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Reviews Written by
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK)
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Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind over Body
Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind over Body
by Jo Marchant
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Mind broadening, 19 July 2016
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Extremely well written and accessible, this book is very mind broadening.

While subjects like hypnosis, meditation and religion are covered here, the reader can be assured that this is a rigorous and solid scientific approach. There is no new age mumbo jumbo and there are no wishy washy claims in sight.

The author establishes beyond doubt the numerous links between mind and body. It is also rather disappointing to hear about the pressures to push research in the direction of medication, which offers better financial return but does not always make sense for the patient.

If I have one tiny criticism it would be that the chapter on religion points out all the plus points but does not highlight the negative ones. If you compared health outcomes of the religious states in the US and compared them with health outcomes in the more secular states I suspect the secular states would fare better overall.

But overall this is a milestone book, written with journalistic flair by a solid scientist, and it deserves the widest possible circulation.


The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins
The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins
by Hal Whitehead
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Knotty writing, 23 Jun. 2016
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Sad to say this is a really knotty read. The authors have done wonderful research into whales, but they are not good writers. A lot of this reads like a dull scientific paper, and seriously lacks creativity and imagination. It was hard work!

There is a another problem. In the past, the scientific establishment believed, for entirely emotional reasons, that animals were non conscious machines following instinct, and therefore have no culture. The authors go flat out to disprove this thesis. That may be interesting for any remaining individuals who cling to the old school, but for the rest of us it is a bit like being given a rigorous step by step proof that the earth is not flat. I suppose the case needed to be made (otherwise the authors wouldn't have made it), but it does reduce the attractiveness of this book.

So overall, while this contains some fascinating information about whale culture (I especially enjoyed the section on whale song), this is a disappointing book. I hope that a professional writer - a science journalist perhaps - will pick up the material and give us a really excellent book on the subject.


The Summer Before the War
The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will make even the hardest heart cry, 5 Jun. 2016
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This is a wonderful novel from every point of view. Helen Simonson is a master.

The 580 pages whizzed by, feeling more like a brief 200 pages.

The book has everything: it is very funny; poignant (it made me cry, and that hasn’t happened to me in the last 50 novels I read); it conjours the time and place so well; the dialogue is excellent and often feels like a play; the novel is well plotted and unpredictable; everything is beautifully restrained and understated throughout; there is an excellent sense of dramatic timing.

I loved the way the war just appears casually out of the blue, and the author resists the temptation to describe the build up. This reflects what people actually experienced. Her restraint shows in the way the idyllic Sussex summer life continues pretty much as normal, long afrer the outbreak of war. She holds the real war back until the last 70 pages. For a long time the characters maintain their pre war plans, and only in small ways does the war start to intrude.

The relationships are described in a beautifully restrained way too, which I also admired. For example the Daniel/Craigmore relationship is handled with great subtlety. Less is more.

There is much else to enjoy – the social commentary is very perceptive and even the minor characters engage the emotions (my tears were caused by one of them). The description of the war itself is handled better than a man could have done it (no boring technical bits!)
I was so happy that the author avoids some of the clichés which mar many contemporary novels. No flashbacks, no overloading with pretentious mataphors, and some of the characters are actually allowed to be nice.

I thoroughly recommend this book, which I would give six stars if I could. Reading it will give you a burning desire to visit Rye, but that is no bad thing either.


The Bees
The Bees
by Laline Paull
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical feast for the senses, 27 May 2016
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This review is from: The Bees (Paperback)
One of the best novels I have ever read.

Laline Paull has a wonderful imagination. I love the way she describes the response to scents, the collective mind, the trance like states of worship, the musical chord and so on. This is a real feast for the senses. I also enjoyed reading about each foraging flight, which reminded me of those old world war two movies where some fail to return after each mission.

I found this very hard to put down, as the author keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next.

I see from the reviews that some have had trouble in getting to grips with this novel, finding it confused or just silly. I would recommend readers to check out the books by evolutionary biologist E O Wilson, who specialises in bees and their parallels to human society. Bees and humans are both eusocial species, which are incredibly rare in nature. So it is entirely appropriate and relevant to make a novel out of bee/human characters, and the elements of shared worship and collective mind in the novel offer quite profound insights. And yes, like bees, humans do a lot of things by instinct or on auto pilot.

I learnt a lot about bees, and have just ordered the bee book which the author recommends in her 'acknowledgements', so I can find out more.

Highly recommended. Don't be put off by the negative reviews as many of these seem to be by people who, not having Laline Paull's level of scientific knowledge, misunderstand humans' place in nature.


Raptor: A Journey Through Birds
Raptor: A Journey Through Birds
by James Macdonald Lockhart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.74

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Warning - contains much that is mind numbingly dull, 21 May 2016
Some books almost read themselves - you just pick them up and, before you realise it, the book is done.

This book was the opposite extreme. It took an immense willpower, and several weeks, to get through.

The places where the raptors appear are always enthralling. But the raptors themselves take up perhaps 10% of the writing. The rest meanders all over the place. For example we learn about the clearances in Scotland; about Luftwaffe bombing in Coventry and Bolton; and about Lord Leverhulme's houses and the suffragettes.

About half of the text comprises a mind numbingly dull biography of an obscure mid nineteenth century ornitholgist who wrote an early book about British birds.

I am not sure how the author selected his disjointed material, but for me it didn't work.

So while I appreciated and was enthused by the accounts of the raptor sightings, the overall package is rather weak. I would have preferred much less of the digressions and more about the birds themselves.


Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six stars, 2 May 2016
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This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
I don't know why I enjoy Murakami so much.

There is something about his style which really gets me, and every other author seems flat in comparison. If I could give this six stars I would!

Norwegian Wood is probably more accessible than the other Murakami books I have read, for it is a kind of love story. Unlike some of the others, it doesn't have a science fiction element. But it contains ths usual confusion about what is going on, just like real life, as well as wonder and rapture about simple things.

Highly recommended!


Pompeii
Pompeii
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Crafted, 2 May 2016
This review is from: Pompeii (Paperback)
Very popular in style certainly. Simply written, with an obvious sense of adventure.

But it is really well done and superbly crafted.

I found it easy to read; constantly engaging; a page turner.

And I learnt a lot of history too.

The only other Robert Harris book I've read is 'Fatherland'. I liked that too, but I think I prefer Pompeii overall.

Recommended.


The Noise of Time
The Noise of Time
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some things are worse than physical pain, 2 May 2016
This review is from: The Noise of Time (Hardcover)
I found this excellent novel to be deeply disturbing and rather frightening.

The thing is, the hero's life is only in danger in the first of the three episodes, and in each episode thereafter he becomes 'safer' than the last. But the degree of horror goes the other way - it is least frightening when the hero is in maximum physical danger and most alarming when he is completely out of (physical) danger.

To achieve this effect is a masterly stroke by the author. Those reviewers who wanted more details of Shostakovich's life, or of his music, or more light and shade, are perhaps missing the point. Any distraction would have robbed the novel of its main effect.

And no, it is (intentionally) nothing like a biography - it has to leave way too much out in order to work as a novel!

By the end I felt really sad, sharing the hero's intense suffering. There are some things worse than physical pain.

Personally I have not come across anything which explores these issues before (though '1984' perhaps comes closest).

Highly recommended.


The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything
The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything
by Professor Michael Puett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Missed the 'new', 2 May 2016
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I was very puzzled by this. It claims to be 'a new way' but I could not find anything new here. It all seemed a case of stating the very obvious things that any educated person would already know. And then pretending that these straightforward ideas comprise a new revelation.

I made it one third of the way through, and having encountered nothing new by that point, gave up.


The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives
The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives
by Helen Pearson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High drama, excellent writing, 2 May 2016
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From the first few words it is clear that Helen Pearson is an outstanding writer. She makes high drama out of the story of the various birth cohorts, showing how each was a battle to keep going, against almost insurmountable odds. The various scientists who lead each are the heroes of the story, tirelessly giving their lives to the cause.

These cohorts, so patiently maintained over 70 years, are revealing cutting edge science, as they always have done since the beginning. The final part of the mix is the fascinating life stories of some of the cohort members themselves.

I loved the book. If I had one tiny criticism is would be that Pearson's personal politics occasionally intrude. But that doesn't detract from the overall quality.

Highly recommended!


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