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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HUMANKIND: A HOPEFUL HISTORY by Rutger Bregman (@BloomsburyBooks) #RutgerBregman #NetGalley A bright and well-argued book full of hopeful content

Hi all:

I’m sharing the review of a book that I found perfect for these uncertain times.

Humankind. A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

‘If you only read one book this year, make it this one’ CATHY RENTZENBRINK

‘This book must be read by as many people as possible – only when people change their view of human nature will they begin to believe in the possibility of building a better world’ GRACE BLAKELEY

‘It’d be no surprise if it proved to be the Sapiens of 2020′ GUARDIAN

It’s a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest.

Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too.

In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.

It is time for a new view of human nature.

https://www.amazon.com/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

https://www.amazon.es/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

Author Rutger Bregman

About the author:

Rutger Bregman is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. The 27-year-old historian and author has published four books on history, philosophy, and economics. His History of Progress was awarded the Belgian Liberales prize for best nonfiction book of 2013. The Dutch edition of Utopia for Realists became a national bestseller and sparked a basic income movement that soon made international headlines. Bregman has twice been nominated for the prestigious European Press Prize for his journalism work at The Correspondent. His work has been featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC.

https://www.amazon.com/Rutger-Bregman/e/B00ENFKSCI/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I know I write long reviews, so I wanted to give a heads up to those who prefer a brief one. I loved this book. Why? I picked up this book based on NetGalley’s recommendations as good read for these current times when things feel quite tough and most people feel quite negative. And they were right. It’s difficult to read this book and not feel more optimistic by the end of it, even if you might not be absolutely convinced by all of the author’s arguments. It is engaging, easy to read, compelling, it includes a large variety of studies from many disciplines (criminology, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, ethnology, biology, literature…), and I think most readers will be familiar and/or intrigued by many of the topics he touches on.  And it does look at all of those with new eyes. It also collects a large number of positive examples of human behaviour, so, if you need an injection of optimism, I recommend it. There is a detailed index, and plenty of notes, but as I said, it is a book written for the general public rather than for academicians or experts, and no specialist knowledge in any of the fields it touches on is necessary to enjoy it.

In the acknowledgements, the author explains how the book came to be. Dutch philosopher Rob Wijnberg told him he had a project. He wanted to launch a new kind of publication “with no news, no advertising and no cynicism”. That became De Correspondent and Bregman explains that the book is the result of working there for seven years, and of many of the conversations he had with readers over these years. This explains, perhaps, why the book is so varied. Anybody who has done research (academic, for work reasons, for a specific project, or out of personal interest) knows that once you start pursuing something, it’s easy to get side-tracked by bits of interesting information and go down the rabbit hole following those, because sometimes those discoveries feel more interesting than the original story, or simply because new things keep coming to light, and, well, you just need to know more.

This book is roughly divided into two main halves. One where the author, after explaining his thesis about the nature of human beings (I’ll only tell you he calls us ‘Homo Puppy’. I’ll let you read the rest yourselves), he explores a large number of studies and arguments proposing that human beings are naturally egotistical, violent, aggressive…  and challenges many of those. Bombings during the war, psychology experiments (the Stanford prison experiment by Zimbardo, the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority involving electroshocks …), friendly foxes, Neanderthals, educational experiments, studies of old civilizations and ancestral bones, Easter Island, William Goldwing’s Lord of the Flies, Hobbes and Rousseau’s philosophical ideas among other, all are discussed and analysed. I was familiar with many of the studies, and even with some of the criticisms, later reappraisals and evidence against them, but not with all, and I have learned plenty and been inspired to dig deeper into some of the stories.  Although he supports all of his claims and interpretations with notes, he does it in an engaging way, and the result is an accessible and clever page-turner.

In the second half, Bregman shares examples of people and communities who have done things differently with impressive results.  I was aware of some, like the way Norway runs its prisons, but others made me pause (in particular, the reference to Jos de Blok, who runs a home healthcare organisation without heavy top-down management and allows the groups of workers to organise and manage themselves), and  I particularly enjoyed part 5, ‘The Other Cheek’.  The author acknowledges that, of course, the instances he discusses are not perhaps as well-accepted and regarded as he thinks they deserve, and one example does not change everything, but he does maintain that an optimistic attitude can bring a positive change, and I hope he is right.

He also includes, with some reluctance, ten rules to live by at the end of the book, and I cannot fault them, although they are not easy to implement. I have already mentioned the acknowledgments section, the notes, and the index, that occupy around 19% of the e-book.

In sum, I enjoyed the book enormously, and I think most readers will get something positive out of it. I know not all reviewers are convinced by the author’s arguments, and that is to be expected, but I think no matter what conclusion you reach by the end of it, it offers plenty of food for thought. I definitely will be looking into some of the initiatives he talks about in more detail, and I will follow Bregman’s career with interest from now on. If you need a bright and well-argued book, full of hopeful content, don’t hesitate. Go for it.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, the author and the excellent translators, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and to stay safe and keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE: A NOVELLA by Becky Chambers (@HarperVoyagerUS) #sci-fi

Hi all:

I don’t often read novellas or sci-fi, but I enjoyed this one:

To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If Fortunate: A Novella by Becky Chambers

In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the galaxy transform themselves.

FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

‘Extraordinary . . . A future masterwork’ Joanne Harris

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

https://www.amazon.com/Be-Taught-If-Fortunate-Novella-ebook/dp/B07N2Z7B6Z/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Be-Taught-If-Fortunate-Novella-ebook/dp/B07N2Z7B6Z/

https://www.amazon.es/Be-Taught-If-Fortunate-Novella-ebook/dp/B07N2Z7B6Z/

Author Becky Chambers

About the author:

Becky Chambers was raised in California as the progeny of an astrobiology educator, an aerospace engineer, and an Apollo-era rocket scientist. Her first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was originally funded via Kickstarter in 2012. It went on to be nominated for the 2014 Kitschies and the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, will be blasting off soon.

After living in Scotland and Iceland, Becky is now back in her home state, where she lives with her spouse. She is a devotee of video and tabletop games, and enjoys spending time in nature. She hopes to see Earth from orbit one day.

https://www.amazon.com/Becky-Chambers/e/B00LUQWGAU/

My review:

This is my first contact with Becky Chambers’s work, and I can’t comment on how it compares with the rest, but I read a review of this novella that intrigued me greatly, and I’m pleased I decided to purchase it and read it. She is a favourite among science-fiction fans, and I can see why.

The description gives a good idea of what the story is about. Ariadne, one of the four members of Lawki 6, a mission part of a programme to explore life outside Earth, with each mission focusing on certain planets that are believed to be able to hold (or develop) some form of life. She is a flight engineer, and each one of the other members of the crew (Elena, Jack, and Chikondi) has their own specialization and their own characteristics. One is a stickler for detail, another one hates early mornings, one is forever listening to music, another one only things about rocks, or plants… They are all young and have spent most of their lives either training or on missions, so although there isn’t much personal information (but there is some) forthcoming, that is not surprising. As the story is narrated in the first person by Ariadne, we hear more from her, but there is enough detail provided to get a sense of how wondrous (but also at time claustrophobic and horrendous) life can be for all of them. And although each one has a different way of coping, they are all tested and survive because they are a team.

I am not a big science-fiction reader and don’t have the knowledge to discuss the ins-and-outs of the science behind the novella, although there is a great deal of research in evidence, which allows readers to understand how things work without overwhelming us with complex explanations. The way the information is delivered reminded me of The Martian, minus the peculiar sense of humour of that novel’s protagonist, and here Ariadne is self-conscious of the fact that what she is explaining might be too much or too little depending on the audience and acknowledges it in her narration. I enjoyed the snippets of science weaved into the story, which I found fascinating, and became even more interested when I read about the author’s sources of information in her acknowledgments. I am not sure hard-core science fiction fans will find this novella up to their standards, but I loved the science part of it as much, if not more, as the fiction. Apart from the science part of the book, the novella also asks some pretty big questions, I’d dare call philosophical, about the nature of knowledge, and what is justified and what is not. Is knowledge for its own sake sufficient? Should everything have a practical application? These are questions humanity has been asking from the beginning of time, and I am not sure we’ll ever get an answer that satisfies everybody.

The writing style combines beautifully descriptive passages (the crew comes across some wonderful landscapes and creatures, and some horrible ones as well), and others where background information is imparted, telling more than showing, although this is fully justified by the premise of the novella, which is a combination of memoir, epistle, and report. There are moments of action, and some when readers are likely to think they know where things are going, but people expecting a standard adventure are bound to be disappointed. This is not a page-turner in the usual sense, and there are many moments of contemplation, wonder, but also of frustration and routine.

The book’s ending is open as it closes with a question, and each reader is free to imagine what comes next. I know what I’d like to happen, but worry that it is unlikely within the premise of the novella. The story proper ends around the 90% mark, as after the acknowledgements there is a sample of another one of the author’s novels, in case readers wonder about its actual length.

I recommend this novella to anybody who enjoys the science bit in science-fiction, and to anybody who likes to imagine and wonder how other worlds might be.  It might disappoint those looking for action and adventure, but if you like to let your imagination fly, think, and ask yourself big questions; this novella might be for you. I am sure this won’t be the last of Chamber’s books I read.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling and be safe out there (or indoors). 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog RESTLESS EARTH (KARMA’S CHILDREN BOOK 1) by John Dolan. Everything a lover of complex mysteries could wish for.

Hi all:

I have the pleasure of bringing you the first novel in a trilogy by one of my favourite mystery/detective novel writers, John Dolan.

Restless Earth (Karma's Children Book 1) by John Dolan.
Restless Earth (Karma’s Children Book 1) by John Dolan.

Restless Earth (Karma’s Children Book 1) by John Dolan

“It’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. And sometimes, there are no good guys.”

Four men scattered across the globe. . .
One seeks pleasure
One seeks purpose
One seeks redemption
And one seeks revenge.

A wind is howling around the skyscrapers of New York, through the battlefields of Iraq, and into the bustling streets of Bangkok. It carries with it the fates of these four men: men bound together by chance and history.
Which of them – if any – will survive the tempest?

The “Karma’s Children” series will appeal to lovers of the following book categories: mystery, thriller, crime, Thailand fiction, private investigators, British detectives, and amateur sleuths.

https://www.amazon.com/Restless-Earth-Karmas-Children-Book-ebook/dp/B076GRP4VH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Restless-Earth-Karmas-Children-Book-ebook/dp/B076GRP4VH/

Author John Dolan
Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Karma’s Children’ mystery trilogy.

https://www.amazon.com/John-Dolan/e/B008IIERF0

My review:

Anybody who has been following my reviews for a while will know that I love John Dolan’s writing. I discovered his books a long while back and I’ve been following his career with interest ever since. I was both sad and exhilarated when he brilliantly closed his previous series Time, Blood and Karma with the novel Running on Emptiness (you can check my review here). I bought a copy of his new book, the beginning of a new series, Karma’s Children a while back, but it wasn’t until I received the ARC for the second book that I realised I had yet to read and review the first one. Yes, I’d been busy, but I wonder if part of my reluctance was to do with starting a new series afresh, after having enjoyed the previous one so much. Could it live up to my expectations?

Having now read the first book (and started the second one straight away), it’s fair to say that it has. The new book is not a complete break. Some of the characters and the settings we are already familiar with (I don’t feel qualified to comment on how well the book stands on its own. My inkling is that it could be read and enjoyed by somebody who hadn’t read any of the previous books, but there would be quite a few lose threads and I’m sure the reading experience would be completely different). Yes, we have David Braddock, the British amateur detective-cum-therapist living in Thailand who decides to confront some of the issues pending in his life (he’s always reminded me of Hamlet, and I must say that like Shakespeare’s character, he can make me feel impatient at his dithering sometimes), but not others. We also have Jim Fosse, a fascinating villain, a psychopath or sociopath who is up to his old tricks and some newer ones. And we have two other characters that bring new concerns (some at least) and settings into the story. Sam Trask, an American Iraq War veteran, who has suffered physical injuries that he has mostly recovered from, but the same cannot be said for the mental scars from his experiences, and another American character, Reichenbach, who remains mostly in the shadows, and whom I suspect we haven’t seen the last of (and I’ll keep my peace and let you make your own minds up about him).

The story moves between the different characters, and although, apart from Sam’s military history it is mostly shown in chronological order, there are changes in setting and point of view, and a fair amount of characters, which require the reader to remain attentive at all times. Most of the story is told in third-person mostly from the point of view of the character involved (although I was more aware of the narrator in this book that I had been before. This was particularly evident in the parts of the story following Sam, who is not a bookish man, as evidenced by his dialogue and his backstory, but even when we are with him, we are provided insights and observation that go well beyond his psychological and cultural makeup), and the alternating points of view allow us to be privy to information that gives us more of an overall and multifaceted picture than that of any of the individual characters. However, the Jim Fosse’s fragments of the story are narrated in the first person and that makes them particularly chilling and at times difficult to read. A character with no moral compass and good brains, a master manipulator and plotter, his attitude reminded me at times of the main character in American Psycho (although more inclined to psychological mind-games than to out-and-out violence); and his role is central to most of what happens in the story, although I won’t reveal any details. He does not have any redeeming qualities (at least none than I’ve discovered yet), but he is witty, his observations can be humorous (if you appreciate dark humour) and accurate, and there is no pretence there, and no apology. He plays his part well for the public, but in private he does not hesitate or dwell on the consequences of his actions. If he wants something and it does not involve a high risk for him, he’ll go for it. And I find that refreshing indeed. No, he’s not somebody I’d like to meet (or rather, he’s not somebody in whose way I’d want to be), but he is a great character to read about.

These men (well, not so much Jim Fosse, although he does, at points, becomes obsessed with what seems to be his female counterpart) are obsessed by women, one way or another, and riddled by guilt (definitely not Fosse), be it by commission or by omission. But, if we truly look into it, these are men whose issues with women seem to hide some deep insecurity and doubts about their own selves. Sam Trask, in my opinion the most sympathetic of the characters, is an innocent abroad (he has been out of his country as a soldier but otherwise he is quite naïve to the ways of the world), without being truly innocent. He is tortured by the memory of something he witnessed. His difficulties made me wonder if guilt by omission is not even worse than true guilt. Because if you’ve done something terrible, you can tell yourself you won’t do it again, but if what happened was not of your own doing, how can you guarantee that it will not happen again? Yes, you might tell yourself that you will react differently next time, but you can never be sure you will be in a position to do so, or it will make a difference. You were, in a way, another victim of the situation but complicit in it at the same time. No wonder it is not something one can recover easily from.

As I said, I enjoyed meeting Sam, and felt for him and his difficulties. I’ve mentioned Jim Fosse, and I am curious about Reichenbach, who pulls some of the strings. I felt less close to Braddock than I had in the past. I am not sure if it was the narrative style, or the fact that he is less central to the story, appears less sharp (he missed quite a number of clues), and seems to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about smoking. He remains intent on protecting himself and not fully confronting the truth about his relationship with this father and his own unresolved issues. I’m sure it’s a personal thing, but when he reflects on women and their role, I felt like shaking him and telling him to grow-up. I guess I’m coming more and more to Da’s  (his faithful no-nonsense secretary/associate) way of thinking.

The writing is supple, suffused with psychological and philosophical insights, a great deal of understatement and fun, witty comments, and eminently quotable. One can’t help but wish to have such a witty internal narrator to accompany us in our adventures.

The mystery (there are several but all end up fitting into a complex scheme) is cleverly constructed and although as I said we, the readers, know more than any of the individual characters (thanks to the different points of view and the multiple story strands), it is not easy to guess exactly how things will be solved. Those of us who have been following the stories from the beginning might have an inkling (of course things are not as they seem, but that’s no surprise), but I don’t think many readers will get it 100% right. And that is one of the joys of the story. The vivid and multiple settings, the accurate psychological and sociological insights, and the fabulous characters and dialogues make for a fabulous read as well. This is the strong beginning of another of John Dolan’s masterful series. And I’ll be sure to keep reading it.

Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling! Oh, and I should be bringing you the review of the second novel in this trilogy soon. Ah, and don’t worry if you don’t see me or any of my posts for a bit. I’ll be away recharging batteries and catching up on some reading!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog KILLING ADAM by Earik Beann (@EarikB) A cautionary tale, with plenty of action and philosophical touches thrown in. #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book that got me thinking…

Killing Adam By Earik Beann
Killing Adam By Earik Beann

Killing Adam by Earik Beann

The world runs on ARCs. Altered Reality Chips. Small implants behind the left ear that allow people to experience anything they could ever imagine. The network controls everything, from traffic to food production, to law enforcement. Some proclaim it a Golden Age of humanity. Others have begun to see the cracks. Few realize that behind it all, living within every brain and able to control all aspects of society, there exists a being with an agenda all his own: the singularity called Adam, who believes he is God.
Jimmy Mahoney’s brain can’t accept an ARC. Not since his football injury from the days when the league was still offline. “ARC-incompatible” is what the doctors told him. Worse than being blind and deaf, he is a man struggling to cling to what’s left of a society that he is no longer a part of. His wife spends twenty-three hours a day online, only coming off when her chip forcibly disconnects her so she can eat. Others are worse. Many have died, unwilling or unable to log off to take care of even their most basic needs.
After being unwittingly recruited by a rogue singularity to play a role in a war that he doesn’t understand, Jimmy learns the truth about Adam and is thrown into a life-and-death struggle against the most powerful mathematical mind the world has ever known. But what can one man do against a being that exists everywhere and holds limitless power? How can one man, unable to even get online, find a way to save his wife, and the entire human race, from destruction?

https://www.amazon.com/Killing-Adam-Earik-Beann-ebook/dp/B07HZ76PL8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Killing-Adam-Earik-Beann-ebook/dp/B07HZ76PL8/

Author Earik Beann
Author Earik Beann

About the author:

Earik Beann is a serial entrepreneur, and over the years he has been involved in many businesses, including software development, an online vitamin store, specialty pet products, a commodity pool, and a publishing house. Before Pointe Patrol, he wrote six technical books on esoteric subjects related to financial markets. His original love has always been writing, and one of the silver linings in working on his memoir in the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire was the rekindling of his love of writing simply for the sake of writing. Killing Adam, his first science fiction novel, is due to be released in early 2019. He lives in California with his wife Laura, their Doberman, and two Tennessee barn cats.

https://www.amazon.com/Earik-Beann/e/B001K8RRKW

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a very interesting book, and I doubt anybody reading it will fail to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist. The concept is easy to grasp. Accidentally, (there was an experiment linking several people’s brains) an artificial intelligence (who later describes itself as a “singularity”) called Adam is born. Adam quickly takes control of the whole world, creating ARCs (altered reality chips), which are inserted into everybody’s brains, and allow people to control everything around them and to get interconnected and live in an altered (virtual) reality world. Of course, the intelligence behind the inventions (and there is a company behind it too, BioCal) gets to control the brains of the people involved, in turn. You can imagine Terminator with AIs instead of physical robots, or Matrix, although in this case people are not physically hooked onto a computer, but hooked they are, nonetheless. Adam is extraordinary, but a megalomaniac and cannot stand the thought of coexisting with other singularities who might take a different view of matters. He will not stop at anything to achieve his ubercontrol and will use (and has used) any means necessary.

The story, told in the third-person by an omniscient narrator, is plot-driven. Each chapter is told from a character’s point of view (so there is no confusion as to whose point of view we’re following), mostly the main characters: Jimmy (a man who cannot be fitted with an ARC due to a brain injury suffered while he was playing American football), Adam, Trixie (another singularity, and one who sees things very differently to Adam), Jenna (one of the people —or “nodes”— hosting Trixie), and other secondary characters who play their part in the action but whom we don’t learn much about. Jimmy is the character we get to know better, but due to his personal circumstances, his life has become so limited that there is little information we gather in the time we spend with him. He is married and loves his wife, but as she’s mostly hooked onto the altered reality (23 hours a day), he can hardly spend any time with her. He attends “Implants Disability Anonymous”, an association for those who have difficulty adapting to life because they do not have an implant (and it is extremely complicated to live in a world centred on an alternate reality if you are an outsider), and has a friend, Cecil, whose life circumstances are very similar. He becomes a reluctant hero, and, perhaps precisely because we do not know that much about him, it is easy to imagine ourselves in his place.

There are other characters with plenty of potential, especially Crazy Beard, an amateur philosopher who feels at home anywhere, and whose pearls of wisdom are eminently quotable. The language is not overly technical or complex and although there are some descriptions, these are not very detailed or lengthy. In a way, the experience of reading this book is similar to what life must be like for the characters of the novel hooked onto the alternate reality. You become so immersed in the story and focused on the content that you don’t see or notice what is around you, including the details about what surrounds you. The scenes and the actions succeed each other at a fast pace and, every-so-often you are thrown out of that reality by a detailed mention of a location or of an in-depth description of a character’s thoughts or feelings. And then, back you go, into the story.

The novel can be read as an allegory for our modern lives, increasingly taken over by social media and online content (yes, it is not a big stretch to imagine that you could walk along a crowded street and be virtually invisible because all people you come across are focused on their devices), a cautionary tale. Indeed, some of the technology, like the connected fridges and the self-driven cars are already here. It can also be read as a straightforward science-fiction/dystopian novel, with touches of humour, philosophical thoughts, and an inspiring and positive ending (and no, I won’t tell you what it is). Hard science-fiction fans might take issue with some of the novel’s premises (I missed getting a sense of how this alternate reality was, as we mostly see the effects of it but not the actual content), and a fair deal of suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy the novel if you are looking for a realistic story, but if you enjoy speculative fiction, plenty of action, and are open to a story that will make you look around and think, you’ll love this novel. I look forward to the author’s future works.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie for her fabulous group, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to always keep smiling! ♥

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SCORN by Paul Hoffman (@PaulGHoff) An extraordinary satire with a narrator for the centuries and quite a twist #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book that took my breath away, and I kid you not.

Scorn by Paul Hoffman
Scorn by Paul Hoffman

Scorn by Paul Hoffman. 

“A thrill-ride from start to finish… and brilliantly funny.” – Big Issue

After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes horribly wrong, depressed scientist Aaron Gall wakes up to discover his mind and body have undergone an astonishing transformation. Now bursting with the joys of life, he is inspired to undertake a radical new therapy: to talk to the priests who brutalised him and his school friends, point out the intellectual dishonesty and inhumanity of their religious beliefs – and then eat them. Aaron enjoys the process so much (as well as taunting the police and MI5) he decides to extend his murderous conversations to include the Archbishop of Westminster, recently converted Catholic Tony Blair, the Queen of England – and, finally, the Pope himself. But a Catholic Church that has given the world the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Papal Infallibility hasn’t survived for two thousand years without a reason. Aaron is in for the greatest shock in the history of mankind.

Paul Hoffman is the son of Irish immigrants and was born in a house lacking running water or electricity. He spent six years detained without trial in a Catholic boarding school. His previous novels include The Wisdom of Crocodiles in which he predicted the collapse of the financial system, The Golden Age of Censorship, a black comedy based on his experience as a film censor about the havoc caused by watching too much sex and violence, and the bestselling The Left Hand of God trilogy which anticipated the rise of ISIS and has been translated into 30 languages.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Scorn-Paul-Hoffman-ebook/dp/B0752P8TZM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scorn-Paul-Hoffman-ebook/dp/B0752P8TZM/

Author Paul Hoffman
Author Paul Hoffman

About the author:

Paul Hoffman is a bestselling author whose work has been translated into thirty languages. He spent his early working life as a Boardman in a betting shop, a teacher in a girl’s school, and a film censor with special responsibility for pornography, before becoming a screenwriter and novelist. Paul Hoffman’s first novel, The Wisdom of Crocodiles, predicted the attacks of 9/11 and set out in detail how and why the financial system would crash early in the new millennium. His second novel, The Golden Age of Censorship, is a black comedy satirising both the world of the film censor and the visionary megalomania of New Labour.

He came to international recognition with The Left Hand of God trilogy – a sly attempt to write about war and politics in a way that stole from both contemporary and historical worlds in a way that caused heated debate on the way to becoming a top ten Sunday Times Bestseller.

 

His new novel, Scorn, is his most controversial yet. Drawing from his own experiences in a hideous Catholic boarding school in Oxford, Hoffman has fashioned a contemporary black comedy that truly defies any attempt at classification – comic, tragic, a love story; with songs, illustrations, two highly unusual policemen known as The Butchers of Basra, a central character unlike any other, as well as cameos from Tony Blair, the Queen, and the a final confrontation with  the Holy Father himself resulting in the most astonishing twist in the history of fiction.

 

Probably the last English novelist to be born by the light of a paraffin lamp, Paul Hoffman spent much of his childhood on airfields all around the world watching his father – a pioneer of sports parachuting – jumping out of aeroplanes. He witnessed his first death at the age of six when one of his father’s friends was killed in an attempt to discover how near the ground he could open his parachute. After a long and brutal battle with the nuns and priest who were charged with saving his soul and which left him at sixteen without any formal qualifications he was offered a place to read English at New College, Oxford when no other university would interview him. He is probably the only Oxford graduate in history to have failed all his O-Levels. On his first night at New College a fellow undergraduate was heard to comment: ‘My God – the kind of people we’re letting in these days’.

 

The Wisdom of Crocodiles took thirteen years to write and went into its third imprint within six weeks of publication. Jude Law starred in the motion picture of the same name based on one part of the novel.

Scorn is his sixth novel. His next book, The White Devil, will be published by Penguin in 2018.

https://www.paulhoffman.co.uk/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here) and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I was first approached about reviewing this novel I was beyond intrigued. It sounded like something utterly unique and out there. I wasn’t sure it would suit my reading taste, but I knew I had to read it because it sounded like nothing I had read before. And although it took me a while to get to it, I am happy to report my first impression was right. This book is… extraordinary.

Yes, this book is extraordinary because it is out of the ordinary, pretty much so. If we try to define its genre, we’ll have many difficulties. Is it a thriller? There is a pretty special serial killer (those of us who regularly read thrillers know that they are becoming more and more bizarre and extreme, but this one is beyond the usual, even by modern standards) and a series of murders and desecrations connected by a several cryptic clues (yes, crosswords also come into it), but it has too many other elements that do not fit in well with this genre. There are mystery and police-procedural elements to a point, and a couple of interesting and quirky detectives (Scrope and Lister, both from the upper crust with outstanding education, interesting connections, and an armed forces background), and a female PC, Molly Coates (a heroine of the working classes, from the North of England and from as different a background as possible to the dynamic duo but as clever).

There is a paranormal/fantasy element (well, there is a wolf/shifter involved, and there are references to other creatures that might fit into a number of different categories), but the plot takes place in the world we live in (scarily so at times) or a close version of it with ‘interesting touches’ (some fictional, some are a matter of interpretation). There is a scientific explanation for some of the events (involving the Large Hadron Collider) that could put one in mind of science fiction novels, but this is not the main focus of the plot.

There are plenty of references to religion (which is one of the main themes of the book, in particular, the Roman Catholic Religion) but a word of warning, I think truly devoted and orthodox followers of the Catholic faith or even convinced Christians might feel offended by some of the content. There are also plenty of references and a focus on current and recent events (like the sexual abuse of children by members of the RC priesthood, there are also comments about politics, media, and political figures, some international but many centred in the UK, and we have close encounters with preeminent figures like Tony Blair, the Queen of England, the Pope…) but although the references are accurate and there are plenty of quotations from books, newspapers, media, and the internet, these are weaved into the story and it is not non-fiction or a factual account. As I mentioned already, there are plenty of details about everyday British life peppered through the book, and although in my opinion it is not necessary to be British or an expert on the UK to fully understand or enjoy the book, I think people with a good knowledge of UK politics, society, and current affairs will find much to enjoy (and think about) when they read this book. There is also romance, a story of opposites attract that goes beyond the conventional, but it is only a subplot (and not typical of the romantic genre).

Oh, and there are some illustrations (like ink etchings) of characters and events in the book, but I wouldn’t call it a comic, or a picture book (although they add greatly to the overall effect).

The book has also an extraordinary narrator that from very early on challenges the readers, promising some things (a great twist at the end, that, let me tell you now, he delivers), coaxing them, warning them, and never letting them become too complacent or ‘safe’. The narrator, whose identity readers will wonder about for much of the book, is opinionated, has strong points of view and is not, and never pretends to be, a neutral observer. He is witty, well-informed, dismissive at times, rude and pushy, but never ever boring. Scorn, the title of the book, is the mode of much of his narration, and I loved his voice from the beginning, but if you don’t, you will have difficulties with the book. I always recommend readers to check a sample of the book before buying, and this is one of those cases when I feel that is a must. Although some of the narration, mostly to do with the investigation and the main characters (I am trying not to reveal too many details of the plot, but let’s say, things are not what they seem, as most readers will suspect from the beginning) is written in the third person, much of what makes the book special and gives it its structure and its distinctiveness is the narrator.

Do not get me wrong, though, there are plenty of other characters, like the investigators I have mentioned, whom we get to know quite well and whose personalities and adventures would provide sufficient material for gripping, if more conventional, novels in their own right. There is also Aaron Gall, the character at the centre of the plot, who is both the anti-hero and victim, and also acts as a catalyst for the action in the book. We get to know him, and the rest of the characters, quite well, and he is also a stand-in for the many people who have survived abuse (more or less extreme) at the hands of those who were supposed to be looking after their education and spiritual well-being. If I had to choose, my favourite would be Molly, perhaps because I have more in common with her than with the rest of the characters, and Lou, the therapist, but they are all interesting and likeable. Here I am referring to the main characters. Some of the other characters, many of whom we only get temporary glimpses of (including the victims) are not necessarily likeable, but they are far from caricatures or cut-out types, and we do get insights into their thoughts and motivations that make them, if not sympathetic, at least real and human. And, that includes the guest appearances by true historical figures.

I have tried very hard not to give away much of the plot, although I hope my mention of some of the themes would suffice to get prospective readers interested. I found it a compelling read, both due to the main storyline, and also to the detours, the narrator comments, and the fanciful asides. But this is not a book that zeroes on the action and dismisses anything that is not relevant to the plot (in that way it is perhaps more of a literary fiction novel, but not quite either). This is a long book that meanders on and off through tangents, which eventually we realise are relevant to the overall book but not always to the thriller part of it, so if you’re an impatient reader looking for a light and thrilling read or a who-done-it, this might not be for you. The style of writing is breath-taking, a tour-de-force, with detailed but clear explanations of scientific points, collections of facts and events that make for gripping reading, psychologically astute descriptions of characters and their motivations, philosophical and moral commentaries that will make readers think, and I highlighted so much of the book that I found it almost impossible to choose some fragments to share, but I will try (avoiding major plot points as well):

But that’s the thing about human beings. It’s not laughter or the ability to stand upright that distinguishes man from the animals, it’s the capacity for incompetence. When any other creature makes a mistake, it gets eaten.

It was a truth universally acknowledged in the police force that the middle classes were generally terrified of the police and would shop their grannies without a moment’s hesitation once a cop asked them a question.

Ever had a sudden moment of realisation, an epiphany of the truth that marked out a momentous line in the sands of self-knowledge between everything you thought was the case about the kind of creature you were and everything that was really true? Neither have I.

I have already warned readers about the religious aspects of the book that might not sit well with many readers (no, this is not a Christian book in the usual sense, probably a book that in certain circles and in eras past would have been called a ‘wicked’ book), and there is also violence and some sex scenes (the violence is far more graphic than the sex, in fact it is so extreme that the effect is somewhat cartoonish, but I am not squeamish, so don’t take my word for it). It also deals on a serious and difficult subject, and although it does so in a peculiar way, it does not shy away from the most horrific aspects of it. Having said all that, this is a book I thoroughly recommend. It is not a book for everybody, as you’ll have surmised if you’ve read the rest of the lengthy review (sorry. I got more carried away than usual), but if you like to challenge yourself, you love outlandish thrillers, cryptic crossword clues, unique scornful narrators, satire, and are looking for a new author to follow, do yourself a favour and check it out. It’s a ride on the wild side.

Thanks to Rosie (don’t forget to check her blog if you’re an author and/or a fan of books) to the author and to all of you for reading. And if you have a minute, please like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling, reading and reviewing!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE LAST FEAST by Zeb Haradon Unusual science-fiction which makes us question what it means to be human #RBRT #SciFi

Hi all:

Today I bring you another author I discovered through Rosie’s Book Review Team and the recommendation of one of the group reviewers and great writer, Terry Tyler (yes, the Terry Tyler whose Renova Series I’ve reviewed here). Believe me, this one is not same old, same old.

Book review. The Last Feast by Zeb Haradon
The Last Feast by Zeb Haradon

The Last Feast by Zeb Haradon

Jim, the only human still alive in the universe, lives his life on a small escape pod orbiting a black hole, where he survives by replicating himself and eating his clones. Before eating one of his duplicates, he entertains his meal by recounting the story of how he got here and how he managed to survive.

It began when he had decided to travel to an interstellar colony where he could sell some museum pieces he owned. En route, the ship he is on gets momentarily caught in the powerful gravity of a black hole and is flung trillions and trillions of years into the future. The passengers find themselves in a time of maximum entropy, where all life is extinct, all the stars have burned out, and there is nothing left in the universe except a black hole and a complete vacuum extending in all directions.

As the original crew of seven is slowly reduced through suicide, murder, and accident, two factions form. One group believes, against all evidence, that somehow, somewhere, there exists intelligent life in this universe that can rescue them from this hell, and they devote their energies to sending out more and more powerful distress calls. The other group simply wants to preserve the ship’s power, so that they can live comfortably in this hopeless universe as long as possible.

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Feast-Zeb-Haradon-ebook/dp/B07DY2WB8S/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Feast-Zeb-Haradon-ebook/dp/B07DY2WB8S/

https://www.amazon.es/Last-Feast-Zeb-Haradon-ebook/dp/B07DY2WB8S/

Author Zeb Haradon
Author Zeb Haradon

About the author:

Zeb Haradon grew up in Corning, NY, studied cognitive science at SUNY Buffalo, lived in Utah from 1999-2004, and has lived in Seattle since 2004. He’s a parent to identical twins.

He’s made two movies (one fictional and one documentary) and written three books.

https://www.amazon.com/Zeb-Haradon/e/B07DYZG87B/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

I had read a number of reviews of this author’s previous novel, The Usurper King, and although I haven’t read it yet I was intrigued by the subject and the feedback on the quality of his writing, and following a recommendation of his new book by a fellow reviewer, I could not resist.

This book is difficult to categorise and, for me, that is one of its appeals, although it will perhaps put off some genre readers. I won’t rehash the plot as the description is detailed enough and the book is quite short (it is perhaps a bit long for a novella, but it is shorter than most novels). The setting and much of the action would fit into the science-fiction genre. The degree of detail and description of technology and processes is not such that it should put off casual readers (I found the scientific background intriguing although I’m not an expert and cannot comment on how accurate it is), although it might not satisfy hard science-fiction fans.

A number of characters appear in the short novel, but the main character and first-person narrator of the story is Jim. Like Scheherazade, he is doomed to be forever telling stories, although, in his case, it is always the same story, the story, or history, of his (their) origin. Somehow (I won’t go into the details. I’ll leave that for readers to discover), Jim has managed to cheat death and has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although the story he is forever retelling is, at least in appearance, the story of how he ended up in his current situation, through the process of telling the story, we learn about Jim himself. Snippets of his life keep coming up, and these are enmeshed with the history of humanity at large, as he has become, accidentally, the somewhat reluctant chronicler of human civilisation. I am not sure any of the characters are sympathetic but that is not surprising given the circumstances, and it does not hinder the enjoyment of the story.

The story —which gets at some of the fundamental questions Philosophy has been studying for centuries— involves a small spaceship crew faced with an impossible situation. What if they were the only beings left alive in the universe and only had access to finite resources in order to survive? (Yes, this sounds familiar). Would they hold on tight to the hope of a possible rescue from outside and risk their survival possibilities to pursue that dream? Or would they try to survive at whatever cost? The book divides the crew into two, the ones who are more realistic and are happy to continue living on their current circumstances, and the ones that refuse to give up the hope for a better but uncertain life. There are members of the crew that seem to cycle from one position to another, and some who keep their cards close to their chests and we don’t know full well what they think. Suicide is high in the book, and the desperation of the characters that choose that way out is credible and easy to understand and empathise with. The narrative takes the characters to the limit and then pushes them beyond it. Ultimately, it is impossible not to read this book and wonder what makes life worth living. Is life itself enough in its own right? Is survival against all odds the best attitude? What is the result of, and the price to pay for, pursuing such a course of action?

I am fascinated by the novel, and particularly by Jim’s character. As he tells the story, it becomes clear that at some point he made a momentous decision. He says he has been on the brink of suicide for hundreds of years, but after something tragic happened (no spoilers), he decided he would keep on living. Although the book has plenty of strange goings on (cannibalism, BDSM sex… which make for a hard read but are not the most graphically detailed and gore examples I have read, by any means) and it shuns conventional morality, this decision and Jim’s motivation behind it are what will keep this book present in my mind, and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time. (Why would anybody put himself or herself through such a thing? How do we deal with loss and grief?)

There are references to literary classics (and the author’s note at the end mentions some of them and also the conception of the project, its development, and its different incarnations), to historical artefacts and works of art, and the distinctive voice of the narrator (a mixture of wit, matter-of-factness and the odd flash of dark humour), the quality of the writing, and the story combine to make it a compelling and disquieting read. After reading this book, I’ve become very intrigued by the author, and I’m curious about his previous novel, as the protagonist of that book was also called Jim. That Jim was quickly becoming old and this one is determined to live forever. I wonder…

I recommend this book to people looking for an exceptional voice and a unique story, who don’t mind being challenged by difficult topics, dark subjects, and stories that don’t fit neatly into a clear genre. If you like to experiment and are looking for something different, I encourage you to give it a go.

Thanks to the author, Rosie, and Terry, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to keep smiling! 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview DO YOU REALIZE?: A NOVEL by Kevin Kuhn (@Big_Kuhna). An inspiring read that will challenge your beliefs.

[amazon_link asins=’0399184414,B00U6SFUSS,1878424114,1481900803,0399185046,8854410624,0813343062′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0a35eb57-a5c7-11e7-93f1-dd86c980b6ba’]Hi, all:

Today I bring you another review I’ve written for Rosie’s Book Review Team. Rosie kindly sends us updates with the new books and if the description intrigues me I go and check the book and sometimes read a sample. I was intrigued by this book but although when it got into the list I had too many reviews pending, I could not resist. It was well worth it.

Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn
Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn

Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn

A 2017 Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner for Visionary Fiction and a 2017 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist.

George is a middle-management, middle-class, middle-aged guy who hates his job and struggles to stay connected to his wife and teenage children. Most guys might end up with a steamy affair and a flashy car for their midlife crises, but George gets a quirky philosophical physics professor named Shiloh. Trapped with this mysterious misfit on his morning commuter train, George is dragged into awkward conversations about love, fear, music, and the meaning of life. Shiloh also asks George to beta-test an app he wrote for the new Apple Watch–and with a free watch included, how could he say no?

When tragedy strikes, throwing George out of his uncomfortable comfort zone, he learns that Shiloh’s app lets him journey through alternate versions of his past. As challenges mount in his own reality, George must make a decision that will change him–and possibly the entire multiverse–forever.

https://www.amazon.com/Do-You-Realize-Kevin-Kuhn-ebook/dp/B06VX1QQHX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Do-You-Realize-Kevin-Kuhn-ebook/dp/B06VX1QQHX/

Author Kevin A. Kuhn
Author Kevin A. Kuhn

About the author:

Kevin Kuhn lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with his wife Melinda, three children, and two fierce schnoodles. He is a technology executive who enjoys sipping cheap bourbon, avoiding yard work, and living vicariously through his children’s sports. While Kevin has no musical skill whatsoever, he appreciates a broad spectrum of artists from Pink Floyd to Prince and Radiohead to the Rolling Stones. His golf game is horrific with flashes of mediocrity.

https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-A.-Kuhn/e/B01N10T2O6/

My review:

I’m reviewing this novel on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, you can check here.

It is a bit difficult to categorise this story. It is not straight science-fiction, although there are sci-fi elements (a strange app that allows people to travel between dimensions and parallel universes), elements of family drama (a man in crisis who can no longer stand his job, whose teenage children are having difficulties, whose relationship with his wife is starting to suffer, and who experiences a number of tragedies in his life), and much discussion about the philosophy of life, humanity, the future, and matters that could fit into the category of spiritual and inspirational literature.

The novel follows the story of George, who has a managerial position in an insurance company but hates his job, and whose whole life seems to have lost its zest and momentum. He meets a man in the train, Shiloh, who asks him interesting questions (all related to song titles that also serve as chapter titles) that make him think and who keeps challenging his beliefs. At some point, he gives him an Apple watch and tells him to test an App of his creation. This App allows him to travel to his own past, only it is not his real past. He can travel to a parallel dimension and relive a day in his life, but instead of his real life, it is the life of a different version of him in that dimension. So his experience in that world is not necessarily the same but it has many points of contact with the one he already lived through. Whatever happens in one version of the world does not impact another. Although to begin with, he travels with the intention of changing things in his present, he soon realises that is not possible. He becomes frustrated as he is not sure why he has been chosen or the whole purpose of the experiment and Shiloh is less than forthcoming. George needs to come to terms with what his life is really about and learn what is really important.

There is nothing peculiar or remarkable about George at first sight. He loves his wife, Elena, a stay at home mom, but their relationship has become lost in everyday tension, problems, and stress. He is not particularly insightful and his life does not appear to be important. It is not evident why Shiloh has chosen him. Perhaps the fact that there is nothing particularly remarkable or peculiar about him is intended to make the readers find it easier to put themselves in his shoes and follow the process, as he is a very familiar and recognisable character, even if we do not share his personal attributes or his life story.

I liked the interaction between George and Shiloh and the fact that he was a pretty mysterious but engaging character. I liked his T-shirts (always with funny puns on Physics-related subjects) and his enthusiasm. His interactions with George were definitely more tell than show, and they made me think at times of Philosophy treatises, like Plato’s Dialogues, even if the ideas were based more on concepts and theories of modern Physics, Ethics, music, and even sports.

The novel is divided into a number of sections. First, we have the conversations between George and Shiloh that I found illuminating and fascinating, although at times they could be frustrating and somewhat repetitive; especially when George seemed a bit slow in understanding some of the ideas and the concepts.

Second, we have George’s everyday life, where we get to know his wife, and his daughter, and son, although I felt I knew more about the children than about the parents, particularly George. That is likely due to the fact that the story, although told in the third person, is told mostly from George’s point of view (until the very end of the novel, where we see Shiloh’s perspective), and although he shares some memories, he reflects and thinks more about his family than he does about himself. They are all nice at heart and, in many ways, their problems are very much those of a fairly privileged society, until tragedy strikes.

Third, we have the chapters where George travels in time and he starts to realise what his life is really about.

And last, but not least, there are the dreams. One of the side effects of those trips are very vivid and weird dreams and these seem to be consist of visions of what most of us would think time travel would be like, as these dreams take him from prehistoric times to a faraway future.

Although I was not sure how connected I felt to George’s character, towards the end I felt engaged with him and his family (perhaps because I could personally relate to some of the things they go through as a family). Although it was more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one for most of the book, I did become attached to the family by the end. And the book gave me much to think about.

The book reminded me a novel I read not long ago, The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello (you can check my review here), and although the stories and the writing styles are quite different, both of them went beyond the plot to question much bigger things.

The novel flows and ebbs. It is not a fast read, but it is an engaging one and I wanted to keep reading, intrigued, like the protagonist by what Shiloh would come up with next. I did not find his explanations of physics, ethics, and other concepts complex to understand and, apart from some moment of irritation when George seems to find it difficult to accept and understand what is happening, I found the style of writing easy to follow, with heavy moments and some lighter ones, and I thought the balance between the theoretical discussions and the life drama was well-achieved for most of the book.

I’d recommend this book to people looking for inspiring books and books providing bite-size information about recent theories in Physics, Ethics, and views of the world we live in that will make them think about the future and reconsider their priorities. I think lovers of music (Rock and Roll in particular) and sports will enjoy it in particular.This is not a book full of action for those who love adventures, or a standard sci-fi book, so I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book and see how they feel.

Thanks to Rosie for her efforts and for offering us such great books, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and of course, REVIEW!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Giveaway

#GIVEAWAY THE BEAUTY OF THE FALL by Rich Marcello (@marcellor). A beautifully written novel about loss, meaning and relationships, with its heart in the right place.

Hi all:

As you know, I’m up-to-date with my reviews now, and as I was thinking if I would share a post today or give you a rest, I was contacted by Rich Marcello, an author whose book The Beauty of the Fall I read and reviewed a while back. I loved his book, that is one of those that makes one think and is not afraid of trying to tackle important matters and great ideas. (Just in case, I’ve copied the original review below). He asked me if I’d like to share his giveaway on my blog, and I could not let that opportunity pass me by.

Here is the letter he wants me to share with all of you:

Hi there,
My name is Rich Marcello and I’m the author of three novels––The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall. 
When The Beauty of the Fall came out, Olga wrote a wonderful review of the book that you can read below.
As Olga’s review indicates, The Beauty of the Fall is, in part, about having meaningful conversations in a polarized world and turning those conversations into real change.  The two main examples I use in the book are climate change and domestic violence.
In light of Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, I’ve decided to give away 1000 copies of the book at my expense. Some of these books will be given away through Goodreads, but I’ve decided  to offer bloggers who’ve written a positive review of TBOTF the opportunity to give them away to their readers.  That’s why I’m posting as a guest blogger on Olga’s site.
Here’s the deal.  In the States, I can send a reader a physical copy or an ebook.  In the rest of the world, I can offer an ebook gift certificate through Amazon.  All I ask in return is that readers help spread the word if they like the novel (through reviews or word of mouth or both). If you are interested, just send your address or your email to rich.marcello@gmail.com, and I’ll get a book out to you. 
Thank you for your consideration. 
 
Peace,
Rich
You can check out more about my work here:
http://richmarcello.com/
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7356640.Rich_Marcello
https://www.amazon.com/Rich-Marcello/e/B00G97QU16/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
https://www.facebook.com/richmarcelloauthor/

 And here, a reminder of the book and my review:

Here, the novel, including the press release that the author kindly sent me.

Cover of the Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello
The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello

A TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE CHARTS A HIGH-RISK, UNCONVENTIONAL PATH WHILE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF HIS SON

Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.
Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. He then recruits three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change.
Guided by Dan’s leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

Press release

Softcover

ISBN: 978-1-63505-402-6

Page Count: 376

Release Date: October 25th, 2016

The Beauty of the Fall takes Readers on Intriguing Journey

In Rich Marcello’s new novel, The Beauty of the Fall, Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year- old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.

Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor and advocate, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea.

When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?

This captivating, idea-driven novel appeals to readers who are interested in exploring a technology based solution to many of our current social problems, and to readers who are interested in father-son relationships, gender equality, and working through grief.

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the Author

Rich is a poet, a songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall.

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.

For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist and a teacher.

Advanced Praise

“Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall. Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.” — Mark Spencer,

Faulkner Award winner and author of Ghostwalking

“Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall takes the reader on two intriguing journeys: the exciting coffee-fueled rise of a high-tech start-up and the emotional near-collapse of the man behind the revolutionary company, his personal journey through grief and healing.”

––Jessamyn Hope, author of Safekeeping

“Rich Marcello’s third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, intermixes poetry and prose fluidly throughout the manuscript, and in fact, incorporates poetry as one of its major themes. As a practicing poet, I was swept away by the lyrical language, the characters, and the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Overall, a great and inspiring read!” — Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds

Links to the novel and author sites:

https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Fall-Novel-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B01MFCTYYW/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32711997-the-beauty-of-the-fall

https://www.facebook.com/richmarcelloauthor/

https://www.instagram.com/rich.marcello/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions. This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.

The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).

Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.

As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.

First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I was also touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.

Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.

The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).

Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.

For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.

In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate. This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenge our opinions and ideas.

Remember, if you want to have a chance to get a copy of the book, you just need to get in touch with Rich Marcello, at his e-mail address,rich.marcello@gmail.com and mention the giveaway in the title of the e-mail. And, of course, if you are lucky enough to get a copy, remember to share a review!

Thanks so much to Rich Marcello for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and participating, and I’d be very grateful if you could spread the word in any way possible. Please, like, share, comment and reblog if you can!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd (@guingb). Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voice

Hi all:

Today we have a pretty special book. I’d recommend it in particular to lovers of historical fiction but I hope everybody would give it a chance because…

The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voiceby Guinevere Glasfurd

  • ‘EXCELLENT… AN ENTIRELY UNSENTIMENTAL LOVE STORY WITH A MEMORABLE AND ENGAGING HEROINE. CLEVER AND TOUCHING.’The Times (Book of the Month)
    ‘AN ACCOMPLISHED FIRST NOVEL… GLASFURD BRILLIANTLY DISSECTS THE COMPLEX FRUSTRATIONS OF A WOMAN IN LOVE WITH A MAN CONSUMED BY INTELLECTUAL OBSESSIONS. THERE IS MUCH TO MOVE US HERE’ Guardian
  • The Words in My Handis the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
    But this is Helena’s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society.
    Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.
    When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

Author Guinevere Glasfurd
Author Guinevere Glasfurd

About the author:

My short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, The Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland. I live on the edge of the Fens, near Cambridge. My first novel, The Words in my Hand, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England. It has recently been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, 2016.

I work with artists in the UK and South Africa and my work has been funded under the Artists’ International Development Fund, (Arts Council England and the British Council).

Details of that project, which saw me work with fine artist Richard Penn at Nirox, Johannesburg, can be found here: http://mailout.co/cambridge-based-artists-secure-arts-council-funding-to-develop-international-projects/

I’ve since been commissioned to produce work in support of  Penn’s most recent exhibition, Surface Detail, at the Origins’ Centre.

https://guinevereglasfurd.com/

 

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to John Murray Press Two Roads for offering me a free ARC of this novel that I voluntarily review.

This novel, that could be classed as historical fiction, tells the (at least in part imagined) story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid who was serving at a house where René Descartes stayed in Amsterdam, and who bore him a daughter. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, Glasfurd explains in detail the true facts known about Helena (she existed and indeed bore Descartes a girl, Francine, and she got married later and had a boy), shares her sources and her intention when writing the book.

The story, narrated in the first person from Helena’s point of view, is beautifully written. We get a clear sense of the historical period, of Holland at the time, especially what it would be like for a young girl of a poor family, who is sent to the capital as she needs to make a living for herself. She is presented as a curious girl, who’s taken an interest in reading and writing, practically teaching herself to do it, and how she ends up as a maid at a bookseller’s home. She’s fascinated by paper (a very expensive and luxurious commodity at the time), ink, by books and maps. She’s only ever traced the outline of the letters on her own hand (therefore the title: The Words in My Hand) but eventually, after experimenting on making her own ink using beetroot, she does learn to write using a quill and proper ink. She also teaches another servant girl how to write, broadening her horizons and giving her a better chance in life.

Coming into contact with Descartes, the Monsieur (as she calls him all through the book, because there is always a certain distance between them), revolutionises her world, not only because of the relationship with him (she’s very young at the time, and he’s many years her senior, so one wonders what that would be considered nowadays) but because of the way he examines and sees the world. The author uses their conversations and Helena’s curiosity, as ways to expose some of Descartes ideas, exemplifying them in lyrical and at the same time understandable ways. Swallows, eels’ hearts, the refraction of light, a flame, snowflakes, anything and everything catches Descartes attention and he feels the need to study it and explain it.

Helena is a complex character. She’s presented as a young woman living through difficult circumstances who tries to live her own life and make her way, rather than just depend on the generosity of a man she doesn’t fully understand (and who perhaps didn’t understand himself that well, either). But she’s not a modern heroine, doing things that would have been impossible during that historical period. Whilst she is shown as curious, skilled, and determined, she is hindered by gender and class (publishing books, even something as simple as an illustrated alphabet for children is not possible for a woman), and also by her personal feelings. She suffers for her mistakes and she lives a limited existence at times, being subject to insult and abuse (as she would have likely been given her circumstances). Despite all that, Glasfurd presents Helen as an artist, a woman who can describe, draw and appreciate things around her, who wants to ensure her daughter gets an education, and who loves Descartes (however difficult that might be at times).

I’ve read a few books recently that try to recover female figures that might have been the great women behind great men but have been ignored or obscured by official history. In some cases, the authors seem to be at pains to paint a negative picture of the man in question. This is not the case here. We only see Descartes through Helena’s eyes (also through some overheard comments and conversations he has with others and through some of his letters) and at times his actions are difficult to understand, but within his constraints he is portrayed as a man of contradictions but with a good heart, who cared for those around him but was, perhaps, more interested in his studies and science than in everyday matters and the life of those closest to him. He is weary of the consequences and risks of publicly exposing his relationship with Helena and his daughter but does not abandon them either. He is a man who struggles and cannot easily fit in the society of his time.

A beautifully observed and written book, about the love of science, writing, nature, and the human side of a historical figure that remains fascinating to this day. This fictionalisation provides a good introduction to some of Descartes ideas and is a great way of remembering another woman whose place in history has only been a footnote until now. A great read especially recommended to those who love historical fiction and who are intrigued by Descartes and XVII century Holland.

(Just as a side note, Francis Spufford won the Costa First Novel Award with Golden Hill that’s on my list. Perhaps I should push it up…)

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Dr. Ronald Epstein M.D. A must read for doctors, care professionals and health and social care institutions. And anybody else #mindfulness #caringprofessions

Hi all:

This review is particularly pertinent to me (or at least to the me who was working as a psychiatrist) but I hope many of you might find useful things in it. A wonderful book.

Attending. Medicine, Mindfulness and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.
Attending. Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Ronald Epstein, M.D.

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity by Dr. Ronald Epstein M.D.

The first book for the general public about mindfulness and medical practice, a groundbreaking, intimate exploration of how doctors think and what matters most—safe, effective, patient-centered, compassionate care—from the foremost expert in the field.

As a third-year Harvard Medical School student doing a clinical rotation in surgery, Ronald Epstein watched an error unfold: an experienced surgeon failed to notice his patient’s kidney turning an ominous shade of blue. In that same rotation, Epstein was awestruck by another surgeon’s ability to avert an impending disaster, slowing down from autopilot to intentionality. The difference between these two doctors left a lasting impression on Epstein and set the stage for his life’s work—to identify the qualities and habits that distinguish masterful doctors from those who are merely competent. The secret, he learned, was mindfulness.

In Attending, his first book, Dr. Epstein builds on his world-renowned, innovative programs in mindful practice and uses gripping and deeply human clinical stories to give patients a language to describe what they value most in health care and to outline a road map for doctors and other health care professionals to refocus their approach to medicine. Drawing on his clinical experiences and current research, and exploring four foundations of mindfulness—Attention, Curiosity, Beginner’s Mind, and Presence—Dr. Epstein introduces a revolutionary concept: by looking inward, health care practitioners can grow their capacity to provide high-quality care and the resilience to be there when their patients need them.

The commodification of health care has shifted doctors’ focus away from the healing of patients to the bottom line. Clinician burnout is at an all-time high. Attending is the antidote. With compassion and intelligence, Epstein offers a crucial, timely book that shows us how we can restore humanity to medicine, guides us toward a better overall quality of care, and reminds us of what matters most.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This book is phenomenal, and will be phenomenally useful to physicians and to all of us who are desperately in need of true health care and caring. It is hard for me to imagine a doctor reading it and not immediately recognizing, taking to heart, and implementing its messages in any number of different ways, being so commonsensical, clear, innately transformative, and healing. And it is equally hard for me to imagine that it will not energize all of us, when we find ourselves in the role of ‘the patient,’ to demand greater mindfulness from our care-givers across the board, and know what we mean by that.”—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Mindfulness for Beginners 

“As a student admissions committee member reviewing Ron Epstein’s application to medical school, I knew he was special, a view surpassed by his visionary achievements illuminating the important nature of how physicians care for their patients, and how they can best care for themselves. Attending is the book every medical caregiver needs to strengthen their minds and harness their resilience to care for others—and every patient needs to understand how doctors think. This is a work of heart and head, a beautiful synthesis of inner wisdom and hard earned scientific empirical findings that point the way to proven methods for improving the lives of both giver and receiver of medical care.  With clear explanations, captivating stories, and well-described challenges and approaches to their solutions, this book is exactly what the field of medicine needs.”—Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., author of Mind and The Mindful Brain and Executive Director, Mindsight Institute Founding Co-Director, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center 

“I recommend Attending for anyone interested in health. In a most accessible way, Epstein makes a very convincing case for how doctors and patients would prosper from doctors becoming more mindful.”—Ellen Langer, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of Mindfulness and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility

“This powerful and inspiring book opens the pathway to bringing care, wisdom, and mindfulness into practice of medicine. A must-read for all clinicians and for lay readers as well.”–Joan Halifax, PhD, author of Being With Dying

“Ronald Epstein cuts through the cacophony and illuminates the heart of the medical enterprise—the attentive and compassionate connection between doctor and patient. In a world awash with medical error, patient dissatisfaction, and burned-out doctors, this attention to mindfulness is much needed balm.  Attending is at once penetrating, counterintuitive, and profoundly humbling.”–Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear

Attending got my attention from the opening paragraphs. Beautiful, compelling, and wise stories of how medicine and care-taking can be, (should be) when approached with common sense, a fierce sense of what is best for both the doctor and patient, and a compassionate heart.  A timely and important book!”–Marc Lesser, CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) and author of Know Yourself, Forget Yourself and LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less

“Ronald Epstein truthfully and powerfully describes the challenging and changing worlds of both the physician and and the patient.  Attending will encourage the recognition that mindfulness and compassion training contribute to effective medicine. The book clearly demonstrates how these contemplative practices can help enrich the lives of everyone involved in health care.”–Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

“Epstein presents for general readers a concise guide to his view of what mindfulness is, its value, and how it is a skill that anyone can work to acquire.”–Library Journal

“A deeply informed and compassionate book…[Dr. Epstein] tells us that it is a ‘moral imperative’ to do right by our patients. And he shows why and how.”--Lloyd Sederer, New York Journal of Books

“Vivid… Epstein’s candor and courage…that makes the book so compelling.”–Pharos

“Among the best books about how to teach the humanistic aspects of doctoring. Epstein weaves together an insightful collection of experiences that examine the clinician’s situation starting from inside her own mind and ending at the system in which she practices.”–Gold Foundation

“Thoughtful company in times when we’ve never needed thoughtful company more.”–Harvard Medicine

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Attending-Medicine-Mindfulness-Ronald-Epstein-ebook/dp/B01CO4B5AI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attending-Medicine-Mindfulness-Ronald-Epstein-ebook/dp/B01CO4B5AI/

Author, Ronald Epstein M. D.

About the Author

Dr. Ronald Epstein is a practicing family physician, is a professor of family medicine, psychiatry, and oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he directs the Center for Communication and Disparities Research and codirects Mindful Practice programs. He is an internationally recognized educator, writer, and researcher whose landmark article, “Mindful Practice,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, has revolutionized physicians’ view of their work. Dr. Epstein has been named one of America’s Best Doctors every year since 1998 by U.S. News & World Report. Visit Dr Epstein at RonaldEpstein.com.

Article about the author’s Gold Humanism Award:

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/4772/ronald-epstein-honored-for-humanism-in-medicine.aspx

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

If they asked me to provide a single word review of this book, I would write AMEN.

Ronald Epstein, the author and practising doctor with his own clinic, after years of studying a variety of disciplines (including music, meditation, Philosophy, Zen, Medicine…) and of trying to find the best way to maintain a practice sensitive to the needs of patients, compassionate, focused on well-being and avoiding suffering, rather than on billing, money and the business-side of things, published an article called ‘Mindful Practice’ in 1999. The article was very well received and resulted in the author becoming a speaker and offering training to other health professionals, emphasising the important of being mindful of one’s practice. In this book, the author shares his insight and knowledge to help other physicians avoid errors, burnout, and remember what Medicine should really be about. He offers plenty of background research and information (with abundant notes that take up more than a third of the book and a useful bibliography for those who want to check the original sources) interspersed with case stories that illustrate the topics. These include cases Dr Epstein had personal experience of (both as a physician and as a patient) and others that he’s accumulated over years of educating other professionals and talking to friends and colleagues. These cases not only reinforce the theoretical points but also add a practical and personal touch that can be lost in purely theoretical texts.

The book is written in a fluid and clear style, accessible and interesting also to those who might not work in healthcare, although it is particularly geared towards health professionals.  Due to the themes and subjects touched upon, this book would be useful to individuals and institutions heavily invested in helping people and dealing with the public, in particular, those offering care. Although many of the reflections are particularly pertinent to individuals, the emphasis on education and the fact that many of the qualities discussed, like compassion and resilience can be taught, are particularly important for organisations and institutions that manage human resources. As Dr Epstein explains, they would go a long way to help avoid professional burnout.

Although Attending mentions Zen, neurocognitive studies, philosophers’ books, mindfulness and meditation, the overall message does not require an in-depth knowledge of any of those subjects and I cannot imagine anybody who would not find something useful in this volume.

As a doctor and one who left the job a few years back less than enamoured with the way health care is organised, I kept nodding all the way through. I highlighted so many sentences and quotes that I cannot share them all, but I will choose a few ones that I felt were particularly pertinent:

Medicine is in crisis. Physicians and patients are disillusioned, frustrated by the fragmentation of the health care system. Patients cannot help but notice that I spend more and more time looking at computer screens and less time face-to-face. They experience the consequences of the commodification of medicine that has forced clinicians’ focus from the healing of patients to the mechanics of health care —productivity pressures, insurance regulations, actuarial tasks, and demoralizing metrics that measure what can be counted and not what really counts, sometimes ironically in the name of evidence-based and patient-centered care.

Maslach found that burnout consisted of three factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation (treating people as objects), and a feeling of low personal accomplishment.

But now, in the age of the corporatization and widgetization of medicine, there is a new kind of burnout, a slow, relentless “deterioration of values, dignity, spirit and will” that comes from the structure of health care itself.

The problem is not only overwork; it’s a crisis of meaning, resilience, and community.

As I said, I think this book should be required reading for medical students, qualified doctors and also for other professionals working in healthcare and those who manage staff and organise the educational programmes of institutions, not only those providing healthcare but also any that deal with the public and its problems on a regular basis.

If I were to make a suggestion, it would be that the book could easily be made even more relevant to other disciplines by adding examples pertaining to other professions (not only nurses or paramedics but also social workers, counsellors, teachers…). It is clear from the content that although the principles can be applied individually, organisations would also do well adopting the ideals and attitudes highlighted by the research. Becoming attentive, compassionate, curious and mindful would help patients and staff increase their wellbeing and avoid burnout and complaints.

I recommend this book to all healthcare professionals, and those interested in how to improve healthcare and increase the resilience and wellbeing of staff. I think that anybody could potentially benefit from this book, and I’d recommend checking the sample if you think it might help you. I will definitely recommend it to some of my previous work colleagues.

Thanks to Scribner and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And don’t forget to leave a review if you read a book. 

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