Tag Archives: psychology

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant

As is usual I received this book courtesy of somewhere or other, this time Shelf Awareness.

The nutshell on this book is summed up in the subtitle rather tidily. The author investigates, in very readable fashion, the connection between our mental well being and our physical well being in every facet of interpretation which can be applied to the phrase. She starts with the placebo effect but makes her way eventually all the way to belief in God and new age medicines.

To the positive, the book is fairly well balanced while remaining upbeat and optimistic. I came away pondering how such concepts could help people I know get a better handle on their own wellness. The author is detailed and helpful but also puts the brakes on when appropriate to keep her readers from going off any dangerous cliffs. She cites numerous studies but doesn’t become bogged down by them. If I had to sum up each chapter in a few words:

Chapter 1/2 – Placebo Effect
Chapter 3 – Pavlovian Conditioning
Chapter 4 – Illusory physical performance barriers
Chapter 5 – Hypnosis
Chapter 6 – Pain Management through distraction
Chapter 7 – Impact of human connection on health
Chapter 8 – Impact of stress
Chapter 9 – Meditation
Chapter 10 – Health benefits of Friendship and Social connectedness
Chapter 11 – Vagus nerve stimulation
Chapter 12 – The Role of Religion

To the negative, the last half of the book really does begin to slide downhill and by the time you get to Chapter 12 you’ve really had enough. By the conclusion I was skimming and the last bits seemed somewhat glued on and accessory.

In summary, the author does a wonderful job of achieving balance between promoting new and somewhat unfashionable ideas and protecting readers from the quackery that has popped up in this realm as of late. I really do believe that some of the techniques in this book could be terrifically helpful and have earned further research.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Reviews: Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

The nutshell on this book is that it is, essentially, a self-help book. It doesn’t start out that way but at the end of the day, it’s quite a lot of fluff.

I was excited about this book for the entire first chapter. It starts out VERY grippingly. My thrall was complete. Then as the chapters dragged on, my enthusiasm drifted away like snow before the wind. Watch my YouTube video for the face-to-face description:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Request for an Interview from an Academic Researcher

Rank48Recently I was approached by a university researcher who wanted to do an interview with me on the topic of writing in social media. He approached me as an Amazon reviewer so I agreed to answer his questions. Below find my responses to his first volley of inquiry.

Can you tell me a little about what got you started writing Amazon reviews?
I’ve always been of a mind to bore people with my online drivel so in 2011 I first stumbled across the GoodReads site. There you can sign up for book giveaways in exchange for an honest review of the book. I reviewed several dozen books and cross-posted these on Amazon and within a year I had offers for other items to review that were much less literary. I started, as I suspect everyone does, with small electronics: chargers, cords, electronic gizmos. It has been my observation that anyone in the top 10,000 reviewers or so that posts an email will be graced with at least one offer for a free product. As time goes on like begets like and whatever sorts of products you’ve reviewed before will find their way to your mailbox.

How would you characterize your writing style when you write Amazon reviews?
Terse. It has been my impression that customers don’t have time for a lot of protracted blathering on so I try to make things as short and sweet as possible, condensing my points to a few bullets that sum up things as succinctly and completely as possible. For those who want a bit more detail, I have tended as of late towards video-based reviews that demonstrate the product in some way or illuminate its shortfalls.

What are your goals when writing Amazon reviews?
This is a tricky and multi-headed question. The prime mover of all things in Amazon land is, of course, the helpful vote. Customers give us direct feedback by voting helpful or unhelpful on reviews as they read or watch them. So the ultimate goal in this game (and, let’s be honest, it is a game) is to garner as many helpful votes as possible. The more helpful votes, the higher your ranking and the higher your ranking the more free crap rolls in the door. At a very fundamental level, this is the most basic and visceral goal of the whole thing.

Attached to this is the idea that you’re helping others to make a buying decision. When I receive a product that’s just downright terrible my number one goal is to do everything I can to make sure nobody actually pays money for it. If I can find some redeeming quality in a product I’ll point it out but above all the goal is to make sure nobody gets taken for a proverbial ride and that when customers actually do buy something that they get what they expected based on the reviews. The vote system drives one to to write reviews but the injustice of the system is what really keeps a reviewer up at night.

Can you ever remember a time when you didn’t achieve your goals when writing Amazon reviews? Why or why not?
As I’ve said previously, the goal that keeps me up at night most is trying to make sure customers get what they expect. When a product arrives at my door it’s my duty to make sure it’s at least a serviceable product. I cannot even hope to tell consumers everything about a product but I can at least point out obvious fatal flaws and do everything in my power to ensure customers get a reasonable quality product. The problem with that, however, comes in two forms. Firstly, many, many reviewers hate to say anything negative about a product. They received it free so they feel they should say something nice or say nothing at all. So even if a product isn’t worthwhile, the ‘yes man’ crowd can drown out even the most circumspect naysayer. Additionally, the power of the vote works in both directions. Often manufacturers will hire services to suppress unflattering reviews with down votes and vote up the positive reviews that cast their product in the best light. As might be imagined, this battle is extremely difficult to win.

How do you decide what to review and why?
This answer varies wildly depending on my mood at the time I’m looking at an offer. In general, rather selfishly, I tend to offer to review products that I want to have or that I imagine others around me would want. Secondarily I will sometimes choose products that seem like they’d merely be diverting or interesting to try out. In summary, this is almost completely selfish. I review things that I have a use for.

Do you model your method of reviewing on anything? Do you read other professional or Amazon reviews before hand?
Typically, no. I don’t read other reviews for the same product because that tends to have a bias impact on the results. I don’t tend to read professional reviewers because, frankly, I think the more plebeian viewpoint is probably more helpful in some cases.

How do you decide which reviews to update and why?
I update any review on which I receive new information. Sometimes the manufacturer will contact me with updates or sometimes a friend to whom I’ve given an item will provide additional feedback on it. In general, however, I don’t go back to proactively update reviews without reason. Just slogging through new reviews is enough of a chore.

Do you have a particular process for writing reviews? Any steps you take before or while writing?
This varies wildly depending on the product. If the product makes claims that it’s “durable” or “shatterproof” then I put those claims specifically to the test. I’ve taken electronic equipment out into the parking lot and hurled into the air based on certain claims by the manufacturer. Admittedly at least part of the reason for that is because it’s entertaining but again, I want to make sure that manufacturers at least live up to their packaging.

How would you say your style of writing reviews has changed over the course of time (if they have)?
If anything it’s become even more terse than it was in the beginning. As time goes on you begin to get a very firm sense of what the identifying points are for any one sort of product so the whole process becomes rather formulaic. You test the 45th selfie stick in must the same way as the 44th selfie stick so it’s much less like writing than it is simply checking off a list of things to check.

Do you ever respond to comments about your reviews? How do you adjust your reviews in response to those comments?
I do, but not all the time. If the commenter requests information and I can actually provide it, I will do what I can to help out but often I don’t have the product any longer. If I kept every miscellaneous gewgaw that came across my desk I’d have little room for anything else. I have, at times, found myself apologizing to a commenter for missing some nuance of the product that I completely failed to pick up on. Those are exceptionally helpful for the next review but don’t make me feel any less guilty if someone bought a product that didn’t work for them because I gave it high marks. Luckily this doesn’t happen particularly often.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Movie Reviews: Ward No. 6 [Russian] (****)

I picked this movie because it looked very lonely on the Amazon Instant watch. Am I glad that I did? Yes, for the most part.

To the positive, this movie encapsulates some pretty deep philosophy, plunging all the way to the depths of pondering existence itself. The story follows a psychiatrist working in a mental ward who slowly goes native and begins to identify more and more with his patients until… well, you’ll see if you watch the movie. The movie shot is in a documentary format that makes the setting feel like a pretty accurate rendering of a 2007 Russian insane asylum.

To the negative, the film takes a LONG time to build up to anything. Even though it’s only 85 minutes long those first 30 seem like they could be condensed to about 5. By the standards of the average movie viewer this one is a bit long in the tooth. Also the yellow subtitles are sometimes exceptionally hard to read against the white backgrounds so keep your eyes ready for gymnastics as you read along with this one.

In summary, this is a slow-mover but one with a great point to make. There’s not a lot of action but plenty to think about if that’s the sort of thing you’re in the mood for.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Books: 30 Quotes for Powerful Living (**) May be worth a quick look for free but I wouldn’t spend money on it

As usual I received this book free in exchange for a review. Also as usual I give my absolutely candid thoughts below.

In a nutshell this book is exactly what you’d expect in such a thing. It’s 70 pages long in total and has 22 pages of introduction, about the author, table of contents, mysterious blank pages and an explanation of what he’s trying to accomplish. Following that you have 34 pages of quotes and the author’s explanation of those quotes and what they might mean to you. The rest consists of a pair of appendices that list various truisms about how to be happier.

To the positive, I admire what the author is trying to do here. He’s presented in this book in a spirit of helpfulness and has really put his heart into the endeavor. Pradeep really is trying to be a positive influence on the lives of his readers and it shows in his spirited approach to the topic.

On the negative, the text is badly in need of revision. The spelling is acceptable but grammar and word usage are clumsy and incorrect much of the time. The book is also heavily padded with blank pages and unnecessary background information. This one could be tightened up to about half its current size. From a content perspective, there’s not really a lot of new information here and what is new comes from such notables as Taylor Swift and Whitney Houston. I’m not personally convinced they belong in a book of quotes along with Henry Ford and the Buddha.

In summary, it may be worth a quick look for free but I wouldn’t spend money on it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


Click the image to view my review on Amazon. Please vote it helpful!

Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


Click the image to view my review on Amazon. Please vote it helpful!

The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


Click the image to view my review on Amazon. Please vote it helpful!

The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


Click the image to view my review on Amazon. Please vote it helpful!

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reviews: Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

Click the image to see the review on Amazon

Firstly and as usual, I received this book for because someone was giving it away in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’ll give my candid opinions below.

This book is at once a biography and a textbook on sociology. The opening chapters focus on black comedy and the environment into which Pryor entered the entertainment world. Throughout the book the names fall like rain and anybody who ever was or hoped to be anybody entered the scene for at least a bit. About a third of the way in we get down to the man himself.

On the positive side, the background presented in this book is thoroughly entertaining and much of the information was eye-opening and uniquely informative. I found myself scrounging YouTube looking for snippets of the people and bits referred to. It’s a fascinating period of history. As to the bits about Pryor himself, the story of his life is at once horrifying and hilarious. This lived a life of incredible pain, as with most comedians, and the book doesn’t hesitate one bit to be absolutely candid about what happened. From the sexual abuse he suffered as a child to the night he set himself on fire, this book goes into it all in sometimes painful detail.

On the negative side, all that detail can sometimes be a bit much. The story is only roughly chronological and meanders in sometimes confusing fashion. All the parts of a great story are here but they need to be straightened out a bit into a more cohesive whole. I felt at times that we were just jumping about for no good reason. There’s a real lack of cohesion.

In summary, after the first third of the book I thought this would be a keeper. I tend to get rid of almost all the review books I get but on rare occasion I’ll keep one about permanently for future rereading. After getting to the end though, it’s just not quite earned the bookshelf space. The first half makes me want to find a more general book about show business in the 60s-70s and put THAT on the shelf instead of this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized