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Reviews Written by
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK)
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Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life
by Helen Czerski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional understanding, 5 April 2017
The author certainly has an exceptional understanding of physics, and a wonderful way of explaining things. You could not find a better or more inspirational introduction than this.

My favourite chapter was the one on waves. Parallels between the different types of wave is excellently handled, and the explanation of how mobile phones work was new to me.

For much of the rest the material was familiar to me already, so while I solidified my understanding I was not really inspired. However that is my fault, not the book’s.


It Can't Happen Here (Penguin Modern Classics)
It Can't Happen Here (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Sinclair Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Seeing the future, 5 April 2017
I was astonished to see that the speeches of Brexiters, Trump, Wilders, Le Pen & co are not original at all – they were written down 80 years ago by Sinclair in this novel. The parallels are incredible. I especially liked the part where the locals all start spending on new kitchens in anticipation of being much more wealthy – thus the post Brexit bounce in the UK economy was forecast long ago. Who needs Nostradamus or the prophet Ezekiel when we have Sinclair?

Apart from the almost surreally prophetic nature of the book, it is also an enjoyable read. Admittedly it was a bit hard to follow at the start. I think this is because 1930s English is so unfamiliar to us now. But after about 50 pages you stop noticing the archaic language and it all flows much more easily.

It turns out to be a great adventure story, with excellent characters, and especially noteworthy roles for the women.

The only downside? If real life continues in the manner predicted by Sinclair’s novel, then we are all in for a very hard time indeed. Time to think about emigrating before the borders close?

Strongly recommended!


Being a Dog
Being a Dog
by Alexandra Horowitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.13

4.0 out of 5 stars Reawaken your childhood smells, 5 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Being a Dog (Paperback)
This is really good in parts.

It opened my nose to my own sense of smell. I especially liked the way Horowitz makes you think about how you smelled things as a child. She has brought back long forgotten memories of the way I myself used instinctively to sniff at everything. Also she made me realise that many memories from childhood are strongly linked to smell. For some reason adult etiquette doesn't allow us to continue using our noses so openly. These revelations were the most interesting part of the book for me.

But I also enjoyed learning more about a dog's sense of smell, and how the dog can measure time passing by changing intensities of smells. Horowitz is right up to date with her understanding that dogs possess types of intelligence and consciousness that humans lack.

The only drawback with this book was that it goes on a little too long. The descriptions of the training centers for dogs and so on lost my interest. Overall I would have been happier if one third of the length had been cut.

Recommended!


The Water Kingdom
The Water Kingdom
by Philip Ball
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for beginners, 19 Feb. 2017
This review is from: The Water Kingdom (Hardcover)
I struggled with this.

It is thoughtful and intelligent, and there is nothing not to like.

But for someone who is not familiar with Chinese history this is really tough. The author constantly skips around from one period to another; from one place to another; and from one historical figure to another. As all the names of periods, people and places are unfamiliar to me, and as the language is unfamiliar too, I found it really hard to keep track. If I encounter a strange (to me) Chinese place name for the first time on one page I have probably forgotten it by the next page, especially when it is presented alongside dozens of other new names at the same time, most of which are never repeated.

The author perhaps lacks empathy with his reader, which is a serious flaw. Or perhaps he intends the book for those who are already familiar with the subject, in which case the write up is misleading.

I would not recommend this to anyone who is not already intimately knowlegeable on Chinese history.


Ireland: A Novel
Ireland: A Novel
by Frank Delaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical history trip, 19 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Ireland: A Novel (Paperback)
Sometimes I think that all the available novel plots have been used up and that we can only expect variations on a previously used themes from now on. And then you find a novel like this one which is completely original in form and content.

This is a wonderful way to learn history. Occasionally a story with embellishments and artistic license can capture truth much more accurately than an academic survey can. Certainly that is the case here!

Delaney deftly intertwines magically told episodes from Irish history with the family story of young Ronan to stunning effect.

This is wonderfully atmospheric, intellectually satisying and a joy to read.


Shooting Stars: 10 Historical Miniatures
Shooting Stars: 10 Historical Miniatures
by Stefan Zweig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A prophet for our own time, 19 Feb. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
What a wonderful book!

At a time when history is again plunging off into a dark and unpredictable direction, I found it quite comforting to read these ten miniatures. Most of them describe moments when history suddenly veered off on a new course, often due to a series of random events and accidents.

Although the outcome in the case of Zweig's examples was often death and destruction, it does help to understand that we are not the first generation to be going through this.

Zweig is a really perceptive storyteller, and I kept seeing parallels with our own time - you even wonder if some of this has not been written just yesterday! But he is also good at keeping you on the edge of your seat and building tension, so that these are really enjoyable yarns.

Highly recommended


Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Enter the allure of another world, 15 Jan. 2017
I absolutely loved this. It is a book which had an intensely powerful impact, inhabited my dreams and still retains a strong hold some time after I finished it.

Murakami here creates a special world, complete in every detail, and invites the reader into it. This is not the normal world, but rather like some parallel universe where things are nearly the same as planet Earth, but not quite. It is a world I find strangely alluring. The book is like a gateway through which the reader enters. Once reading, you are on planet Earth in body only. Your mind has travelled to the other place.

The multiple interlocking stories and riddles all have meaning beyond themselves. This gives much to ponder, but if I am honest the main reason I like the book is simply that I find myself irresistably attracted to that other world.

Murakami's imagination is unlike anything else I have ever encountered. I would give up most other novels in their entirety for one page of Kafka on the Shore.

Surreal, but easy to understand and a real page turner - I cannot recommend this book enough.


The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old
by Hendrik Groen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air, 29 Dec. 2016
What an original idea - a novel set in an old people's home!

It has all the usual human excitement - romance, rivalry, jealousy, intrigues, tragedy and so on, but all in set in this unusual context.

The style is wonderfully matter of fact, yet the book packs a weighty emotional punch. It is very funny, lively and easy to read, yet deals with some of the most serious issues around.

Highly recommended!


Swing Time
Swing Time
by Zadie Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but dull, 10 Dec. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Swing Time (Hardcover)
Swing Time contains some interesting ideas. It is well intentioned, intelligent and the plot is well thought out and original.

Unfortunately, these qualities did not fulfil their potential for a riveting read. Instead, the novel's somewhat formulaic character caused me to wonder - not for the first time - whether contemporary authors are in thrall to the tyrannous "thought police" who insist on the following rigid rules for novel writing:
1. Straightforward narrative in chronological order is forbidden. It must be replaced by compulsory jumping backwards and forwards in time.
2. All characters in the novel must emphasise the negative sides of human nature - cynicism, selfishness, snobbishness, jealousy, etc. Benign aspects of human nature are neither acceptable nor available to its characters.
3 All human relationships must be completely dysfunctional.

Swing Time respects this predictable formulaic approach to perfection, which results, as always, in one dimensional sets of characters. I do wish more authors would break free from these needless conventions.

Had the narrator been a more sympathetic character it may have worked, but instead, she proved to be a weak character with no strong attachment to anyone else and dominated by all those around her. Presumably for this reason she is not named - a clever device from an intellectual point of view, but it makes for a really dull novel that fails to engage the reader.

All in all, I found it took immense will power to wade through to the end of the book.

To summarise, a worthy but rather dull book. In retrospect, I would probably have preferred to read a few academic papers discussing the issues contained within.


The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate-Discoveries from a Secret World
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate-Discoveries from a Secret World
by Peter Wohlleben
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time travel with the trees, 23 Nov. 2016
What a wonderful book! It is almost like a work of science fiction - there's even a sense of time travel thrown in - but it's all true!.

My head is teeming with images of trees marching south across the Alps; of mother trees feeding their babies; of neural networks beneath the ground; of social tree species and non social ones.

It made me think a lot about time. I imagined one of those dragonflies that lives for just one day - would it assume that a human is dull, stationary and unintelligent (like a tree), because of the different perception of the passing of time?

What also struck me is how little we actually know about trees. I suppose that is partly because the lifespan of a typical tree is so long that the scientific method wasn't even available at its birth. But clearly there is so much still to be learned about these life forms which we have been taking for granted all this time.

The book is an easy read too. A delight in every way.


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