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review 2018-06-07 19:19
Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body.
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes - Nathan H. Lents

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

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review 2015-09-30 08:37
Side Effects May Vary/Julie Murphy
Side Effects May Vary - Julie Murphy

For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel about a girl with cancer who creates a take-no-prisoners bucket list that sets off a war at school—only to discover she's gone into remission.

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend, Harvey, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge as it is about hope. But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission, and now she must face the consequences of all she's said and done. Contemporary realistic-fiction readers who love romantic stories featuring strong heroines will find much to savor in this standout debut.

 

This book provided an interesting variation on the terminal illness trend that's been taking over YA literature recently.

 

Alice was one of my favourite YA characters of recent novels. I found that, though she had fulfilled her bucket list, she had actually spent a lot of time keeping up a pretence for her family and certain people close to her. As such, when she learns that she's gone into remission, she has to reclaim her own life, and doing this isn't exactly pleasing to everyone.

 

The bucket list wasn't really as much of a topic as I thought it was going to be--it was more of an afterthought. The things she did do were relatively unoriginal and felt more like a high school revenge game than the final wishes of someone dying of cancer.

I loved the emphasis on music and dance. The contrast between an art form, a passion, and a career was palpable and as a former ballet dancer myself I really related to Alice's feelings in quitting.

 

The format of this book was unusual, with chapters told from both Harvey's and Alice's perspectives before and after. I found this to be more confusing than effective as it sometimes became hard to remember where I was and what was happening, but I did enjoy getting both the before and after contrast.

 

This was a solid book worth checking out for Alice's character, but it didn't stand out much to me.

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review 2015-09-30 08:08
The Half Life of Molly Pierce/Katarina Leno
The Half Life of Molly Pierce - Katrina Leno

A gorgeous and visceral page-turner reminiscent of the film Memento, The Half Life of Molly Pierce is perfect for fans of Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere and Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall.

For all of her seventeen years, Molly feels like she's missed bits and pieces of her life. Now she's figuring out why. Now she's remembering her own secrets. And in doing so, Molly uncovers the separate life she seems to have led . . . and the love that she can't let go.

 

This was a fascinating look into the human mind and into an intriguing mystery.

Molly's relationship with Lyle, and later, Sayer, was intriguing. I enjoyed how a mystery was presented to us with very few outside clues or any context for us to really understand. Because of this, we really discover chains of events as Molly did.

 

I'm honestly still a little confused about Mabel's experiences and the way she went about sharing these with Molly. I'd like to know more details about her and how Molly felt hearing about these experiences. I'd also like to know more about Molly's friends and how they came to know a lot of what they knew. I feel like the ending was almost too easily resolved. Was Lyle the trigger for everything leading up to the ending? I'm not sure, but I don't really buy it.

 

Alex also didn't feel quite real. I'm not sure what he really thought would happen, and again, what was going to trigger this. I feel like there were probably a lot of malpractice laws he might have run into. However, I did appreciate that he was a character Molly could rely on; his type isn't common in most books of this nature.

 

I really appreciated the way this book portrayed depression and suicidal tendencies. Though it was a section that came late into the book, it was very well crafted and resonated strongly with me.

 

Maybe the blurb shouldn't have compared it to two of my all time favourite books, because that set me up for disappointment.

 

This wasn't the most exciting book, but it kept me riveted and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys mind games or stories of mental illnesses.

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review 2015-07-03 00:00
Sick and Tired: Healing the Illnesses Doctors Cannot Cure
Sick and Tired: Healing the Illnesses Doctors Cannot Cure - Nick Read Interesting, particularly the last chapter. Talking about how the mind can influence the body and how some illnesses need more than just chemicals thrown at them.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-03-28 08:28
The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
I think I’ll have a hard time reviewing this, or really, a hard time explaining my reasons for not liking everything about the book.

Because I did like it, I did like the main character, I did like the writing, so what didn’t you like, Milla? Well, I didn’t like the last couple of pages. Oh, how I wish the author had just stopped when the love interest in the book, actually tells it like it is, or how I think it should have been..

This book is about Don, who’s a 39 year old Australian guy. You quickly figure out that he has some degree of Asperger’s disease, or some kind of mental glitch, not because he’s stupid or weird (well, he is a bit weird, but he knows that) because no, he’s very smart and a fast learner, and he knows everything there is to know about statistics and facts, but he doesn’t experience emotions. He doesn’t experience love, or feelings, he has no filter, he’s just all about facts.

And he’s great, he really is. I loved to read about his quest to find a ‘long term partner’ because he’s the kind of guy who makes a questionnaire, because he figures that if he can find the woman who answers everything correctly, he will have found his true match. Not in a love way, but just “the perfect match.”

In comes Rosie, who’s a bratty 29 year old (and everything Don doesn’t want in a “long term partner”), who’s trying to find her biological father, and so she seeks out Don, who’s an expert (of course) in the field. See, Don, is the kind of person who needs to have a schedule for every aspect in his life. He cooks the same thing every week; he wears the same thing and listens to the same music. And Rosie changes that.

But the thing is, Asperger’s is a real disease, and people living with it, can not just “snap out of it” because they meet a girl, which is kinda what this book ends up saying.

***Spoilers***

No, you cannot tell me that Don all along, knew what love felt like, when you (I’m looking at you author) told me he couldn’t, and honestly, “love” is a cure for Asperger’s? Really? I know Don wasn’t diagnosed with that in the book, but maybe he should have been?

When Rosie told Don that they couldn’t “be together” because he didn’t know what love was, I was clapping my hands, because yes! Yes, that should have been the ending. Don had had a fun time, and they could have been good and great friends even, but she should have stuck with her initial thoughts, because Don suddenly married with kids, being a “normal guy” after 40 years of living in a box, with no emotions? Yeah, I don’t buy it. At all, actually.

I would have loved that the meaning of the book was that ‘Yes, try to step out of the box sometimes, you might meet a good friend and have a good time’ instead of ‘love can cure Asperger’s disease’, because really? No, it really can’t, and authors really need to stop this whole “love can cure anything” in books, because it’s getting really, really old, and when you start saying love can cure mental illnesses I will take away a star from your review so fast, you don’t even know.

3 2 stars.
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