering, but she doesn’t complain and keeps trying to do everything she did before.

The book is really one which makes you pause and think, and it added a few books to my ever increasing wishlist. However I did find it was dragging a little in the middle, so if you can cope with two books at a time I’d recommend having something else on the go too (for me it was Dearly Devoted Dexter, which is about as far from this book as you can get!).

3.5/5

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Friends Like These- Danny Wallace


Synopsis (from amazon)

Danny Wallace is about to turn thirty and his life has become a cliché. Recently married and living in a smart new area of town, he’s swapped pints down the pub for lattes and brunch. For the first time in his life, he’s feeling, well … grown-up.

But something’s not right. Something’s missing. Until he finds an old address book containing just twelve names. His best mates as a kid. Where are they now? Who are they now? And how are they coping with being grown-up too?

And so begins a journey from A-Z, tracking down and meeting his old gang. He travels from Berlin to Tokyo, from Sydney to LA. He even goes to Loughborough. He meets Fijian chiefs. German rappers. Some ninjas. And a carvery manager who’s managed to solve time travel. But how will they respond to a man they haven’t seen in twenty years, turning up and asking if they’re coming out to play?

Part-comedy, part-travelogue, part-memoir, Friends Like These is the story of what can happen when you track down your past, and of where the friendships you thought you’d outgrown can take you today…

Review

I nicked borrowed this book off the boyfriend the other week when nothing on my kindle was inspiring me and I just fancied an easy read. I actually got it  for him for Christmas because he loves the film Yes Man– I wasn’t sure if he had read the book the film is based on so I went for another Danny Wallace instead. When he read it he said I should too.

Well I did say after reading Charlotte Street that I wanted to try some of Wallace’s non-fiction, and who am I to deny an offer of a book?

I’m sure everyone knows the sort of friends Danny is trying to find. Those friends who you somehow lost, never really intending to, but still it happens. So I think Danny’s feelings about his friends are easy to relate to (not that most of us have the time or money to find and visit all our friends from primary school).

In a way I liked this more than other similar types of books (i.e. comedian goes on an adventure to find people, or things e.g. Googlewhack, Around Ireland with a fridge, Dave Gorman Vs. The Rest of the World), because it was more real. It was sort of inspirational. Not in the sense of I would go around the world to find people I knew in school, but in the sense of wanting to try and reconnect with lost friends.

But it had what those types of books have too. It was funny, and a bit stupid, and a little unbelievable and over the top.

4/5

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Children’s Hour: Eye Spy Shapes


Children’s Hour is a feature posted every Thursday here at Lucybird’s Book Blog. Children’s Hour is my time for reviewing children’s picture books. In my job in a nursery I encounter lots of children’s books, and these are the books I use for Children’s Hour.

You can find links to past Children’s Hour posts here.

I’d love to hear everybody’s experiences of the books I review too, and feel free to post me a link to your own reviews, I’d love to make this a bit interactive.

The image (if you were wondering) is taken from Shirley’s Hughes’ Alfie and Annie-Rose books which I loved as a child.

I was really surprised at how much the children liked I Spy Shapes. I tend to find that the books about things like shape and colour are a bit boring, and they all have a very similar formula; here’s a shape, look at the things which are this shape. Number books are better because there’s a bit more to do. However the kids seemed like this one. They liked naming the shapes, and were proud when they could, and some of the objects were quite obscure which made it more of a challenge to name them too. Sometimes the objects weren’t quite right though, they had buttons on the circle, square and triangle pages, and whilst you can get buttons in all these shapes it makes things a little confusing.

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1,227 QI Facts to Blow Your Socks Off- John Lloyd and John Mitchinson


Synopsis (from amazon)

QI is the smartest comedy show on British television, but few people know that we’re also a major legal hit in Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Africa and an illegal one on BitTorrent. We also write books and newspaper columns; run a thriving website, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed; and produce an iPhone App and a sister Radio 4 programme. At the core of what we do is the astonishing fact – painstakingly researched and distilled to a brilliant and shocking clarity. In Einstein’s words: ‘Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.’

Did you know that: cows moo in regional accents; the entire internet weighs less than a grain of sand; the dialling code from Britain to Russia is 007; potatoes have more chromosomes than human beings; the London Underground has made more money from its famous map than it has from running trains; Tintin is called Tantan in Japanese because TinTin is pronounced ‘Chin chin’ and means penis; the water in the mouth of a blue whale weighs more than its body; Scotland has twice as many pandas as Conservative MPs; Saddam’s bunker was designed by the grandson of the woman who built Hitler’s bunker; Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is explicitly illegal in Britain to use a machinegun to kill a hedgehog.

1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off will make you look at the universe (and your socks) in an alarming new way.

Review

This is going to be quite a quick review because I don’t really have much to say.

As with the other QI books I have read (have a look at the QI tag) this book is full of interesting facts. It’s immensely quotable and I did tweet quite a few facts whilst I was reading it. Unfortunately some of the facts repeated what had been on the TV show, and I think the majority of QI readers are probably also QI watchers.

I read this on kindle but I think it’s probably better as a paper book, simply because it’s easier to dip in and out of a paper book. On a kindle you really have to read cover to cover which didn’t work well for a book which is basically a long list of facts.

3.5/5

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The Horologicon- Mark Forsyth


Disclaimer: I received The Horologicon free from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

The Horologicon (or book of hours) gives you the most extraordinary words in the English language, arranged according to the hour of the day when you really need them. Do you wake up feeling rough? Then you’re philogrobolized. Pretending to work? That’s fudgelling, which may lead to rizzling if you feel sleepy after lunch, though by dinner time you will have become a sparkling deipnosophist. From Mark Forsyth, author of the bestselling The Etymologicon, this is a book of weird words for familiar situations. From ante-jentacular to snudge by way of quafftide and wamblecropt, at last you can say, with utter accuracy, exactly what you mean.

Review

I love, love, loved Mark Forsyth’s previous book The Etymologicon. So much so that I had to make a second post just to talk about all the words I tweeted about whilst reading it. I was super excited to read The Horologicon, and had planned to buy it when I went to a Mark Forsyth event which was meant to be last week (but was cancelled because apparently people in Birmingham don’t appreciate words *sob*), however when I saw it up on netgalley I snatched it up right away.

Maybe my expectations were too high but I didn’t like it as much.I think partially because it was in much bigger blocks. You couldn’t pick it up, read a paragraph and put it down again. That made it less tweetable, and also made it less easy to remember the words and information.

Maybe because it was on a less broad topic I found less of the words really interested me too, although I did tweet a couple which interested me. I did find I was telling other people about what I was reading rather than tweeting it because that broke my reading flow less. My boyfriend claimed that Forsyth made half the book up, but I think he’s  (my boyfriend) just being cynical.

I like the idea that you could skip between chapters depending on what time of the day it was, but it’s not very realistic. I did find occasionally my reading fit with what I was doing- and I think the experience was improved by that.

If you liked The Etymologicon you will probably like this one too, but if you haven’t read either I would recommend The Etymologicon over this one.

4/5

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Surviving the Angel of Death- Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri


Disclaimer: This book was given my free of charge via netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Among Holocaust survivor stories, Eva Kor’s experience as a 10-year-old guinea pig of Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz is exceptional. It is the story of a child facing extraordinary evil and cruelty, written for young teens and ending with an uplifting message. Eva Mozes Kor was just 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. Subjected to sadistic medical experiments, she was forced to fight daily for her and her twin’s survival. In this incredible true story written for young adults, readers will learn of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. The book also includes an epilogue on Eva’s recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis. Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working for causes of human rights and peace.

Review

Eva Kor is known for her talks about her time in Auschwitz and about forgiveness. She is also the founder of the CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors) organisation and the CANDLES Holocaust Museum. She wanted to share her story in a way that was accessible for children and she worked with Lisa Rojany Buccieri to achieve this.

So did she achieve it? Well I’ve read a lot of war time stories involving children (although few are actually set in a concentration camp).  I think generally these stories have been more accessible, although maybe that is because most of what I have read are fiction. They still tell a horrible, disturbing story but it is easier to sanitise them in a way, you can’t change the truth.

The story did give me a lot of respect for people who had gone through the death camps, and especially for Eva, for the strength and compassion they showed even in such an ugly situation.

I did feel it as a little brief in some areas, however this was probably due to it being a children’s story.

If you are looking for children’s books about the holocaust this might not be top of my recommendations but you can’t really go wrong with it.

3.5/5

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Ec-o-nom-ics: a Simple Twist on Normalcy- Kersten L. Kelly


Image from Amazon

Synopsis

Professional football players, corporate tobacco advertisers, volatile gasoline prices, and the Cold War all share an undetected commonality—each is an intrinsic part of economics. Though not obvious to the naked eye, each entity shares a pattern with the others. This book helps to shed light on these mutual characteristics. It is an extensive compilation of theories interpreted using supportive examples.

Economics is an enthralling science that encompasses our actions, thoughts, and emotional rationality every day in the unconscious. This book dissects economic theory into bite-size, entertaining snippets that anyone can understand and apply to their daily routines. It is a compelling depiction of history, pop culture, and social movements intertwined with relevant economic trends. Economics is part of daily life, and this book challenges readers to question how and why people make decisions by adding a simple twist on normalcy.

Review

Well if there’s one thing this book taught me it’s that I already know a lot about economics- I just never refered to it that way. It certainly achieved it’s objective of showing how simple economics can be but I didn’t feel I really learnt anything from it to be honest. Part of this is probably that there was quite a lot of consumer psychology information contained in the book, but most of it was basic and all of it I already knew- I’m not sure how far that would be true of someone with no academic knowledge of psychology.

The other problem I found was that it was very American focused. I could still relate to the real-world applications but sometimes I knew other things to be true in the UK, which means it isn’t perfectly placed for a market outside the US.

Still it is easy to understand, which makes it a good introduction to economics. Sometimes it is a little repetative which did get a little boring but certainly made sure that the theory was clearly underlined.

3/5

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Dave Gorman Vs The Rest of the World- Dave Gorman


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Remember when you were a kid, and you used to go round to a friend’s house to see if they were playing? Well, as adults we’re not supposed to do that. Which is a shame… because Dave Gorman likes playing. He REALLY likes games. So he knocked on the biggest door you could ever imagine – the internet – and asked 76,000 people if they fancied a game. This is the story of what happened next.

Dave was up for anything and gamely played them at whatever they chose. He played some classics – Monopoly, Scrabble, dominoes and cribbage. He played many games he’d never heard of before – Khet, Kubb, Tikal or Smite anyone?

He played board games and physical games. He’s thrown sticks, balls, frisbees and darts. He’s rolled dice and he’s drawn cards.

From Liverpool to Hampstead and from Croydon to Nottingham, Dave travelled the length and breadth of Britain meeting strangers in strange places – their homes, at work, in the back rooms of pubs – and getting some hardcore game action. From casual players to serious game geeks, from the rank amateur to the world champion, he discovered a nation of gamers more than happy to welcome him into their midst.

He’s travelled all around the country and met all sorts of people – and it turns out us Brits are a competitive bunch. And it seems that playing games can teach you a lot about what makes the British tick. Of course, Dave hasn’t been keeping score. Much.

Review

The last time I read a Dave Gorman book (America Unchained) I was disappointed by the lack of funny, but fairly interested in the topic. It seems that this is just Dave Gorman’s style of writing now, more about topic than funny. In America Unchained it did at times feel a bit preachy, but it’s probably pretty difficult to be preachy about games. With Are You Dave Gorman? and Googlewhack it was really the humour I liked about Dave Gorman’s writing. With this one it was certainly finding out about different games that I enjoyed- seriously I would love to attempt to play Khet, and the German style games sound fun (even if one did kind of sound like a board game version of Farmville!). Don’t get me wrong there were still the funny moments that you expect from Dave Gorman, it’s just more about the interesting games, and the people.

4/5

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Filed under Comedy, Games, non-fiction review, Travel

Sick- Jen Smith


Image from Amazon

Disclaimer: I was sent this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Small time drug deals and a passion for growing pot filled my world before I met Greg. But the first time I got off a flight, strolled over to the baggage claim in my carefully chosen new outfit and picked up two brand new flowered suitcases filled with eighty pounds of Mexican swag pot, I felt like I had found my true calling in life. The adrenaline rush of getting away with something big along with the money I would make was a new kind of high I’d never before experienced. I was instantly addicted. Making money organizing drug runs around the country was intense. Greg and I were a money making duo like none other. Life with Greg was exciting for a while but it wasn’t long before it became a cat and mouse game – then a complete nightmare.

Words like belittling and narcissistic were not in my vocabulary. Later, learning these words helped me disconnect from the mental torture. The tension would build as I protected him while he isolated me from friends and family. Then there would be an incident of abuse which confused me. At first it was lying, hurtful words and actions but quickly escalated to guns at my head, knives, and using my son to manipulate and control me. The honeymoon phase would be another fabulous trip to Hawaii or resort hopping around the world. I didn’t see the cycle or even understand abuse. The drugs and alcohol allowed me to tolerate and numb the pain until my spirit dwindled down to a shadow of nothingness. How could I escape the far reaching sabotage of any attempt at my freedom? Could there be a way out? Could I find a way to spare my son from this drug infested violent existence that would surely crush his soul?

Review

Oh this book made me so angry. I know it’s real but I can’t believe someone could behave the way Greg did, especially where his son was concerned. Sometimes I must admit I was annoyed with Jen too. Not because she didn’t see what was happening or didn’t try to get out of it, because she did try to get out of it once she realised what was happening. More I was annoyed at her for going back to the drugs after she gave birth. I had hoped she would realise then that the drugs weren’t helping her situation. However I can understand why she couldn’t give them up, I blame the drugs, not her. In fact in some ways I felt that Jen still blames herself for not getting out. I thought however she was very brave to try so many times, and I could understand why it didn’t work out, she needed to realise she could do better with help.

4/5

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Kindle (£3.23)

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How Winning the Lottery Changed my Life- Sandra Hayes


Image from Amazon

Disclaimer: This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

“What if you suddenly acquired a windfall of money and maybe a little fame? How would it change your life? This is my story, a true story of how my life changed since winning the lottery in April 2006. It includes the controversial reality show Million Dollar Christmas, which aired December 2007.

That reality show featured four out of the thirteen lottery winners (we were dubbed the Lucky 13), who consented to being filmed for a reality show. The show was about our lives as we prepared for our first Christmas as millionaires.

Out of the four stories, my story was the most talked about throughout the country. I received both positive and negative feedback from people across the United States.

My story in this book includes the love I received, the hate, the hopes, and regrets that come with a life-altering change. After reading this book, perhaps you will be able to answer this question: Is winning the lottery a blessing or a curse”

Review

Not really sure where to start with this review. To be perfectly honest it felt more like a self-help guide for people who suddenly became millionaires than an insight into lives of lottery winners, which was what I was expecting. There was some talk of what Sandra spent her money on, but no real detail, she talked about how some spending was personal, which is all well and good but if you are going to write a book about winning the lottery surely you have to let go of some privacy?

She often refereed to the reality television show with which she had been involved but didn’t give any real details about it except that they edited the show in a way that framed her in a bad light, and to mention a time they had filmed without her knowledge. It didn’t really say anything much specific and that meant a lot of the book was lost on me as I haven’t seen the show. At some points I thought that the book was a defense against the show but without seeing the show that meant it lost its meaning.

The writing wasn’t bad. It was pretty conversational which made it easy to read, but as a conversation it tended to be a bit repetative.

2/5

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Kindle (£2.63)
Paperback (£7.63)

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The Fry Chronicles- Stephen Fry


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Thirteen years ago, Moab is my Washpot, Stephen Fry’s autobiography of his early years, was published to rave reviews and was a huge bestseller. In those thirteen years since, Stephen Fry has moved into a completely new stratosphere, both as a public figure, and a private man. Now he is not just a multi-award-winning comedian and actor, but also an author, director and presenter. In January 2010, he was awarded the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards. Much loved by the public and his peers, Stephen Fry is one of the most influential cultural forces in the country. This dazzling memoir promises to be a courageously frank, honest and poignant read. It will detail some of the most turbulent and least well known years of his life with writing that will excite you, make you laugh uproariously, move you, inform you and, above all, surprise you.

Review

As far as an autobiography of Stephen Fry is concerned Moab is My Washpot (which is about his life before he became famous) had really quite surprised me, I don’t pretend to know a lot about Stephen Fry. Just that I love watching him on television and think he is generally pretty awesome. Having read the first autobiography I had less expectations of this one in a way, I didn’t expect it to be at all predictable because in the first book his life seemed to differ so much from what was suggested by his television persona.

In terms of what I would expect from Fry this was a little more what I had expected than the first book. You could certainly see parts of who he seems to be now coming out. In some ways it seemed a little self-obsessed (but can one really write an autobiography without it being a little self-obsessed?). I never really got the idea that he was elevating himself, if anything he was quite humble and even at times would tell himself off for being a little self-obsessed (which never seemed like he was pretending, more like he couldn’t understand why people would be interested). All the way through there was a certain level of disbelief that he had become famous. It was obvious he didn’t feel he deserved it, and from what he said in his more present voice he seemed still not to quite believe how lucky he has been. In a way this was the element of the book which most surprised me.

On adding this book to goodreads I had a quick flick through the (spoiler free) reviews (it’s something I often do, just reading the first few lines of each review to get a general picture of how people found the book). I happened to catch sight of a review which suggested that the book was a bit to name-droppy (and no that isn’t a real word, I don’t care). This did cause me a bit of worry. I’m not one of those people who is really into celebrity culture (I think I am right in saying that this is the one celebrity biography I have read). However I don’t think I needed to be worried. There were maybe a few name-drops that were unnecessary but most of the time he mentioned people who were friends or who he had worked with, I don’t think you can really write a whole autobiography without mentioning any friends or colleges.

The descriptions of Fry’s time at Cambridge were more interesting than I had expected too although not as interesting as wen the ‘fame thing’ started.

At time it had me laughing out loud but in general I wouldn’t describe it as a comic book- still it was almost worth reading just for Hugh Laurie’s reaction to Fry buying his first Apple Mac.

Only real problem I had with it is that the way it ended made it very obvious that Fry intended to write another autobiography. Which almost forces you to read it. I mean his life isn’t over so I suppose another biography would be expected but I would like to feel I have more choice.

Oh and one more thing, there were a few points where I thought the Kindle edition might be different to the paperback. Just things which seemed to suggest you were on an e-reader. Does anyone know if there are any differences?

4/5

Buy it:

Paperback (£3.86)

Hardback (£18.99)

Kindle (£6.99)

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How to Be Woman- Caitlin Moran


Image from Amazon

Synopsis (from Amazon)

1913: Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse

 1970: Feminists storm Miss World

 Now: Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunach from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller

There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain…

Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?

Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, Topshop, motherhood and beyond.

Review.

Those who follow my Twitter feed will know that I had a bit of a girl crush on Caitlin Moran during this book. Honestly I just would love to be her friend! It’s almost difficult to see this as a feminist book simply because you feel more like you are reading something designed to entertain. I was pretty much constantly giggling and the tone of her writing is just so natural you feel as if you are having a conversation with her rather than reading something she has written. Indeed in some parts she even writes out what she imagines the reader might be thinking and answers it. You can just imagine her sitting there talking to herself as she writes. Yet it is a feminist book. It talks about what you may call ‘little’ feminist issues- high heels, waxing, and the occasional bigger issue, but it makes it much easier to relate to things you encounter on a day to day basis, and are so easy to accept that they don’t even seem to be issues. But she’s right, who decided heels are a good idea? They’re stupid, they just kill your feet! Why is it attractive to have no hair?

Honestly you have to read this.

5/5

 

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Paperback
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The Hare the Amber Eyes- Edmund de Waal


Image from Amazon

This book was read as part of the Take a Chance Challenge

Synopsis(from Amazon)

The history of a family through 264 objects – set against a turbulent century – from an acclaimed writer and potter

Note: This is the short description from Amazon. The long description gives away just a little to much, so I decided to leave it more mysterious.

Review

This book, which was the winner of the Costa Biography Prize last year, got a lot of buzz towards the end of last year and during this year (although I don’t believe I’ve seen any bloggers reviewing it, if you have please link me so I can look). It made it a pretty easy choice as my book recommended by a professional reviewer for the Take a Chance Challenge, but it’s taken me all year to actually get around to reading it.

One thing I can say that really stood out in this book was the descriptions, especially the descriptions of places and objects. I could really imagine what the netsuke looked and felt like, and I came out of the book wanting to visit Vienna. The last time a book has made me want to visit a place was when I read The Historian back before I started this blog.

I did have a bit of an odd relationship with this book though. When I was actually reading it I found I was quite interested, but when I had put it down I was never really that bothered about picking it up again. At one point I was even on the brink of giving up on it, but with a little persuasion from my Mum, and he knowledge that I did find it interesting part of the time, kept me going. I am glad I did. While I didn’t find the first part of the story that interesting I really raced though the last hundred or so pages because I was generally enjoying that section. I think just the period of time it was set in was interesting (during the second world war) or maybe it was just because I knew that period of history so I could put events into a more clear setting. I did like however the thread going through the book setting a sort of atmosphere for what was to come. I suppose that is history, but certainly it was a good idea to make that path clear.

One thing I would have really liked in this book though is more pictures of the Netsuke, however there is an illustrated edition which may work better.

3/5

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius- Dave Eggers


Image from Goodreads

This book was read as part of the Rory Gilmore Challenge

Synopsis

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the memoir (or autobiography if you prefer of Dave Eggers). It tells the story of his life after the death of his parents as he raises his younger brother Toph.

Review

So lets see, I am rather behind on reviews so it has actually been about a week since I finished this one. To start off I found Dave Eggers style quite funny, the chapter with his mother dying was actually strangelly amusing (and yes I know that sounds strange) it was just the particular little aspects of the situation that he decided to highlight, they seemed so trivial and somehow to be thinking about those kind of things when your mother is dying was rather amusing.

After a while though I found less and less to amuse or entertain me. At first I thought it was quite self-centred (I guess, that’s not really the right word). I know that writing about yourself is quite a self-centred act in a way but it felt kind of arrogant, like he thought he was always right. At first I found that aspect kind of funny in itself, I thought it was, I don’t know, sarcastc or something, but after a while it just became annoying, I wanted him to think he wasn’t doing something the best possible way just once. I must admit by the end of tje book I just didn’t like him, although there were still the occasional scenes which made me chuckle a little.

3/5

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That Day in September- Artie Van Why


Cover of "That Day In September"

Cover of That Day In September

This book was sent to me free in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from Amazon)

We all have our stories to tell of where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This is one of them. In “That Day In September” Artie Van Why gives an eyewitness account of that fateful morning. From the moment he heard “a loud boom” in his office across from the World Trade Center, to stepping out onto the street, Artie vividly transports the reader back to the day that changed our lives and our country forever. “That Day In September” takes you beyond the events of that morning. By sharing his thoughts, fears and hopes, Artie expresses what it was like to be in New York City in the weeks and months following. The reader comes away from “That Day In September” with not only a more intimate understanding of the events of that day but also with a personal glimpse of how one person’s life was dramatically changed forever.

Review

I feel that words cannot really describe my thoughts on this book, it completely blew me away. I will try my best to put my thoughts into words, just don’t expect too much!

At first I was a little unsure about reading a book based on September the 11th, not because I had no interest in the subject but because there was a part of my that thought it didn’t seem right to make money out of a tragedy such as that day, but once I started ‘getting to know’ Artie I didn’t feel that way any more. It felt more like he was helping people to understand while relieving his own pain. I can imagine that writing about what happened that day must have been difficult for him.

In terms of read-a-bility for such a difficult matter That Day in September was surprisingly easy to read. The book was short (less than 100 pages) and the language was simple, so I managed to read the whole thing in less than an hour while waiting for the boyfriend in a coffee shop. However the simplicity didn’t take anything away from the subject matter (at least in terms of  emotional impact), if anything it let events speak for themselves. I liked that Van Why left things unsaid, sometimes words cannot match an emotion or an image, who can really describe what we all saw (whether in person or through the television) that day?

I did find myself wanting to e-mail Van Why as soon as I had read the book. Wanting to write about what I had read and urge you all to read it. What a shame I was nowhere near a computer!

5/5

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Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism- Natasha Walter


Synopsis (from Amazon)

Empowerment, liberation, choice. Once the watchwords of feminism, these terms have now been co-opted by a society that sells women an airbrushed, highly sexualised and increasingly narrow vision of femininity. While the opportunities available to women may have expanded, the ambitions of many young girls are in reality limited by a culture that sees women’s sexual allure as their only passport to success. At the same time we are encouraged to believe that the inequality we observe all around us is born of innate biological differences rather than social factors. Drawing on a wealth of research and personal interviews, Natasha Walter, author of the groundbreaking THE NEW FEMINISM and one of Britain’s most incisive cultural commentators, gives us a straight-talking, passionate and important book that makes us look afresh at women and girls, at sexism and femininity, today.

Review

I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, that’s not to say I don’t want rights for women (I mean which woman wouldn’t?), or that I wouldn’t fight if my own rights were threatened, but I probably wouldn’t got out of my way to fight for women’s rights in general, this book did get me thinking though. I would never say that women get equal rights to men, I don’t think you can when you live in a country where a woman can’t be heir to the throne unless she has no brothers. In fact I’m surprised that that fact wasn’t mentioned in Living Dolls as it did talk about women getting equal rights in work, if one of the most well known positions cannot easily be held by a woman then what hope is there for the rest of us.

In a way the book is a little depressing because it points out how far we still have to go, and even suggests that we have gone back on what we had previously achieved. I found it very emotive, especially when reading about how young girls are trained to be the stereotypical homemaker woman, and to expect to be that before they are even old enough to think that isn’t right. I enjoyed reading the parts about science and statistics that showed how the popular view is not necessarily the right one, or even the one with the most evidence behind it. I did find that Walter stayed on this point a little too long and it began to feel a little over top, and very one sided.

There were a few other bits I was unsure of as well. Walter seemed to me to suggest in some points that women who didn’t choose to exercise their freedoms (e.g. by choosing to stay at home, or choosing to settle down with one man)  were somehow worth less as feminists, she did put a few times that she wasn’t saying that but it still felt to me a little like she was, just that she didn’t want to offend anybody. I also disliked the cover, it made me feel embarrassed to read out and about (and that’s when I do most of my reading) although I can certainly say that it is attention grabbing.

Overall though it really made me think, and I do think that every woman should read it, whether you count yourself as a feminist or not

4.5/5

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Review of the Year (part 3- best non-fiction)


For the non-fiction I can’t have the same criteria as for the fiction, seeing as nothing scored 5/5. So instead contenders must rate 4/5 or more

The Contenders

The Lucifer Effect- Phillip Zimbardo

The QI Book of the Dead

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree- Nick Hornby

This too is difficult, especially as each book is on a completely different topic. The Complete Polysylabbic Spree got the highest score so technically it should win, and it was certainly the most enjoyable. However the winner is….

The Lucifer Effect- Phillip Zimbardo.

This one wins because it was informative on a tough subject without dragging things out or becoming boring. It is written on a subject I am very interested in and in a way that’s easy to understand and engage with. Also because I really feel it’s an important book to read.


Synopsis
(from Amazon)

In The Lucifer Effect, the award-winning and internationally respected psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, examines how the human mind has the capacity to be infinitely caring or selfish, kind or cruel, creative or destructive. He challenges our conceptions of who we think we are, what we believe we will never do – and how and why almost any of us could be initiated into the ranks of evil doers. At the same time he describes the safeguards we can put in place to prevent ourselves from corrupting – or being corrupted by – others, and what sets some people apart as heroes and heroines, able to resist powerful pressures to go along with the group, and to refuse to be team players when personal integrity is at stake. Using the first in-depth analysis of his classic Stanford Prison Experiment, and his personal experiences as an expert witness for one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, Zimbardo’s stimulating and provocative book raises fundamental questions about the nature of good and evil, and how each one of us needs to be vigilant to prevent becoming trapped in the ‘Lucifer Effect’, no matter what kind of character or morality we believe ourselves to have. The Lucifer Effect won the William James Book Award in 2008.

Review

Oh how long have I been reading this book? Seems like I have been reading it for months! It has taken a long time but not because it’s uninteresting or badly written. In fact of the psychology books I’ve read aimed at none psychologists this is probably the best written. It doesn’t use too much specialised language and, unlike the others I’ve read, when it does it seems to be explained well. I’m probably not the best person to say that as I have a psychology degree but I was trying to think of how people who know little about psychology would view it. Despite a good writing style I can’t really say that it was easy to read. The subject matter was quite disturbing, in parts things which happened during the Stanford Prison Experiment and at Abu Ghraib were described in such detail that it actually made me feel a bit ill, there were pictures from Abu Ghraib that I’ve never seen before, and were nasty. The thought that anybody, any normal person, could do those sort of things is disturbing because it’s one of those things you never imagine you could do, but maybe that’s wrong. I’m glad to be aware of it though, it’s like a guard against it.

Certainly not an easy book to read, but an important one I think, and very interesting, I definitely recommend it.

4/5

I also want to make a special mention for The Polysylabbic Spree because it added so many books to my wishlist and got me reading Hornby.

Part 1

Part 2- best fiction

Part 4- disappointing fiction

Part 5- disappointing non-fiction

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The QI Book of General Ignorance


The Book of General Ignorance

Image via Wikipedia

Synopsis (from Amazon)

The indispensable compendium of popular misconceptions, misunderstandings and common mistakes culled from the hit BBC show, QI. The noticeably stouter QI Book of General Ignorance sets out to show you that a lot of what you think you know is wrong. If, like Alan Davies, you still think the Henry VIII had six wives, the earth has only one moon, that George Washington was the first president of the USA, that Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, that the largest living thing is a blue whale, that Alexander Graeme Bell invented the telephone, that whisky and bagpipes come from Scotland or that Mount Everest is the world’s tallest mountain, then there are at least 200 reasons why this is the book for you.

Review

Seeing as I love the TV show QI I was hopeful for this book, but actually loving the show probably made the book not so good for me. Most of the facts were copied from the show so I already knew them- especially as I watch the repeats on Dave. The book was a little dry too. Although the facts were interesting, and it’s kind of amazing to think that all these things that you think you know aren’t actually true. The way it’s presented is just not as good as the TV show which I find funny, and of course quite interesting! If you haven’t seen the show you probably wouldn’t think to read the book, but if you have seen the show you’ll get little from the book. If you haven’t seen the show then the book is worth the read- but I’d say go for the TV show if you can.

3/5

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Proust and the Squid- Mary Ann Wolf


Proust and The Squid

Image by psd via Flickr

This review was written 29/06/09


Synopsis
(from Shelfari)

“Human beings were never born to read,” writes Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and child development expert Maryanne Wolf. Reading is a human invention that reflects how the brain rearranges itself to learn something new. In this ambitious, provocative book, Wolf chronicles the remarkable journey of the reading brain not only over the past five thousand years, since writing began, but also over the course of a single child’s life, showing in the process why children with dyslexia have reading difficulties and singular gifts.
Lively, erudite, and rich with examples, Proust and the Squid asserts that the brain that examined the tiny clay tablets of the Sumerians was a very different brain from the one that is immersed in today’s technology-driven literacy. The potential transformations in this changed reading brain, Wolf argues, have profound implications for every child and for the intellectual development of our species.

Review

I don’t tend to write non-fiction reviews so I apologise if it’s awful!
As a psychology graduate I did find that there was a fair bit in this book that I already knew (more than I thought I would). However there was still enough new information to keep me interested. Especially when it came to talking about the evolution of written language and the disadvantages of reading.

It was a pretty easy read for a science book, and generally I think people without a background in psychology would cope with it (as is intended), although I felt some of the more neurological sections were not explained enough.
I did really enjoy it, but I’m ready for some fiction now!

4/5

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A Million Little Pieces- James Frey


Synopsis (from Amazon)

When he entered a residential treatment centre at the age of twenty-three, James Frey had destroyed his body and his mind almost beyond repair. He faced a stark choice: accept that he wasn’t going to see twenty-four or step into the fallout of his smoking wreck of a life and take drastic action. Surrounded by patients as troubled as he, Frey had to fight to find his own way to confront the consequences of the life he had lived so far, and to determine what future, if any, he has. A Million Little Pieces is an uncommon account of a life destroyed and a life reconstructed.

Review.

This is another book which has been on my TBR pile for a long time. Part of what put me off it the controversy over whether it was fiction or not. Certainly it was written as if it was an autobiography, but in parts it just seemed too, perfect I suppose. Some of the more unbelieveable things I could believe, because although they were hard to believe they fell into the category where you could imagine them happening in certain ways. Ultimately it was Lilly that made me not believe, but I will say no more than that because of spoilers. In terms of writing style it was pretty easy to read, although in parts it felt almost as if you were reading a list, a sort of ‘I did this, then this happened so I did this’. The conversation was hard to follow in parts because it was so infrequently told who was actually speaking. It carried you through quite easily though and the topic was interesting enough that you didn’t get bored with the writing style. At some points Frey would talk for too long about something which really wasn’t interesting, like documenting a fight which was on TV, I really didn’t care, and at these points I did notice how boring the writing style was. As far as topic went at times it was hard or uncomfortable to read, and it parts quite graphic. There was lots of swearing, which was generally unnecessary and might put some people off but I suppose it made things more realistic. As far as the more graphic sections went it was unflinching and almost matter of fact about what was going on which did for me seem the way that someone who had gone through those things would talk about them.

Overall, not the best written book, and at time it drags. But when I was interested I was really interested, and I do wish I had read it sooner.

3.5/5

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Filed under Biography, Contempory, Fiction review, non-fiction review, psychology (non-fiction)

Head Trip- Jeff Warren


Synopsis (from Amazon)

This book will change the way you think, sleep, and dream for good. It is a book of psychology and neuroscience, and also of adventure wherein the author explores the extremes to which consciousness can be stretched, from the lucid dream to the quasi-mystical substratum of awareness known as the Pure Conscious Event. Replete with stylish graphics and brightened by comic panels conceived and drawn by the author, “Head Trip” is an instant classic, a brilliant and original description of the shifting experience of consciousness that’s also a practical guide to enhancing creativity and mental health. This book does not just inform and entertain – it shows how every one of us can expand upon the ways we experience being alive.

Review

I must admit that although I found the topic of this book interesting I was glad when it was over. It was interesting enough, and pretty well written, in some parts it almost read like a novel, but I found Warren tended to dwell a bit much on one point and so it came across a bit waffley. Part of the problem for me though was it was a little over simplified- I had been expecting a bit more technical information, but I think for people with less knowledge of psychology or neurology it would make a good (if long!) introduction

2.5/5

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The Complete Polysyllabic Spree- Nick Hornby


Synopsis (from the back of the book- because it’s what I want to say put more eloquently and the synopsis on Amazon, and on Waterstones, and Wikipedia are rubbish)

This is not a book of reviews. This is not a book which sneers at other books. This is a book about reading- about enjoying books whereever and however you find them.

Nick Hornby is first and foremost a reader and he approaches books like the rest of us: hoping to pick up one he can’t put down. The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is a diary of sorts, charting his reading life over two years. It is a celebration of why we read- its pleasures, its dissappointments and its surprises.

And above all, it is for you- the ever hopeful reader.

Review.

First I have to make clear this is not a books of reviews. Despite the synopsis (blurb, whatever you want to call it) saying this I still expected it to be. Yes he talked about how he felt about books but he didn’t so much talk about what they were about. I found this both intriguing and infuriating. When I like the sound of books he was talking about I wanted to know more, I wanted more on the content, or a little synopsis or something, but at the same time I feel if that mystery was gone I might not have been so interested, and this way I may read books I wouldn’t have usually. I like picking up books outside my usual circle, it’s the best way to discover something new you love and to expand your horizons, if you always read the same stuff how much could you be missing that you would love but just don’t look at? In that sense it had made me think about my reading (and as I read it as part of The Rory Gilmore book challenge it was in itself a books I wouldn’t usually read). In particular it made me think about my approach to reading books I’m not enjoying (the first review in this blog, from my blog thread– so before the WordPress blog started) was Rachel Ray a book I struggled with but kept reading because I hate abandoning books. I do already have a rule that I have to read 100 pages before abandoning, because I don’t think you can really get a feel for longer books before then but maybe I should be a bit more strict in what I call enjoying, there are so many books out there and so little time, why waste time on books you don’t enjoy.

I was glad when Hornby actually talked about a book I had read (early on he bought a copy of Norwegian Wood, a book I loved, but he didn’t read it, and I was disappointed) which was Death and the Penguin. It made me value his opinion more because it was a book he loved, and I had enjoyed- it made me feel I might be more likely to enjoy the books he had.

This book has really added to my wishlist. Thirteen books to be precise, plus one more I am unsure about and want to look in to more and one which I know my Mum owns so I can add straight to my To Be Read pile. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not. Browsing Amazon and adding books to my wishlist is one of my favourite hobbies, and I love discovering new books. But at the same time I am trying not to spend any more money on books, especially as my rule that my TBR pile has to be in single figures before I can allow myself to buy more books has been broken so many times this year. I did find that I had to carry round a notebook with me when reading this book just so I could note down books I was interesting in. I wish I had my own copy so I could mark interesting passages and the books I wanted to read- unfortunately I borrowed this from the library and as I don’t think I’ll want to re-read it it’s not worth buying a copy now. If you are interested though I would say buy rather than borrow.

I have such a love hate relationship with this book that I have no idea what to rate it. I love it so much I want you all to read it, but at the same time I wish there was more, and that there was less so my wishlist wouldn’t have expanded so much! Less than 4 seems too low, but 4 and 5 seem too high. So take the rating with a pince of salt!

4.5/5

The additions to the Wishlist

George and Sam- Charlotte Moore

Old School- Tobias Wolff

No Name- Wilkie Collins (to be looked in to)

How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World- Francis Wheen

Not Even Wrong- Paul Collins

True Notebooks- Mark Salzman

Assassination Vacation- Sarah Vowel

Early Bird- Rodney Rothman

Gilead- Marilynne Robinson

The Amateur Marriage- Anne Tyler

A Complicated Kindness- Miriam Toews

Then We Came to the End- Joshua Ferris

Running in the Family- Michael Ondaatje

Persepolis- Marjane Satrapi

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I Fought the Law- Dan Kieran


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Synopsis (from Amazon)

Originally intended to be a simple Christmas humour book, “I Fought The Law” ended up becoming something rather different. The premise was simple enough. Dan was going to spend a year trying to break as many stupid old laws as he could find, for your amusement. You see there are loads of ridiculous laws on the statute book…It is still illegal to beat a carpet in the Metropolitan Police District, to take possession of a beached whale or to get within a hundred yards of the Queen without wearing socks. The list goes on and on. But in the process of researching these silly old laws Dan found a glut of stupid legislation that was equally ridiculous, but these laws had one thing in common – they’d all been passed by our current Government. And when he met a man who has a criminal record for eating a cake that had ‘Freedom of Speech’ written on it in icing in Parliament Square the idea of breaking the Adulteration of Tea Act of 1776 started to seem a little frivolous.Lifting up this legal concrete slab in the garden of England, however, caused all sorts of creepy crawlies to emerge that began to cast doubt on the health of the nation, so Dan’s adventure began to change tack. His journey ended up taking him all across the country where he found some unlikely heroes fighting back. Meet: Dorothy, who spent days living on the roof of a bus station in Derby; a group of pensioners, who were forced to let off stink bombs in a court of law; the man who dresses like Chaplin’s tramp and keeps getting arrested outside Downing Street; and, one woman who got an ASBO for being naked in her own home – and a Tourette’s sufferer who was given an ASBO for swearing. So, whether it’s fighting to protect our environment, our freedom, or the right to live in an unconventional way, “I Fought the Law” is an unashamedly patriotic call to arms to all those for whom enough is enough.

Review.

This was not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting a bit of a funny book (something like the stuff Dave Gorman writes) but maybe with a serious message behind it. Bits of it yes were funny but I found more of it on the serious side, and at times even a little depressing, kind of fatalist. It was easy to read for a book that turned out pretty serious but did read a bit like a rant a lot of the time, and was very repetative, Would I recommend it? Well it’s interesting enough, and it did make me think of things- maybe things that people should think about, so I guess I would say it’s not a bad choice.

3/5

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The QI Book of the Dead


The QI Book of the Dead

Image via Wikipedia

Synopsis (from Amazon)

The QI Book of the Dead is a book about life.

‘What an awful thing life is. It’s like soup with lots of hairs floating on the surface. You have to eat it nevertheless.’ (Gustave Flaubert)

Around 90 billion people have existed since the human race began. From this huge number, the bestselling QI team selected 600 of the finest examples of our species and researched them in depth, distilling this immense banquet of life into an exquisite tasting menu of six-dozen crisp, racy mini-biographies, where the internationally and immortally famous rub shoulders with the undeservedly and (until now) permanently obscure.

The object is to learn something about what it means to be alive and how we can make the most of the time we have.

The QI Book of the Dead compares and contrasts the different ways individual human beings cope (or fail to cope) with the curves that the uncaring universe* throws at us. Collected into themed chapters with thought-provoking titles such as ‘There s Nothing Like a Bad Start in Life’, ‘Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone’ and ‘Is That All There Is?’ here is a chance to share the secrets of the Dead, to celebrate their wisdom, to learn from their mistakes, and to marvel at their bad taste in clothes.

‘The man who is not dead still has a chance.’ (Lebanese Proverb)

*We don t rule out the alternative possibility of a compassionate God whose motives are beyond our ken.

Review

Bit of a difficult one to review this. Very interesting, and well written so it was as easy to read as fiction tends to be. Gave me a fair bit of knowledge without any of it being particularly useful! Quite amusing too, although I found more made me laugh in the first few chapter than in the last few. Well worth a read anyway.

4/5

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The Lucifer Effect- Phillip Zimbardo


100s - September 2008

Image by Pesky Library via Flickr

Synopsis (from Amazon)

In The Lucifer Effect, the award-winning and internationally respected psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, examines how the human mind has the capacity to be infinitely caring or selfish, kind or cruel, creative or destructive. He challenges our conceptions of who we think we are, what we believe we will never do – and how and why almost any of us could be initiated into the ranks of evil doers. At the same time he describes the safeguards we can put in place to prevent ourselves from corrupting – or being corrupted by – others, and what sets some people apart as heroes and heroines, able to resist powerful pressures to go along with the group, and to refuse to be team players when personal integrity is at stake. Using the first in-depth analysis of his classic Stanford Prison Experiment, and his personal experiences as an expert witness for one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, Zimbardo’s stimulating and provocative book raises fundamental questions about the nature of good and evil, and how each one of us needs to be vigilant to prevent becoming trapped in the ‘Lucifer Effect’, no matter what kind of character or morality we believe ourselves to have. The Lucifer Effect won the William James Book Award in 2008.

Review

Oh how long have I been reading this book? Seems like I have been reading it for months! It has taken a long time but not because it’s uninteresting or badly written. In fact of the psychology books I’ve read aimed at none psychologists this is probably the best written. It doesn’t use too much specialised language and, unlike the others I’ve read, when it does it seems to be explained well. I’m probably not the best person to say that as I have a psychology degree but I was trying to think of how people who know little about psychology would view it. Despite a good writing style I can’t really say that it was easy to read. The subject matter was quite disturbing, in parts things which happened during the Stanford Prison Experiment and at Abu Ghraib  were described in such detail that it actually made me feel a bit ill, there were pictures from Abu Ghraib that I’ve never seen before, and were nasty. The thought that anybody, any normal person, could do those sort of things is disturbing because it’s one of those things you never imagine you could do, but maybe that’s wrong. I’m glad to be aware of it though, it’s like a guard against it.

Certainly not an easy book to read, but an important one I think, and very interesting, I definitely recommend it.

4/5

Edit: I forgot to say something which I disliked about the book was that sometimes Zimbardo seemed to be pushing his own political views, or even agenda, when it came to discussing Abu Ghraib, and it did mean that there was some content which wasn’t really needed (at least to the extent he discussed it) when thinking about the situation surrounding the events at the prison.

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Review of the Year 2009 (Part 1)


The bit at the beginning

Seeing as it’s almost the end of another year I thought it might be nice to have a sort of review of what I’ve read this year. What the best books have been, and the worst, and the most surprising. I’ll probably go on to talk about the books I’d like to read as a result of what I have read.

As I started logging my books from about the beginning of February those are all I will mention. My first review was written in late Febuary so on lists I will highlight books with no reviews in red, books with reviews on this blog will be linked. Those not reviewed on here are reviewed on my thread at The Book Club Forum, if you aren’t a member there (Why not?!) but would like to see a review of something mentioned let me know. I’ll post full reviews for the ‘winners’

So off we go…

General Stats

Books read (45)

Continue reading

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The Fatal Englishman- Sebastian Faulks


Synopsis (from Amazon)

Christopher Wood, a beautiful young Englishman, decided to be the greatest painter the world had seen. He went to Paris in 1921. By day he studied, by night he attended the parties of the beau monde. He knew Picasso, worked for Diaghilev and was a friend of Cocteau. In the last months of his 29-year life, he fought a ravening opium addiction to succeed in claiming a place in history of English painting.

Richard Hilary, confident, handsome and unprincipled, flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain before being shot down and horribly burned. He underwent several operations by the legendary plastic surgeon, A H McIndoe. His account of his experiences, “The Last Enemy”, made him famous, but not happy. He begged to be allowed to return to flying, and died mysteriously in a night training operation, aged 23.

Jeremy Wolfenden was born in 1936, the son of Jack, later Lord Wolfenden. Charming, generous and witty, he was the cleverest Englishman of his generation, but left All Souls to become a hack reporter. At the height of the Cold War, he was sent to Moscow where his louche private life made him the plaything of the intelligence services. A terrifying sequence of events ended in Washington where he died at the age of 31.

Review

I’m going to split this review into 4 sections, one general section and one for each story or ‘life’. It just makes it a bit easier to organise my thoughts.

General

Again this is a book which Waterstones put in the wrong section of their store, which kind of disappointed. Maybe they did it purposefully because Sebastian Faulks is better known for his fiction (his most famous novel being Birdsong) but this book is in fact a sort of biography (I say sort of because there are really 3 biographies). This meant I bought it expecting Faulks’ normal style, and this is where I found the book a bit of a let down. I usually really enjoy Faulks’ books, and Birdsong is amongst my favourites, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. While I found the stories themselves quite interesting I found the style was not up to Faulks’ usual standards. At times is read like a list which had just been joined together with a few conjunctions and a bit of punctuation. I think this was partly because, being a biography, there was little on how the ‘characters’ (I say for want of a better word) felt, understandable but I found it jarred with the story-like style of the writing.
After a while my problems with the writing style did become less important as I got more interested in the stories.
The only thing which wasn’t reduced by my interest in the stories was that there was a sense that Faulks’ wanted to use all th information he had read while researching for the book, this meant that in parts there did just seem to be lists of information which wasn’t really needed and actually extended each section beyond the point where you would have expected it to finish.

Christopher Wood

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Of all the accounts this was the one which interested me the least. While Wood’s life was more interesting than the majority of the population I didn’t really become interested until the section was almost finished, in fact I almost gave up within the first 50 pages, all that really kept me going was wanting to know how he died (although I did get interested before that point)! Really the only thing it did was made me intrigued to see some of his art work. I have posted one of his more famous pieces above.

Richard Hilary

Factually this was my favourite section. I’ve always been pretty interested in history (at one point I was planning on taking a history degree) and particularly the period around the two world wars. However I’ve never really known that much about the RAFs role in the second world war (in fact I think my only knowledge comes from a story I read as a teenager which was more focused on the work on the ground than in the air) so I found it really interesting to find out about what it was like to be a pilot and getting into the RAF. I also found the information about early plastic surgery really interesting. This was also the section I found easiest to read, because one of the sources was Hilary’s own book (which was more or less an autobiography) Faulks was able to include more information about how Hilary felt than he had been able to for the other two sections.

Jeremy Wolfenden

Character wise this was my favourite section. Wolfenden seemed to spend most of his life trying to be controversial, and various events made things all the more crazy. It seemed there was always stuff going on in his life. This section also partially took place in Moscow during the Cold War so I found it historically interesting too although it had less historical content (in terms of world history rather than personal history) than the section on Richard Hilary.

3/5

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This is Your Brain on Music- Daniel Levitin


Beachy reading

Image by NailaJ via Flickr

Synopsis (from Amazon)

This is the first book to offer a comprehensive explanation of how humans experience music and to unravel the mystery of our perennial love affair with it. Using musical examples from Bach to the Beatles, Levitin reveals the role of music in human evolution, shows how our musical preferences begin to form even before we are born and explains why music can offer such an emotional experience.Music is an obsession at the heart of human nature, even more fundamental to our species than language. In “This Is Your Brain On Music” Levitin offers nothing less than a new way to understand it, and its role in human life.

Review

When I bought this book what I really wanted was Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia but it wasn’t avaliable. I spotted this one and thought it might have some similarities and anyway regardless of whether it was similar or not it sounded interesting. I read a little of the introduction really to check it was worth buying and wanted to keep reading so decided to buy it.

Unfortunately I didn’t think the rest of the book really matched up to the introduction. The topic was interesting enough to stop me from giving up, however, and the brief narrative sections were well enough written to bare the less well written scientific sections. Maybe because I have studied psychology I found that Levitin was rather repetative- I suppose for someone who only had a basic knowledge of psychology (the group that the book was aimed at) may find this made things easier to follow however I am unsure how well the bits were written, only when I was fully familiar with ideas (as with nature verses nurture tests in twins, for example) did I find them easy to grasp. While I understood the other ideas I did find them hard to read- and when a topic is complicated you really don’t want to have to struggle with writing style too.

In other parts I got the impression he was trying to impress us with the psychologists, musicians and scientists he had met in his career and with all the studies he had done. While talking about experience within the field gives a certain authority I found this a bit much.

When it came down to it the only chapter I really enjoyed was the last one which talked about the evolutionary advantages of music. I think maybe because neurology is difficult to understand it’s also difficult to explain, and I think Levitin may have been in above his depth whereas this was easier to explain. While Levitin may be able to explain things to his students for those with no experience in psychology I don’t think I would really recommend this book.

The topic was promising but I don’t really think Levitin was the right person to write about it, at least not alone.

Oh and another thing I found this book a bit too American, it would refer to traditional songs in America that I didn’t really know. Also it referred to lots of ‘older’ pop music which I’m not familiar with or only vaguely familiar with.

2.5/5

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