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The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks

Published November 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

What did I think?:

This particular work of nonfiction might not come as a surprise to recent readers of my blog as I’ve been participating in Nonfiction November and being quite enthusiastic about the fact that neuroscience is one of my favourite things to read about. Saying that, it might come as a bit of a shock (and it certainly was to me!) that I haven’t picked up a single book by world-renowned neuroscientist Oliver Sacks who has written a plethora of books on the topic before sadly passing away in 2015. Awarded a CBE in 2008, Sacks even has an asteroid named after him for crying out loud! It was high time I discovered his work and I was delighted when my partner, Mr B picked one of his most famous books as part of my September TBR.

Generally, I have to say that I really enjoyed this fascinating little book. I have some small issues with it which I’ll go into a bit later but overall, it was a mind-blowing insight into the world of the brain when it happens to malfunction. It’s a book I absorbed in small chunks, reading a particular case each night and personally, I found this to be the best method of taking in the wealth of information that we are given as a reader. Now I’m quite lucky to have a scientific background because of my day job within science but I have to admit there were moments when I feel the author assumed the reader had a greater medical knowledge than they might otherwise have. This makes me slightly concerned that someone who doesn’t have any prior scientific know-how might be a bit turned off by portions of this book but thankfully I don’t think there’s too many instances of information overload and most of the time, I believe you would get the gist of what the author is describing.

Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales.

I have to say, the cases that Sacks describes in this book are absolutely unforgettable. There’s the “Man” from the title who has issues with visual recognition, even attempting to lift his wife’s head clean off her neck, mistaking it for his hat! Oddly enough, as we find with many of these neurological cases, despite our man’s severe visual recognition problems, he still manages to work as a successful music teacher and live a fulfilling life. We also have a man suffering from Parkinson’s who can’t help but tilt as he walks, rather like the Tower Of Pisa and develops a strange method to correct his tilting when Sacks draws his attention to it. Then there is the lady who has a strange dream that she cannot feel parts of her body and one day, when she awakes, her dream seems to have become her worst nightmare. She loses all sense of where her body is in space and in time (known as proprioception) and she is forced to concentrate at every waking moment to assess where her body might be, even for something as simple as sitting down.

I think the most heart-breaking story for me was the story of the middle-aged sailor who Sacks meets and immediately forges a relationship with. However, our sailor believes himself to be nineteen years old and in the year 1945 and neglects to remember who Sacks is after a few minutes of leaving the room. There is sadness in a lot of the cases that Sacks recounts and other accounts that had me shaking my head in disbelief and wonder, purely at how our brain can mess up so randomly and most importantly, drastically affect the rest of our lives as a result. However, the most interesting thing is that in many of these cases, the person afflicted didn’t realise anything was actually wrong and seemed perfectly content in the new life that their brain had made for them. Does this make it okay? Of course not! But are they suffering? It’s hard to say and there’s so much about the brain that we still don’t know which makes it an endlessly fascinating subject for me.

Image from: https://charterforcompassion.org/science-and-research-compassion-book/what-neuroscientists-can-teach-you-about-the-brain

As I alluded to earlier, I do have some small criticisms about this book, aside from the occasionally complicated and unexplained scientific terms I mentioned before. I am fully aware that this book was originally published in 1986 and therefore, attitudes and political correctness were perhaps slightly different however I did find it uncomfortable reading when Sacks devoted whole chapters to individuals that were mentally challenged/autistic and referred to them in terms that would be derogatory nowadays i.e. idiot, retarded, simple to name a few. Of course I understand this was merely a sign of the times and wouldn’t be acceptable today but this book has had multiple editions published and I don’t think a quick update would have hurt? Just my opinion.

Apart from this little niggle, I found this to be a highly informative and intriguing read and I’ll be interested to pick up another of Sacks works in the future for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks was the fifty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

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Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

Published November 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Karin Slaughter, author of the bestselling Will Trent novels, is widely acclaimed as “one of the best crime novelists in America” (The Washington Post). Now she delivers her first stand-alone novel: an epic story of a city in the midst of seismic upheaval, a serial killer targeting cops, and a divided police force tasked with bringing a madman to justice.

Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.

Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are pushed out of the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

Relentlessly paced, acutely observed, wickedly funny, and often heartbreaking, Cop Town is Karin Slaughter’s most powerful novel yet—a tour de force of storytelling from our foremost master of character, atmosphere, and suspense.

What did I think?:

I had been eagerly anticipating Karin Slaughter’s stand-alone novel, Cop Town for a while now and had been putting it off in favour of the new, shiny books jumping out at me from bookshops or tempting me from afar in my fellow bloggers reviews. Luckily for me, Mr B my long-suffering partner took control and chose my TBR in September this year as it was when he decided I finally need to get round to the book I had been banging on about all year! Now I say this as a huge Slaughter fan and mean no respect to an author I ardently admire but I have to be honest – I don’t think Cop Town is her best stand-alone. You may not realise how devastating it is to have to say that as I adore her Grant County/Will Trent series with every fibre of my being but for some reason, this novel just didn’t work for me. It’s not a bad story, not by any stretch of the imagination. There’s some absolutely wonderful moments and kick-ass female leads (ALWAYS a good thing) but I feel that there was something about the plot that just didn’t draw me in personally as a reader.

Karin Slaughter, author of the stand-alone novel, Cop Town.

This novel has an unbelievably exciting premise, set in 1970’s Atlanta and focusing on the lives of two specific policewomen – Kate Murphy and Maggie Lawson. Kate is a newbie on the force and quickly learns through her partner Maggie that being a woman in the police in 1970’s America is not an easy task. Misogyny, favouritism of male police officers and belittling of women is rampant and completely uncontrolled. Unfortunately, at this point in time, it was something women put up with and just attempted to do their jobs to the best of their ability, almost accepting the abuse and prejudice was just “the way things were.”

As Kate worries if joining the force was one of the biggest mistakes of her life, we also learn about a mysterious ongoing case which involves an unknown assailant deliberately targeting and killing police officers. This turns into a race war with the perpetrator reported to be black and with racial tensions already high in Atlanta, it’s about to reach boiling point and spill over into very dangerous violence between the police, their community and of course, their fellow officers, black and white. Kate and Maggie must work together (without being rumbled by the boys) to try and crack the case and unmask the serial cop killer before the whole city finds itself in a deadly war.

Atlanta, USA in the 1970’s where the novel is set.

Sounds fantastic, right? Of course, there were some brilliant parts to this novel, particularly in the way Slaughter creates an atmosphere of tension and mistrust between the white and black community. She’s so fantastic at setting a scene that feels so authentic you could almost imagine yourself directly within the time frame, cognisant of everything that’s going on around you, including the knowledge of each character’s individual personality. That’s another thing that this author is so great at – creating memorable and believable characters that all feel remarkably life-like. I was a particular fan of the two female leads, Kate and Maggie who both had their own skeletons in the closet or insecurities which are gradually revealed as the narrative continues.

However, what I really loved about them was how they grew as individuals as events in Atlanta unfolded but more importantly, through the harrowing events that they go through together as partners on the police force. In the very early days of their relationship the mistrust between the two is blindingly obvious but then slowly and gradually develops into a mutual respect and appreciation. It felt as if this is the crucial bond that two police officers on any force across the world must develop with each other in a relatively short amount of time if they are to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Saying all this – what was my problem with Cop Town? It’s difficult to say with any certainty. So, premise and characters = great stuff, intriguing and instantly captivating for sure and I was completely hooked (and at times horrified) by the sexism/racism element. I just wasn’t sold on the plot of the cop killer to be honest. At times, it felt overly complicated and slightly unnecessary. I wonder if it would have worked better for me if had been a different case for Maggie and Kate to investigate? Possibly. One thing is for definite, it won’t put me off Slaughter as an author and I’m already lining up the next of her stand-alone novels, Pretty Girls to read soon. If you’ve read Cop Town, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Were you of a similar opinion to me or did you love it? Let’s talk down below in the comments!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter was the fiftieth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in The Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

 

The Girls – Emma Cline

Published October 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.

Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.

And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.

Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

What did I think?:

One of my favourite parts of the month is when I buddy read with my fellow bloggers. I read books with my sister, Chrissi Reads very regularly – we have a Banned Books, a Kid-Lit series and a “Talking About” feature and more recently, I’ve started a monthly buddy read with my good friend, Janel from the wonderful blog Keeper Of Pages. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person a couple of weeks ago at a Quercus Word-Of-Mouth Bestsellers Evening that she kindly invited me to and I’m delighted to announce that she’s just as fabulous in person as she is on her blog. Our buddy read for last month was The Girls by Emma Cline and although it wasn’t a five star read for us (like the majority of our co-reads have been) we both still thoroughly enjoyed it and there were parts of the narrative that DEFINITELY made a lasting impact that I’m still continuing to think about today.

Emma Cline, author of The Girls.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the topics this book covers, the synopsis above from Goodreads does that more than adequately and is just teasing enough not to give anything further away. I think what I would like to talk about is how this book seems to have divided readers, especially in the strength of reviews/difference in star ratings it has received. The average rating for this novel on Goodreads is 3.47, kind of a middle-of-the-road rating which I’m both surprised by and not surprised by at all, if that makes any sense? First of all, I don’t think this novel is for everyone and I believe that explains the difference in opinions that people clearly seem to have. It seems like for The Girls, you either really like this book or you don’t get on with it at all. As I scanned my eyes down the page for star ratings the vast majority seemed to be either 4/5 star reviews or 2 stars. Why is this? Perhaps, in part it’s down to the pacing of the narrative which is quite slow, methodical and written at times almost like a stream of consciousness which I realise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

1960’s America, the time period in which The Girls is set.

Image from video: The Top 10 Defining Moments of 1960’s America @ https://www.watchmojo.com/video/id/11930

Personally, I really enjoyed this novel. I have to admit, it took me a little while to get used to the writing style and the hazy, almost other-worldly feeling that I think perfectly embodied both the mind of the cult and the drugs that fourteen year old Evie Boyd was exposed to once indoctrinated within Russell’s unique little group. We see Evie as both an adult (where she has a startlingly similar mindset to her adolescent self) and the time period of the late 1960’s where she meets, becomes infatuated with Suzanne and enters the dangerous world of the cult for the very first time. It’s true to say that Evie completely frustrated me at points and I found myself wanting to shake her for certain things that she becomes involved with but whenever I felt this way, I reminded myself how intensely vulnerable I was too as a teenager.

It’s amazing how much influence certain people can have over you when you are a more naive, trusting individual and by the end of the novel, I was genuinely shocked by how much I had in common with Evie after all. It was quite a sobering and illuminating reflection but also had the effect of making me connect with her character on a deeper level so as a result I enjoyed this novel even more that I might have done without this frightening similarity in parts of our personalities!

As a piece of literary fiction, I feel like The Girls is almost like a work of art. Not everybody is going to enjoy it but there are going to be others that see something in it so fascinating that the story will linger in their memories for some time to come.

Thank you to Janel @ Keeper Of Pages for another brilliant buddy read! Check out her amazing review of The Girls HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Previous buddy reads with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages 

The Fireman by Joe Hill – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

 

The Girls by Emma Cline was the forty-ninth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The Name Of The Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1) – Patrick Rothfuss

Published October 9, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe.
You may have heard of me’

What did I think?:

If you’re a fan of fantasy and haven’t heard of this book, I really would be quite surprised. This book has been EVERYWHERE and compared to the greatest fantasy series out there, including Game Of Thrones (which I still have to read, I know…don’t judge me!). I’m not the biggest connoisseur of fantasy I have to admit, I’ve just been dipping my toe (or should that be nose?) into the genre in recent years but everyone I follow on book tube who enjoys fantasy have been simply raving about this world and its charismatic main character, Kvothe. However, the biggest problem with this series is that die-hard fans have been waiting for a long time for the next book in the series to come out. The first book, The Name Of The Wind was released in 2007 and the second, The Wise Man’s Fear was published in 2011 but as yet, there has been no whisper of when the third novel, thought to be entitled The Doors Of Stone will be released. That’s an awful long time to wait!

This is one of the reasons that I’ve been putting this series off. It irks me slightly when I get fully invested in a story and I have to wait an unspecified time to get my next fix – call me impatient but that’s just the way I feel! I think when you’re a blogger or a voracious reader like myself, because we read so much, if we have to wait too long between books in a series, there is a risk that certain aspects of the previous novel may be forgotten or indeed, the whole impact of the narrative itself will fade. It’s one of the reasons why I was so pleased that all the books in The Dark Tower series by Stephen King had been released by the time I got round to them. I don’t think I would have had any nails left if I had been forced to wait for the next instalment!

Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name Of The Wind, the first novel in The Kingkiller Chronicles.

I took it as a sign when the lovely booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath recommended The Name Of The Wind to me when I attended a reading spa with my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads. Yet still, I delayed reading it for months afterwards until recently, I finally caved and simply had to see what all the hype was about. I don’t want to tell you too much about the synopsis but as the above quote from Goodreads doesn’t give ANYTHING away I can tell you a few things. This is the story of an innkeeper called Kvothe whom when our story begins, is telling the story of his life over three nights to a travelling chronicler who is recording it. Kvothe has led a highly intriguing life and even the mention of his name provokes rumours, legends, criticism and acclaim far and wide both locally and nationally. I think it’s safe to say that he’s had quite a few adventures in his relatively short time on the planet so far and faced many adversaries, one of which is connected to a terror stalking the land in the present time and Kvothe might be able to shed some light upon as soon as his tale is told.

A beautiful illustration from the tenth anniversary edition of The Name Of The Wind by award-winning fantasy artist, Dan Dos Santos.

Image from: https://www.unboundworlds.com/2017/05/patrick-rothfuss-name-wind-gets-10th-anniversary-edition/

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this work of fantasy but it certainly wasn’t what I ended up getting, personally speaking. I want to try and explain what I mean without sounding like I’m criticising it because in truth, there’s really not much to criticise! Firstly, if you’re a fan of epic fantasy, world-building and mesmerising, intense passages where sometimes, not much happens, you’re going to love this book. However, if you’re more interested in a fast, action-packed plot this may not be the book for you. I’m a huge fan of both literary and genre fiction as you might know and recently, am becoming much more of a mood reader. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something quite pacey and plot heavy, other times I want beautiful, lyrical writing with character development that I can just get lost in. The Name Of The Wind for me, felt much more literary in its quality but perhaps that could be because I’m not used to epic fantasy? I’d be happy to be corrected on this fact if all fantasy is quite slow and methodical in this regard!

There really is nothing bad I can say about this novel. I loved that we got to see Kvothe from a very young age as his talents, intelligence and capabilities are just beginning to take root and then the reader gets to see him grow into a man as the story continues, facing such hardship, devastation and personal struggles both emotionally and financially but with each challenge, he somehow manages to claw himself out to the other side. He has been irrevocably changed by what he has seen and experienced but because you get to see his journey from such a young boy, you really feel like you know him as an individual and I found myself constantly rooting for him to triumph in any given situation. Nothing is tied up with a neat little bow (which I appreciated) and he does go through incredibly tough times but this all serves to make him the man he is in the present time, telling his story to the chronicler.

For so many readers, The Name Of The Wind is a five star read and now that I’ve finally read it, I can definitely see why. The only reason I can’t give it five stars is that I found the pace to be slightly slower than I would have liked at certain points in the narrative but this was only occasionally at times when Kvothe is a student at the University. However, I am delighted to say that I will be continuing on with the series but I may leave it a little while until the next book in the series is finally released – for if I read The Wise Man’s Fear and there’s a cliffhanger at the end, I might not be able to contain my frustration at not being able to get my hands on the next in the series immediately!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss was the forty-eighth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

 

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Published September 25, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016 AND THE BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2016 

THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER 

An exquisite story of mothers and daughters from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters.

Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, one of America’s finest writers shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all-the one between mother and daughter.

What did I think?:

This novel was EVERYWHERE a little while ago due to being long-listed for both the Women’s Prize For Fiction and The Man Booker Prize. With books like these, I always seem to be among one of the last to read them (or it feels that way anyway!). I’m not sure why, the hype monster always worries me slightly, especially if everyone is singing a novel’s praises to the sky…..what if I don’t feel the same? Luckily, the lovely people at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights finally convinced me to pick this book up sooner than I might have done otherwise and whilst it may not have been a five star read for me, I can completely understand why other people treasure it and why it has received all the critical acclaim and fantastic reviews.

Elizabeth Strout, author of My Name Is Lucy Barton.

As the title may suggest, this is the story of a woman called Lucy Barton whom when we meet her is recovering in hospital after complications from a routine surgery. Her husband isn’t a big fan of hospitals so she has been unable to see either him or her two daughters and is feeling generally miserable and fed up until one day she gets an unexpected visitor – her mother, whom she hasn’t seen for many years. Lucy has quite a strained, uneasy relationship with her entire family we soon come to learn which all harks back to her childhood, a poverty-stricken, isolating and lonely time. We also find out that the arrival of Lucy’s mother is quite a big deal, considering she rarely makes trips outside in big cities and although she is unwilling to discuss anything too emotional or triggering with her daughter, she entertains her with gossip and memories regarding people from their local town. This is the story of fraught family relationships, desolate feelings, art and writing and how a passion for the latter can fuel the desire to be happy again. We also discover how marriage, motherhood and the kindness of strangers can have a huge impact on an individual without them even being aware of the effects.

Illinois, USA where our female lead spends her difficult childhood.

As a piece of literary fiction, I was always prepared for this book to have beautiful, lyrical writing but I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that it would precipitate in such a short amount of pages. This book is probably best read in as few sittings as possible, even one if you can manage it as once you begin, I feel you get the true measure of the journey our narrator has been through in her life if you can swallow it all in one gulp. Generally, we see Lucy mostly in the present time, in the hospital room with her mother but throughout the narrative, we get various flashbacks from her childhood, moments in her marriage, moments with friends and her children that give us a fuller idea of who Lucy is as a person, giving the reader a fascinating insight into her character, thoughts and feelings.

Some parts of this story feel very much like streams of consciousness and other, perhaps more darker parts of the novel are merely hinted at implicitly but I quite enjoyed trying to figure out Lucy as a person from the very early pages when she is quite the closed book to the end of the novel where I really started to look on her as a dear friend. Lucy starts to realise she has much more in common with her mother than she would have ever thought and ruminates on her own experience as a mother and how this has been different or similar to what she personally experienced growing up. Not everything is resolved between the two as you might expect but I didn’t mind this at all. It felt much more authentic and reflective of real life and real relationships that there were awkward moments of communication between mother and daughter and obvious tensions bubbling below the surface. However, by the end you are filled with genuine hope for a deeper connection in the future and potential closure on many issues for our female lead.

As an author of literary fiction, Elizabeth Strout is a wonder with words and a genius at recounting a heart-felt story in such a relatively short space of time. I will definitely be picking up more books by her in the future!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout was the forty-seventh book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

It’s All In Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness – Suzanne O’Sullivan

Published September 22, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Even if medical tests cannot explain your pain or tiredness or disability, it does not lessen your suffering. The pain of medically unexplained illness is every bit as real as any other and, if anything, is multiplied by the lack of understanding.

Most of us accept the way our heart flutters when we set eyes on the one we secretly admire, or the sweat on our brow as we start the presentation we do not want to give. But few of us are fully aware of how dramatic our body’s reactions to emotions can sometimes be.

Take Pauline, who first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed at first to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then food intolerances, then life-threatening appendicitis. And then one day, after a routine operation, Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly after that her convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal; her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

Pauline may be an extreme case, but she is by no means alone. As many as a third of men and women visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most, an emotional root is suspected and yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, this is the very last thing we want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say.

In It’s All in Your Head consultant neurologist Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan takes us on a journey through the very real world of psychosomatic illness. She takes us from the extreme — from paralysis, seizures and blindness — to more everyday problems such as tiredness and pain. Meeting her patients, she encourages us to look deep inside the human condition. There we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

What did I think?:

Oh, the thoughts. Oh, the feelings. Let me try and start at the beginning and I’m hoping my words make some sort of coherent sense. If not, I apologise. I have a couple of non fiction shelves at home (which you’ll see in due course if you enjoy my Shelfie by Shelfie book tag), and never seem to get round to reading them until this year, I began a new venture where I read three books at once – a current “main” read, a non-fiction read and a re-read of an old favourite. I’ve been eagerly anticipating many of my non-fiction reads, well….apart from this one. Let me explain. I’m a sucker for an interesting title, cover and synopsis and I don’t shy away from potentially controversial subject matters if it means I can educate myself about particular topics but I really wasn’t sure whether this book might hit a little too close to home, even for me.

Neurologist and author, Suzanne O’Sullivan who won The Wellcome Trust Prize in 2016 with It’s All In Your Head.

If you’ve been following me for a while now, you might have seen in a previous review/post that I’ve been struggling for the past eight years with a chronic illness. Basically, my diagnosis is fibromyalgia with chronic fatigue syndrome and hypermobility. It’s got to the point in my life now where I’m managing to cope really well with it. I still have my bad days of course, and at the end of the week, it’s still a mission to keep myself standing upright but I’m absolutely determined  to stay positive and that it’s not going to take my life away from me. This is why I still continue to work full-time, even if it is quite a struggle at times, I have to be honest. If you want to read more about my story, I wrote a personal post HERE.

As I was FINALLY picking up this book, I felt nervous and excited in equal measure. I didn’t know whether this book was going to make me feel horribly angry or completely vindicated about my own chronic health issues. I posted a picture of the book on Instagram and had some amazing and very interesting responses, many of whom were reacting the same way as I did when I first saw that title. Of course, a title like It’s All In Your Head seems to have been deliberately chosen to be controversial and raise a few hackles and, job done, my hackles were well and truly primed. Nobody with chronic illness likes to be told “it’s all in your head,” especially considering the amount of pain, suffering, physical and emotional turmoil we go through on a daily basis. There is literally nothing else my doctor can do for me and how to manage my pain myself has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

However, as I soon came to realise as I made my way through this fascinating and insightful book is that we don’t have to take that title literally and assume the author is saying something she is clearly not. As I’ve learned myself through my chronic illness journey, sadly a lot of my condition is psychological but a) that does not mean I’m going crazy, b) that does NOT mean I’m imagining it, c) my pain IS real and will probably always be there and d) I have to find the best way to cope with it (with the help and support of my loved ones) that will mean I have a fulfilling and enjoyable life. The author does briefly touch on illnesses like fibromyalgia and like she confirms, there is no definitive test for diagnosing it which makes it hard for both the patient and the doctor to ensure that the treatment offered is correct. Obviously more research desperately needs to be done and is ongoing but various studies have shown that although the pain is felt physically in different regions of the body, one theory is that the actual problem may lie in the pain receptors of the brain. In this sense, when you take the phrase “it’s all in your head,” might not mean what I initially assumed it to mean when I looked at the cover of the book and was instantly offended!

In this book, O’Sullivan follows a number of different patients, all with medically unexplained symptoms ranging from tiredness and pain to numbness, paralysis and even violent seizures and when nothing is discovered in blood tests, scans etc, suggests that there may be an emotional connection to the terrifying (and often debilitating) symptoms they are experiencing. She explores some intriguing ideas, including the age-old question – when did it become such a stigma to be psychologically unwell? As a society, we have an undeniable determination to pin everything down with physical evidence of malaise, only accepting cold, hard figures and scientific facts to prove that we are genuinely unwell. However, the individuals she talks about are truly exhibiting physical signs of illness and even if there isn’t a test yet that can decipher exactly what’s going on, O’Sullivan is simply suggesting all possible avenues, even psychiatric ones should be explored so that the patient can get the most appropriate, effective and individual treatment for them alone.

I’m so glad I read this book. Not only was it an absorbing and informative read but personally, I felt like it made me look at my own health problems in a whole new light. I came to this book determined to be angry with it and sceptical of the author’s own thoughts and feelings. However, at the end I felt slightly ashamed when I realised that they were perfectly sound and sensitive, particularly in her reactions to people who are genuinely suffering. Of course there are always going to be “those” people who are attempting to cheat the system and fake illness which is a real shame for those of us who are in very real pain and torment but I loved that O’Sullivan takes each one of her patient’s ailments seriously and compassionately, ensuring all the relevant boxes are ticked before suggesting that there might be an alternative explanation for their symptoms.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

It’s All In Your Head: True Stories Of Imaginary Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan was the forty-sixth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) – Sylvain Neuvel

Published September 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Themis Files is a deeply human story about a world-changing alien discovery.

17 years ago, a young girl named Rose fell through the ground in the Black Hills and found herself in an underground chamber filled with gleaming symbols, lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Now a physicist, Rose leads a research team struggling to determine the hand’s origins. When another giant limb is discovered, she quickly devises a method for unearthing the hidden pieces, convinced there is an entire body out there waiting to be found.

Halfway around the globe, Kara watches helplessly as her helicopter shuts down over a pistachio field in Turkey. That’ll leave a mark, but she’s about to crash her way into what might be the greatest endeavor in human history.

This is a hunt for truth, power, and giant body parts. Written as a series of interview transcripts, journal entries and mission logs, The Themis Files tells the tale of a handful of people whose lives are inexorably linked by the discovery of an alien device and the commotion that follows.

What did I think?:

The books I buddy read with Janel who blogs over at Keeper Of Pages will always be a bit special to me as not only do we always have a wonderful experience reading them but we have a great chat about them too, always managing to be on exactly the same wavelength (sister from another mister, Janel?) and so far, we’ve given every single one we’ve read together five stars which I believe proves we really know how to pick some good ones! I’ve been stupidly excited about every book we’ve read together as usually they’ve been ones that have been languishing on my TBR for the longest time but I was particularly excited about Sleeping Giants. I managed to get my hands on a Goldsboro signed first edition with sprayed black edges and it’s one of the most gorgeous books I think I’ve got in my whole collection. Luckily, the story inside lived up to the beauty of the cover and although Janel and I had some teeny tiny issues with it, I still count it as one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Sylvain Neuvel, author of Sleeping Giants, the first book in The Themis Files trilogy.

As a work of science fiction, Sleeping Giants focuses mainly on two female lead characters, both strong, determined and intelligent. Rose is a physicist who when she was a young girl, happened to fall down a hole in the ground and land in the palm of a giant metal hand. Now she is part of the team under the instruction of an incredibly mysterious man who start to find other pieces of this alien-esque body dotted all around the world. With the assistance of Kara, a trained pilot who becomes vitally important to their mission, the team attempt to assemble the body parts into a whole, robotic creature whose purpose in the beginning is suspected but not quite fully known. As they start to try and move the robot, they discover further functions and capabilities of the strange object that have the potential to change the world for ever. All individuals involved in the mission become dangerously obsessed, almost to the point of madness as piece by piece, the possibilities in front of them are slowly revealed.

I have to admit, when I first received this book in the post, back when I used to be a member of Goldsboro Book Of The Month Club, I wasn’t very sure. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction as a genre BUT have found myself swayed in the past couple of years or so with fantastic books like The Sparrow and The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet. I think I can speak for both Janel and myself when I say that we were absolutely delighted by the story we found within, particularly the way it was set out – in the form of journal entries, files, telephone conversations etc. (Note to myself: “That may be why it’s called The Themis FILES, Beth!”). It was so very easy and compelling to read in this format and incredibly tempting to just read one more entry rather than putting the book down.

However, I think I was most bowled over by the availability of fiesty, sassy and clever female leads that we received in the form of Rose and Kara. They were so magnificent to read about in their own way – one quieter and methodical but with a steely confidence and no nonsense attitude and the other with well…..just an attitude. Only joking, I adored Kara’s fight, intolerance for stupidity and refreshing way of saying exactly what she was thinking disregarding any consequences to herself. Of course, we do start to see both women’s vulnerabilities and get some idea of what make them the women they are in the present time but when it comes to that explosive cliffhanger of an ending, it’s perfectly obvious that a whole lot more is going to be revealed in the next book in the series.

I think our only quibble with this novel (and it is a small one) is that because of the format, you don’t really get a linear narrative. That is, we might get a journal entry about a certain event that happens and we won’t get another file until a couple of years down the line in the future. This unfortunately had the effect of making us feel like we had skipped over really important parts of our characters lives and as a result, this made it slightly disjointed and jumpy, where we had to adjust quite quickly to the rapid movements ahead in time. It wasn’t difficult to adjust, not by any stretch of the imagination and we both still thoroughly enjoyed it but sadly, there were those occasional parts where I believe the reader could potentially think: “Wait, what have I missed?!”

Saying that and I really do want to end this review on a positive note because I still highly, HIGHLY recommend this book, this was honestly such a minor issue that I don’t think it would affect anyone’s enjoyment at all. I would still give a definite five stars for the story within this novel, I just have to be honest and if I have a slight doubt about jumps in the plot, I can’t give it the full five unfortunately. However, it was so, so close and I’m really excited to announce that Janel and I will be one hundred percent continuing with the series and reading the second novel, Waking Gods for our buddy read in October!

Thank you once again to Janel for an amazing buddy reading experience. Check out her amazing review HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

Past buddy reads with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages 

The Fireman by Joe Hill – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

 

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel was the forty-fifth book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!