Monday, 30 October 2017

BLOG TOUR: "The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection" by Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, Ted Dinan

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection
by Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, Ted Dinan  
National Geographic
Copyright November 2017
Hardcover, 320 Pages

A composite of the academic and general reading, this book consists of a biological conversation sprouting into realms of disease, medicine, and psychiatry. Technicality, in the form of biology terms and jargon, was presented in a writing style defined by metaphorical flourishes clearly intended to make the content of the book more engaging and accessible to the general reader, and even potentially more tolerable for the science- or biology-averse reader.

This book appeared well-researched and properly structured, with intriguing premises, and claims that sometimes went into the realm of the jaw-dropping and potentially unbelievable. The book undoubtedly contained an abundance of information, facts and research used to formulate the discussion of the predominant subject matter of psychobiotics. Not all chapters in the book however were personally compelling to me, and I found myself skimming through segments of the book that delved into extensive technical detail in the realm of biology.

I enjoyed most the parts of the book which addressed one of the central premises proffered by the authors—the significance of the scientific psychobiotic conversation to the field of psychiatry and mental illnesses. I also appreciated the research cited by the authors which formed part of the discussion in prepping the topic of mental illnesses for its relation to the world of psychobiotics.

I consider the chapter “Your Personal Psychobiotic Journey” to be one of the more directly useful chapters for general readers, for reasons implied by the title of the chapter itself. The information presented in the form of practical and rather educational guidance is invaluable; the sections covering the range of the different brands of probiotics and the different microbial species can conceivably serve as a handy reference for readers. I liked especially as well the notion of the visual “psychobiotic pyramid” that the authors presented which was modeled after the food pyramid. I also found the dietary recommendations found in the chapter to be personally relevant. 

The coverage of biology in certain junctures of the book complete with highly technical details and terms, and labeled diagrams customarily found in biology textbooks was unfortunately somewhat of a turn-off for me, despite the accompanying discourse which was more metaphorical and vibrant, and less detached. I lack a particular fondness for the academic study of biology, and opted to review the book largely expecting the book to cater more to the general reader who might lead incredibly busy lives and who might have hoped to pick up immediately practicable information in which to achieve better health, physical and psychological.

This certainly didn’t preclude the fact that the book introduced certain biological scientific ideas that truly intrigued me and I daresay expanded my knowledge base, such as the notion of “fecal transplant,” its medical applications, and its execution in scientific experiments. The book also contained a healthy serving of claims supposedly based on scientific theory that were memorable and which really captured my attention as a reader; claims such as “only one percent of your genes are human,” or that “a microbe of the genus Toxoplasma can make mice become aroused by cat pee.”

Other times, I felt positively amused when I came across statements as such in the book, “Believe it or not, coprophagia, or poop eating, has a long history in human medicine.” Sometimes I relished in discovering that “as well as bacteria, [my] insides are full of fungi and viruses and even a few protozoans swimming about,” and that I “likely have a thousand different species of bacteria living in and on [me] right now.”

The range of content areas covered by the book made it such that even if the reader might not enjoy the entirety of the contents of the book, he or she will still highly likely find something of interest within the pages of the book. The chapter of the book for example that addressed the more intimate connection between psychobiotics to a great range of diseases and afflictions might find an empathetic audience in many readers. 

And if the notion of perusing a book more than occasionally filled with moderately dense content related to biology, medicine and disease doesn’t seem daunting, even as a relaxing weekend read, and if it seemed rather reasonable that the authors might leap straight into referring to certain diseases by their acronyms in a way which clearly assume prior knowledge, you might well be the ideal reader sought after to embark on the journey this book offers to discover the world of psychobiotics. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from National Geographic and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

BLOG TOUR: "Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future" by Syl Tang

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future
by Syl Tang
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers   
Copyright September 2017
Hardcover, 182 Pages

A rather well-executed book which examines the convergence between the fashion industry, clothing consumption and related trends with monumental concepts of politics, environmentalism, technology, and global issues, to that of legal entanglements and even of the less tangible, the psychological and the emotional. 

I personally most relished parts of the book which simultaneously indulged my passion for fashion and which satisfied my desire to continually deepen my understanding of and knowledge pertaining to, and thus my immersion in, the fashion industry. The book contained multiple examples related to fascinating developments and inventions within the fashion industry that truly excited me, be it those that involved dual-purpose clothing items, fashion lines made of recycled fabrics and materials, statistical facts, or even the name-dropping of examples that constituted specific interesting commercial developments within the fashion sphere. 

The book seemed well-researched and was filled with properly structured arguments that informed the author’s various premises. As a self-proclaimed futurist, the author did indeed articulate certain visions she had for the fashion industry that was rather refreshing, thought provoking, and filled with an entrepreneurial touch. Other times however, her ideas were undoubtedly creative but weren’t too convincing to the reader. It was nonetheless rather admirable that the author supplemented the discussions in the book by posing thought provoking, and at times inspiring, questions, and more significantly, by attempting to address boldly prodigious questions, for example “Can Clothing Save the Lives of Millions?”

At the rare juncture in the book, the author seemed to go off on a tangent and gave the impression of being distracted with the need to demonstrate to the reader the abundance of research she had done for this book project. Occasionally, the incredible amount of research included did not seem to be directly relevant to addressing the premise raised. Of course, some readers might justifiably consider this to be a merit of the book, and admittedly, the book did venture into some rather fascinating territory even with the diversions. Personally, the avalanche of facts and information in a different field vaguely related by the author to the essence of the predominant subject matter of the book or premise at hand gave me the sensation as if I was perusing a book alternatively focused on a different topic, and certainly not that of fashion or clothing.

This book remained a promising read as a whole. Closer to heart, the overall potentially meaningful relationship and interconnection established in the book between fashion and the greater international and global community equipped a sense of higher purpose to my passion in fashion. It certainly reassured me that fashion as a medium can be a very spiritually promising field to pursue if one approaches and engages with the right mindset and vision. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Monday, 2 October 2017

BLOG TOUR: "The Crows of Beara" by Julie Christine Johnson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Crows of Beara 
by Julie Christine Johnson
Ashland Creek Press
Copyright September 2017
Paperback, 402 Pages

An eclectic blend of themes of environmentalism, human vulnerability and spirituality, this novel consists of one part romance intertwined with alcoholism and its germination and consequences, and one part the politics of copper mining in venerated environments. This narrative cruises along in a rather slow and leisurely pace, possibly agreeable to the tastes of a very specific demographic of readers, but lamentably not my cup of tea.

Some might consider the pace of this novel to be a fitting echo of the very serenity of the exotic natural environment so forefronted in the novel. It seemed somewhat unfortunate however that such an artistic choice comes with unignorable collateral damage — the novel appeared to mostly lack the crucial literary element of tension and tension building, rendering the narrative potentially much less engaging and captivating than can be. This did not preclude however the notion that this novel is indeed composed of good writing, and is lucid and highly readable.  

Personally, the novel in its entirety subverted my expectations. The central premise of the novel as preliminarily established appeared to be the battle between a local community and local conservationists against foreign commercial interests. This plot conveyed through the subject matter of copper mining however soon emerged to be merely a subplot that eventually was only granted a rather casual, and what I would consider an exceptionally minimal resolution, at the very end of the novel. 

And before this rather convenient resolution to this copper mining subplot, and to my distaste, the novel appeared to deviate into an almost entirely unrelated subplot of romance and alcoholism. These two subplots — a prospective copper mining project and environmentalism on one hand, and romance and alcoholism on the other — mostly appeared to be linked rather tenuously; both subplots revolved around the male and female protagonists.

It certainly wasn’t satisfying for me as a reader when the novel made an abrupt leap from a plot that dealt predominantly with issues, politics, regulatory and more, of environmentalism to that which principally focused on relating the flirting and budding romance between the male and female protagonists, and the tight interlocking of their lives with the problem of alcoholism. I concede the author’s unmistakably meaningful depiction of the protagonists’ heartfelt and genuine struggles with alcoholism and the harrowing impact of alcoholism on their lives and family; it seemed a very sincere commentary of the dark recesses to which human struggles could descend to. This break in plot continuity and flow however got me questioning the author’s judgment in narrative organization and structure. 

It wasn’t to my liking that the narrative gave the impression of morphing mid-novel into that of a romance novella with an entirely different focal point. This transition into a primarily romantic plot with emphasis on human vulnerability seemed to be at the expense of the very plot preliminarily established in the novel; it minimally advanced it. As a reader, my anticipation following the novel’s rather promising enquiry in the first half of the book into issues and politics of animal conservation and extinction, potential exploitation and misleading of local communities, and matters of industry, development and employment within the context of the copper mining plot, regrettably gave way to confusion as I began to puzzle over the novel’s actual focus. 

This might not have been the perfect read for me. This novel nonetheless managed to pique my interest in the topic of copper mining and issues related to this commercial activity in the real world. As for readers who enjoy bits of the environmental conversation interjected with equal parts romance and a somewhat depressing look at human flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerability, this book might be a potential suitor in the sea of prospective reading material. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ashland Creek Press and TLC Book Tours for this review.