Category Archives: non fiction

Review of Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan #Brainfluffbookreview #EyeCanWritebookreview

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This is a book my mother sent me after seeing twelve-year-old Jonathan interviewed on TV and looking up his story.

Can you imagine not being able to speak or communicate? The silence, the loneliness, the pain. But, inside you disappear to magical places, and even meet your best friend there. However, most of the time you remain imprisoned within the isolation. Waiting, longing, hoping. Until someone realises your potential and discovers your key, so your unlocking can begin. Now you are free, flying like a wild bird in the open sky. A voice for the voiceless.

Jonathan Bryan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of speech or voluntary movement. He was locked inside his own mind, aware of the outside world but unable to fully communicate with it until he found a way by using his eyes to laboriously choose individual letters, and through this make his thoughts known.

I knew this was a special book, but was unprepared for the emotional impact. It is a book of two halves – the first part is written by Jonathan’s mother and charts the events leading up to the accident that caused Jonathan’s problems. The list of life-threatening difficulties he has endured is shockingly long, as is the number of medical interventions and trips to hospital he had needed. His gritted courage and determination were evident in the fact that he simply hung on in there and refused to die when the odds were stacked against him, time and time again.

But what for me was a source of heartbreak and intense frustration was his treatment at the special school where he was simply being warehoused. It brought back far too many unhappy memories of another bright boy whose education was severely compromised because expectations about his ability were set far too low. This book is a testament to Jonathan’s own intelligence and passion, as well as a tribute to a mother who refused to listen to the experts and was guided instead by her own instincts about her son. She taught him to read and over time, they found a way to allow him to express himself, even though it is laborious.

Jonathan’s own feelings about being trapped within his body without any way to express himself, while forced to watch the same TV programme designed for developing infants should be a wake-up call for everyone in Special Needs education. I very much hope the politicians he has met will take note of what he is saying and realise that while he is remarkable, there are probably many other children and adults with active, creative minds also trapped by their bodies. I’d like to think as a country we will take on board Jonathan’s plea that everyone should be taught to read and write, using all the technology available, unless it becomes apparent that it isn’t appropriate, which is not the case now.

In the meantime, go and track this book down. It is an emotional read, but also very uplifting. Jonathan’s poetry will stay with me for a long time…
10/10

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Review of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew P. Walker

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Given my husband’s diagnosis of severe sleep apnea and the difference the treatment from the sleep clinic has made to all aspects of his life, when I saw this book was available on NetGalley, I immediately requested it.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive. An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleep is a crucial and illuminating book.

Normally I don’t include all the blurb, as it tends to give too much away. However, in this case I feel it nicely sums up exactly what this book is about. This was not a comfortable read. My husband’s snoring used to be epic – not only was it shredding his ability to sleep deeply, it also properly mucked up my sleep, too. It is still a mess and has been for a number of years. I have become accustomed to living reasonably happily on somewhere between four and five hours of sleep a night, and therefore it came as a very nasty shock to discover that I am probably compromising my immune system as well, as increasing my risk factor of incurring a range of nasty illnesses including Alzheimer’s and cancer.

However, the good news is that in addition to providing the scientific reasons why sleep is so important to us, Walker also provides a range of suggestions and tips so that those of us with really poor sleep hygiene have a chance to sort ourselves out. If you are a snorer, or sleep next one, find it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep for the recommended eight to nine hours a night, then you need to read this book.
9/10

Sunday Post – 25th February, 2018

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I’ve been back in the thick of it as term time has resumed at Northbrook. We had a department meeting this week, which was the most exciting in years with a new head who is very focused on expanding the role of Adult Learning in the college and in the community. I am now thinking about next year’s courses.

On Wednesday evening we had a great meeting with our Writers’ Group and are discussing the possibility of going on a week-long writers’ retreat in Devon at the start of October. During Thursday, my staunch writing buddy Mhairi came over and we discussed our projects, when she stopped me taking Miranda’s Tempest off on a new shiny direction that was luring me away from my former narrative arc. That’s what writing friends are for, people!

On Friday, Himself and I collected Frances from school so we were able to catch an early train to London on Saturday, as Grimbold Publishing were part of a featured event laid on by Forbidden Planet. I’ve never been to this store before – and found I’d arrived in heaven. In addition to being able to catch up with wonderful folks like Kate Coe and Jo Hall – there were all these books… shelves and shelves and shelves allll devoted to science fiction and fantasy! Frances was equally thrilled at the range of manga comics, so after a lovely afternoon chatting about books, browsing among books and buying books, we came home again… Though the trip home on the train was a tad quiet as we’d all buried our noses into our favourite reading matter.

Writing-wise, it hasn’t been a great week, but let’s hope I can do better in due course. Though it has been a very good reading week, given that I had some time after my meeting on Tuesday and a train journey to and from London to fill…

This week I have read:

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
A year after the Commonwealth won the war with the Theocracy, the interstellar cruise liner Supreme is on its maiden voyage, carrying a host of aristocrats thrilled to be sharing in a wondrous adventure among the stars. The passengers include the owner and his daughters, Angela and Nancy. Growing up with all the luxuries in the world, neither sister has ever known true struggle, but that all changes when Supreme comes under attack…
This is a really enjoyable adventure set on a passenger liner – think Titanic in space. I loved the slow build so we get to know the characters and care about them, before it all hits the fan. There are plenty of twists, though I did see a couple of them coming. All in all, an excellent read for fans of quality space opera.

 

Into the Fire – Book 2 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.
I loved Cold Welcome, the first book in this series, so I was delighted when I realised this offering was now available. It picks up immediately after the first book, when everyone has returned home and should be relaxing with their loved ones after such a terrible ordeal – only that isn’t happening. Once more Moon is cranking up the tension in this, well told futuristic thriller.

 

The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – Book 1 of the Black and Dods series by Diane Janes
1929.
The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.
This cosy murder is consciously set in the 1920’s tradition with a slow buildup and plenty of prospective suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details of Fran Black’s life, which takes a hard look at the lot of a woman living on her own at a time when they had only just got the vote. This one held me right to the end and I am definitely going to be looking out for more books, in this entertaining series.

 

The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow by Scott Baker
As writers, we all know what an incredible tool dictation software can be. It enables us to write faster and avoid the dangers of RSI and a sedentary lifestyle. But many of us give up on dictating when we find we can’t get the accuracy we need to be truly productive.

This book changes all of that. With almost two decades of using Dragon software under his belt and a wealth of insider knowledge from within the dictation industry, Scott Baker will reveal how to supercharge your writing and achieve sky-high recognition accuracy from the moment you start using the software.
This book is certainly well written and very clear. While there are a number of excellent tips which should help me improve my mastery of Dragon, I’m not sure that I will ever get to a stage where my accuracy will rival my typing – after all I was a fully-trained touch-typist who earned a crust as secretary in a former life. But as my hands and wrists are getting increasingly unhappy at cranking out 400,000+ words a year (NOT all novels or stories, I hasten to add) I need to do something before it turns into a full-blown repetitive strain injury.

 

Into the Thinnest of Air – Book 5 of the Ishmael Jones Mystery series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone’s Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone’s Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
This is another entertaining adventure in this paranormal murder mystery series. There is certainly plenty of tension as guests disappear one by one in the creepy castle that is cut off from the outside world. I was hooked into wanting to know what happens next and will be writing a review in due course.

 

Escaping Firgo by Jason Whittle
When a bank worker takes a wrong turn in life and on the road, he finds himself trapped in a remote village hiding from the police. Before he can find his freedom, he has to find himself, and it’s not just about escaping, it’s about settling up. Because everybody settles up in the end.
This is a delightfully quirky read – and at only 52 pages, moves along at a decent clip. I thoroughly enjoyed following our protagonist’s adventures, as he endeavours to escape from Firgo and will be reviewing this one.

 

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th February 2018

Review of Defender – Book 2 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Teaser Tuesday featuring Into the Fire – Book 2 of the Vatta’s Peace series by Elizabeth Moon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fire and Bone – Book 1of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

Friday Face-off – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down… featuring Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers

Review of Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

It Comes Down to Reading https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/02/22/it-comes-down-to-reading/ Just in case anyone has gone away thinking that learning an appreciation for books and reading is now an outdated irrelevancy superseded by newer technology…

Let’s Discuss – Predictability in Fiction and Film https://www.spajonas.com/2018/02/23/lets-discuss-predictability-fiction-film/ Accomplished indie author S.J. Pajonas raises this topic and has some interesting things to say regarding this topic. Do you like knowing what is coming up?

Blackwing: LITFIC edition https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/2018/02/19/blackwing-litfic-edition/ Genre author Ed McDonald pokes gentle fun at some of the snobbery that still pervades certain corners of the writing world…

Bar jokes for English Majors https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2018/02/20/bar-jokes-for-english-majors/ I loved these – though there were one or two that had me blinking and wondering what the joke was…

Do Not https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/do-not/ I love this poem by talented writer Viv Tuffnell – it contains a strong message for anyone who is feeling pressured and manipulated.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Sunday Post – 18th February, 2018

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been half term, so Life has been a tad less hectic as I caught up on some outstanding paperwork and finished an editing project in order to clear the decks to continue the rewrite on Miranda’s Tempest.

However I had a call to have the grandchildren a day early, so we went up on Wednesday to collect them. The weather was atrocious on Thursday – torrential rain and high winds, so we stayed indoors. Thank goodness on Friday, it stopped raining and the sun came out. It was absolutely beautiful for Frances to spend the morning drawing with my sister and then in the afternoon, Oscar and I had a round of crazy golf at the newly refurbished course, followed by a trip to the Harbour Lights café for a drink and a packet of crisps as we waited to pick up Frances, who was on a shopping trip with a friend. I had promised him a hot chocolate with soya milk, but sadly, the café only had cow’s milk on offer. He was a star and accepted a cold drink, instead.

Oscar has been enjoying the Winter Olympics – so watched with us. We all agreed the snowboard cross is our favourite event, closely followed by the half-pipe. Oscar is less impressed with curling, though I find the tactical aspect fascinating. We took the children home yesterday evening after a lovely few days with them – they are a delight.

Today I am hoping to make some headway on Miranda before I start back teaching tomorrow.

This week I have read:

Launch to Market: Easy Marketing for Authors by Chris Fox
Launch to Market provides a simple system to plan, track, and execute your book launch. It covers the basics of marketing in an easy to understand way, complete with exercises that will prepare you for your best launch ever. You’ll see real sales numbers from an author who just did exactly what you’re trying to do, with take aways that will show you exactly how I did it. Don’t leave the success of your novel up to chance. Launch your book to market.

Given I started my self publishing career at the end of last year, I thought it was high time I widened my focus from solely being all about the craft of writing to include the dark art of marketing. A really hands-on, nifty book full of practical ideas and tips.

 

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart
When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer

I thoroughly enjoyed this steampunk adventure. O’Hart’s rollicking adventure is packed full of vivid, engaging characters and action that had me turning the pages to discover what happens next – even though I am not the target audience.

 

Queen of Chaos – Book 3 of the Sequoyah trilogy by Sabrina Chase
The exciting conclusion to the Sequoyah trilogy.

Webspace pilot Moire Cameron is one of the best–but even she can’t fly her way out of a catastrophic drive failure that triggers a time-dilation bubble. Left suddenly eighty years out of date, she is on the run in a world she no longer knows, caught in the middle of a human-alien war while agents of Toren hunt her for the information only she has–the location of the pristine world of Sequoyah.

How’s that for a short and sweet blurb? That said, as this is the finale to Moire Cameron’s adventures, I have decided to add the blurb to the first book The Long Way Home to give you an idea of what this series is about, because if you are a fan of quality, character-led space opera then these books are well worth reading – and are ridiculously cheap…

 

Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks
“Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson in the glitz and grit of L.A….”

In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future. Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap. Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, being an unexpectedly gritty read exploring some of the old Celtic myths full of dark blood magic and sacrifice underneath the fluff.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 11th February 2018

New cover for Dying for Space – Book 2 of the Sunblinded trilogy by S.J. Higbee

Teaser Tuesday featuring Queen of Chaos – Book 2 of the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

Friday Face-off – Groovy baby… featuring Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Review of Raven’s Children – Book 2 of the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Not one of them was capable of lying… https://readlorigreer.com/2018/02/16/not-one-of-them-was-capable-of-lying/ I read this offering from W.H. Auden – one I didn’t know and since then the words have haunted me…

Chilean Open-Air Art https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/chilean-open-air-art/ These stunning examples are worth checking out…

How I Write Reviews http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2018/02/15/how-i-write-reviews/ This is a fascinating insight into the craft of review writing by one of my favourite reviewers.

10 of the Best Poems about Darkness https://interestingliterature.com/2018/02/14/10-of-the-best-poems-about-darkness/ This article includes two of my all-time favourites – ‘I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark’ and ‘The Darkling Thrush’.

Twas the Night Before Valentine’s… http://authorkristenlamb.com/2018/02/twas-the-night-before-valentines-2/ I loved this anti-Valentine’s poem by social media jedi, Kristen Lamb.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Sunday Post – 28th January, 2018

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I am now getting the hang of fitting in my extra Creative Writing class on Tuesday evening, which is now starting to feel like routine. That said, I can’t remember when so many students were absent with illnesses. I’m hoping the coming week will see everyone recovered and back attending the classes. On Thursday, my sister came shopping with us as Himself had the day off and then later she joined us for a meal in the evening. The wonders of technology had Himself and my son Rob, who is currently in the States, playing Bloodbowl together via their computers after our meal.

Yesterday was a special day I won’t forget in a hurry – I got to see my unborn granddaughter on screen in such amazing detail that I wept. My daughter decided to go for a gender scan and invited us grannies along, with the rest of the family. A magical experience. Today I shan’t be around much, because we are off to celebrate my lovely stepfather’s 70th birthday. We are taking him to one of his favourite restaurants and hopefully the rain and gloom will ease up sufficiently so that the drive is less slog in the mirk and more of an enjoyable drive in the countryside. In the meantime, I hope you all have a lovely day and that the weather is at least bearable, if not kind.

This week I have read:

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew P. Walker
Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive. An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses.

Yes… I know – this has to be one of the longest blurbs in history, but it also nicely sums up this entertaining and rather frightening non-fiction read. If you regularly don’t get between eight to nine hours of sleep a night and have kidded yourself it really doesn’t much matter than you don’t – then this book is required reading.

 

Keeper by Kim Chance
When a 200-year-old witch attacks her, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. Even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to believe it—until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

After the rather disturbing read earlier in the week, this is just what I needed – lots of magical mayhem around a sympathetic protagonist and a completely dastardly villain. Great stuff! Review will be following in due course.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 21st January, 2018

Teaser Tuesday featuring Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew P. Walker

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Keeper by Kim Chance

Review of Netgalley arc We Care For You by Paul Kitcatt

Friday Face-off – The grass is always greener over the septic tank… featuring The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

My 2017 Reading Year – the Statistics

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Space Features of the Week (27 January) http://earthianhivemind.net/2018/01/27/space-features-week-27-january/ Steph brings another wonderful roundup of all that is going on – I love the idea of the Tesla on Mars and do check out that NASA video of the unfurling solar panels…

Chai Break: How positively have authors responded to your negative reviews? https://thisislitblog.com/2018/01/27/chai-break-how-positively-have-authors-responded-to-your-negative-reviews/ The bad behaviour of some authors when confronted by bad reviews is a frequent hot topic on book blogging sites, so I really enjoyed reading this more uplifting take on the subject.

The Difference Between Young Adult and New Adult…And Why It’s Important http://www.momwithareadingproblem.com/2018/01/difference-young-adult-new-adult-important/ This is a particularly gnarly issue if you have young teens keen to read anything they can get their hands on – and I agree with Lillian, it’s important.

Sandy Denny – Who Knows Where The Times Goes? https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2018/01/04/sandy-denny-who-knows-where-the-time-goes/ Once again, the marvellous Thom Hickey takes me to a place I didn’t know I wanted to go – from this haunting song, he transitions to a wonderful passage from the Old English writings of Bede, which then had me hunting for the translation… Magical and moving. I’m now going to be looking for the writings of Bede. Thank you Thom!

31 brand new animal species discovered by amateur naturalists – https://redpenofdoom.com/2018/01/25/31-brand-new-animal-species-discovered-by-amateur-naturalists/ This quirky blogger has an offbeat sense of humour and this item had me laughing out loud – and wishing that some of these names actually existed…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a wonderful week.

Teaser Tuesday – 23rd January, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew P. Walker

60% It is said that time heals all wounds. Several years ago I decided to scientifically test this age-old wisdom, as I wondered whether an amendment was in order. Perhaps it was not time that heals all wounds, but rather time spent in dream sleep. I had been developing a theory based on the combined patterns of brain activity and brain neurochemistry of REM sleep, and from this theory came a specific prediction: REM-sleep dreaming offers a form of overnight therapy.

BLURB: An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleep is a crucial and illuminating book.

I am conscious that I hardly ever read non-fiction and when I saw this one on offer, given our recent, rather scary experience with my husband’s severe sleep apnea, I decided I wanted to know more about this subject. Now I do, I’m making strenuous efforts to get my own broken sleep rhythm back into some kind of order. This book is not just recommended – for those of you who don’t regularly get 7-8 hours sleep a night, this is required reading.

Review of The Path of Self-Publishing Success by Michael R. Hicks

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I’ve been a Twitter follower of Michael for a while and we’ve exchanged the odd tweet, meantime my husband has downloaded and read a couple of his ebooks on Kindle and they’re now archived waiting for me to get to them. I came across this book and downloaded it after reading the Look Inside feature on Amazon, as I’m seriously considering self-publishing one of my science fiction trilogies.

self-publishing-cover01-300hThe writing style is friendly and approachable – Hicks delivers the advice as if you are sitting at a table across from him over a coffee or beer, so I was immediately drawn in. The books is clearly set out, starting with Hick’s own experiences of trying to sell his first novel In Her Own Name, to agents and publishers and finally deciding in 2008 to take the plunge and publish it himself. And after working away, in mid-2011 he hit the best-seller lists and by July of that year was close to making $30,000 in a single month. He then takes the reader on a step by step journey of what you need to do in order to successfully publish your work, starting with the writing and editing of your work, acquiring a good cover, how to obtain an ISBN number…

It isn’t a particularly long book and I devoured it in a single sitting. However, I’m very aware that it is a book I shall be regularly returning to when I’m in a position to turn my own work loose on the unsuspecting public.

He has made a point of labelling his chapters, so you can dive right in to the appropriate section if you wish to retrieve a particular slice of information – and acknowledging that this is a fast-moving industry with a lot going on, he also has produced links where he will regularly update developments for those of us who made the investment of £1.90 for his words of wisdom.

I came away from reading this book feeling inspired and energised. However, at no time does Hicks under-estimate the significant amount of hard work and effort it takes to acquire the amount of success he has attained. Which is a relief – I get a tad fed up with the horde of tweets and Facebook messages to the effect that so long as you tell yourself, ‘You Can!’ or some other equally anodyne sentiment, you’re more or less destined for J.K. Rowling success…

All in all, this book is excellent value for money and if – like me – you are thinking about self-publishing, or simply curious to see what all the fuss is about, then you can discover a lot of valuable information from an industry insider, who has taken the time and effort to smooth the way for those coming behind him.
9/10

Review of Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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This book, published in 2011, was recommended to me by my son when he came to stay for Christmas. I’ll give you due warning – if you are looking for an easy, lightweight read then leave this one on the pile and come back to it when you are ready to give your grey matter a thorough workout.

Experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman has won a Nobel prize for his work on Prospect theory – but that is only part of the work he has done in a long career examining how the human mind operates. I found the font downright unfriendly as it’s far fainter and close packed than my middle-aged eyes want to tackle, but I soon discovered that this was a deliberate ploy. Kahneman has noticed that we respond to problem solving in largely two ways that he calls System 1 and System 2. Our System 1 is the normal default setting that mostly responds to the multitude of decisions that confronts us in our daily lives – it is quick, often providing an answer in less than a second; instinctive – System 1 will take clues, often inappropriately, from our surroundings and is also influenced by our emotional state. While Kahneman is at pains to emphasise System 1 works very well in a large number of situations, every single one of us make some major mistakes that can have life-changing consequences by relying too much on our System 1 reflexes.

System 2 is the type of thinking we employ when we come up against a problem that we identify as too difficult for our System 1 to process. System 2 is slower, more measured and less prone to be affected emotionally, although we should all be aware that our thinking fast and slwosurroundings have far greater impact on our mindset than we realise. Kahneman discusses a set of experiments where the participants sat in a room and answered questions about how willing they were to help friends and/or people they didn’t know. When dollar signs were displayed across the screensavers on the computers, participants were noticeably less generous – even though they didn’t consciously notice the screensavers. But Kahneman also characterises our System 2 mental processing as being lazy – it is reluctant to engage. One of the things that nudges it to work is when the font is difficult to read…

Much of his most productive experiments were conducted with his collaborator and friend, Amos Tversky, now dead. Kahneman is more than generous with attributing a great deal of the credit for his achievements to his partner – and you get the sense that this book is, in part, a tribute to Tversky.

Kahneman’s prose, is very clear and if he uses any kind of jargon connected with his studies, he is at pains to fully explain exactly what he means. And the unfriendly font and measured writing style delivers some head-swivelling discoveries. For instance, when questioning patients who had just undergone a painful medical procedure, their recollection didn’t hinge on the duration of the procedure at all. Patients judged their experience on the peak pain levels (which they were asked to evaluate on a scale 1-10 every 60 seconds) and how much they were suffering when the procedure came to an end. So one patient who endured the procedure for twenty-five minutes felt more positive than another whose surgery lasted eight minutes, because that patient’s pain level right at the end was still significant. Ah, you’re thinking – that was because the second patient was in greater pain during the shorter operation. No – both patients reported the same pain levels… And this isn’t a one off finding – when recalling similar episodes, the duration is something that most people don’t recall effectively and so don’t factor in when recalling their experiences. Although, I’m hoping that particular experiment won’t be repeated any time soon, as those patients enduring the longer procedure had their operation deliberately extended.

So does the book measure up to the back cover hype? The answer is – yes it does. And if you are thinking of dabbling in the stock market, making any large purchases, or have a crucial decision to make regarding your health, then read this book first. In fact, I think I’m going to have to get my own copy, just in case…
9/10

Review of The One World School House: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan

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Over the years, a distressing scene has been replayed in homes across the land far too many times… A panic-stricken child finally realises that parents aren’t – after all – capable of helping out when really needed. While said parents, irritable and helpless when confronted with modern Maths/Chemistry/typically hard subject, find they aren’t remotely equipped to assist with their child’s homework. Tempers fray under the pressure and the generation gap yawns into an unbridgeable chasm. However this scene can be consigned to history, thanks to Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.

But don’t take my word for it – this is what Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft has to say on the subject, “I discovered Sal Khan and Khan Academy like most other people – by using these incredible tools with my own kids. Sal Khan’s vision and energy for how technology could fundamentally transform education is contagious. He’s a true pioneer in integrating technology and learning. I’m happy that, through this book, even more people will be introduced to this ground-breaking innovation.”

A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: this is the goal of the Khan Academy; a passion project that grew from an ex-engineer and hedge funder’s online tutoring sessions with his niece, who was struggling with algebra, into a worldwide phenomenon. Today millions of students, parents and teachers use the Khan Academy’s free videos and software, which have expanded to encompass nearly every conceivable subject, and Academy techniques are being employed with exciting results in a growing number of classrooms around the globe.

1worldI first heard about the Khan Academy from the talented science fiction writer Tricia Sullivan at Eastercon, where she enthused about teaching herself Maths up to calculus level, thanks to the online lessons now available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. Immediately, I checked it out and was extremely impressed at the extensive series of colourful, unthreatening lessons and the self-testing tasks to ensure you have fully grasped the concept before you move on.

So it was a real treat when my mother sent me this book as an extra Christmas pressie (thank you, Mum!). Khan has lots of fascinating things to say about the current, unsatisfactory manner in which we teach children. As an ex-primary school teacher, I found myself muttering in agreement at his observations at the broken-backed system that – as far as I can see – is in place as a cheap way of keeping children off the streets rather than equipping them with relevant knowledge fit for the 21st century.

Khan suggests that instead of having a teacher deliver a lesson to a group of children in a totally arbitrary manner, they learn individually at their own pace using modern technology with the teacher acting as enabler. He also suggests that a far more creative, wide-ranging curriculum should be in place, where children undertake complex self-directed tasks in groups. A revolutionary approach to state-funded education? Absolutely. But our current system produces far too many children unable to master the basics, who, frustrated and angry, become an unemployable underclass. Government’s constant tinkering only further undermines discouraged teachers and destabilises an already creaking system.

Read Salman Khan’s solutions to our educational problems – and then could someone point the Minister of Education in the direction of this book? Please?? We cannot continue to squander our most precious resource – our children.
10/10

Review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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This non-fiction book has become an international bestseller, charting a remarkable story that consumed the author for a decade.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing polio vaccine, helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization and gene mapping, and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East henrettalacksBaltimore today, where Henrietta’s children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family – especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into Space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

Reading a variety of scientific articles and books over the years, I’d already heard about these remarkable HeLa cells and was prompted to track this book down when I read about it in the New Scientist. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks follows an amazing story, helped by Skloot’s vivid writing which grabbed me by the throat and sucked me into this incredible tale. I was appalled at the grinding poverty endured by the Lacks family and horrified at Henrietta’s treatment which seemed every bit as barbarically brutal as anything you’ll find in Tudor apothecary notebooks. It didn’t help that Henrietta was coloured at a time when the south was divided along institutionalised racial lines. However, I don’t think poor Henrietta stood a chance against the rapacious cancer that ripped through her – the sheer toughness of those cells that are still going strong today, decades after her death, is a testament to the aggressiveness of this particular cancer.

Henrietta was only thirty-one when she died, leaving behind a young family. A good portion of the story deals with the painful grief of children who were never given sufficient information to come to terms with their mother’s involuntary role in a whole number of scientific breakthroughs. While the rest of the world marvelled at the sci-fi headlines describing the HeLa cells and their contribution to humankind’s knowledge, Henrietta’s daughter was riven with horror at that thought that some debased Alien-type version of her mother was locked up in a laboratory somewhere, enduring endless torment.

In America, the law currently says that once patients have had growths/moles/tumours removed, these tissues are no longer belong to them. Furthermore, if researchers and biotechnological companies find a useful gene or cell, they are entitled to sell off these portions for a profit – and American citizens can’t do anything about it, according to the latest Supreme Court ruling. However, this book isn’t in the business of portraying scientists as unfeeling villains – George Gey who removed the tissue sample from Henrietta and was responsible for growing it on, worked tirelessly on the project and freely allowed other scientists around the world access to the HeLa cells, making it possible for the large number of advances and scientific investigations to occur.

What this book starkly highlights is that the myth that science can somehow operate outside the messy business of living, is just that – a myth. The fact that a bunch of cells harvested from a young woman dying of cancer were responsible for a number of number of medical breakthroughs, doesn’t alter the fact that her children suffered by being completely ignored by that process. And if Rebecca Skloot hadn’t arranged for a portion of the royalties from her book to go towards a foundation to help Henrietta’s descendants, the hard fact is that they probably would be still unable to afford medical insurance.
10/10