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review 2017-08-17 22:23
No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers
No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America - Ron Powers

This is a deeply emotional book about an important topic, and it seems to have found a large audience (judging by the number of holds at my local library if not the number of ratings on Goodreads). It’s a great idea, alternating between nonfiction chapters about the nature and history of mental illness and a memoir of the author’s family, including two sons with schizophrenia. And as a journalist, the author has an engaging writing style that kept me wanting to read on. It is marred, however, by odd choices in structure and focus. In the end, there is far less about mental illness in it than I expected, and the author’s major policy proposal involves disempowering the very people to whom he claims he wants to give a voice.

The larger part of this book is the nonfiction, much of which is history. The author writes a bit about the spiritual roles often held in traditional societies by people who would today be defined as mentally ill, before discussing the history of asylums (they seem to have started out somewhere between prisons and zoos, to be later reformed in the era of Dorothea Dix and then deteriorate again). And other low points: eugenics (Hitler was all about wiping out mental illness through murder, but the U.S. pioneered forced sterilizations), lobotomies (shudder), and deinstitutionalization (the U.S. closed most of its asylums in the 1960s, resulting in many of the mentally ill winding up on the streets or incarcerated). For no reason I could discern, the chapter about the aftermath of WWII comes after the deinstitutionalization chapter, but it’s otherwise roughly chronological.

Powers’s writing style is engaging, and there is useful information here for those who don’t know much about the topic, but the nonfiction portions could have been much better. When the subject is science – what is schizophrenia, or the link between mental illness and creativity – there’s little actual science and lots of authorial speculation; Powers spends more time detailing debunked theories with emotional appeal for him than laying out the facts. When the subject is history, he has a tendency to go off on tangents at best loosely related to the topic of the book: the eugenics chapter goes into detail on how Darwin came to travel on the Beagle, but neglects to mention that forced sterilization went on in the U.S. until the 1970s.

The chapter on antipsychotics is particularly off-base. I expected this chapter to answer such questions as: how effective are antipsychotics? What is it like to be on them? How have these drugs changed in the sixty-odd years since they first became available? What are their disadvantages? Instead we get a history of the development of the precursors to the first antipsychotic drugs, including biographical details of involved scientists, and then a long catalogue of misdeeds by drug companies, often not related to psychoactive drugs at all. There’s even a discussion of the intricacies of patent law that cause medication to be expensive in the U.S. in the first place, and mention of Bernie Sanders bussing seniors up to Canada to buy cheaper meds. As a piece of journalism it’s fine, but that isn’t why I picked up this book.

The memoir portion is equally marked by odd choices of focus. Three-quarters of it takes place before either of the author’s sons begins showing signs of schizophrenia. I understand the author’s desire to focus on the happy events in their lives, and even his drive to include supportive emails he sent his kids over the years. Perhaps one of his goals was to get readers invested in Dean and Kevin as people rather than seeing them as representatives of an illness. But a good writer could have done that while focusing on the years when they were actually sick (they’re still people, which is supposed to be the author’s point, and they’re hardly psychotic all the time). And this structure winds up giving the impression that life ends with schizophrenia, that everything worth telling in his sons’ lives happened beforehand – even though one of them is alive and apparently doing well.

Again, there’s a lot of authorial speculation and tangents here. He theorizes that his older son, Dean, was moody and withdrawn as a teenager because he was in the early stages of the disease, never mind that Dean’s first psychotic episode seems to have come around age 30. He discusses at length the social and judicial consequences of a car accident when Dean was 17, during which it becomes clear that he has a bone to pick with the other teenager’s family (who previously wrote their own book). Dean’s own opinions are noticeably absent. The author will mention that he never asked how Dean felt about a particular event, or doesn’t know some fact from Dean’s life, leaving me wondering why he didn’t just walk downstairs and ask. Memoirists generally have living, non-estranged family members read their manuscripts and share their memory of events, which could only have improved this book.

Finally, though there’s little discussion of specific policy proposals, Powers advocates throughout the book for parents having increased authority to force treatment on their unwilling adult children. Of course, early diagnosis and treatment is extremely important to health outcomes, and it was clearly agonizing for Powers and his wife to watch Kevin go off his meds, insisting that he’d gotten better. But having recently read a horrifying account of involuntary commitment in another memoir, I’m hesitant to say we should do this more, and concerned by the author’s pooh-poohing of civil liberties concerns. A basic tenet of a free society is that adults get to make their own life decisions, even if their judgment is terrible, as long as they abide by the law. If someone is incompetent, the court can appoint a guardian. Powers apparently believes this option is insufficient because there can be delay (in which case the delay is the problem) and, bafflingly, because this is “not a medical hearing, with psychiatrists, but a judicial hearing, with a judge and lawyers.” Um, yes, this is how government works; it’s called due process of law and why courts exist. There’s nothing stopping psychiatrists from testifying in them.

At any rate, the author doesn’t seem to have thought this proposal through. Does he believe in involuntary treatment only during episodes of acute psychosis, or indefinitely once someone has a diagnosis? His experiences make it seem like the latter. In which case, what diagnoses are sufficient? How long does someone have to be stable to get their rights back? Does he think parents should have this power for life, or only while their children are financially dependent young adults? How would he prevent situations like Rosemary Kennedy's, where less conscientious parents choose a treatment that destroys their child in an attempt to make her easier to manage? If the ill person is married, does the spouse get to dictate treatment? Has he considered the ways mental illness already leaves people vulnerable to domestic violence (“you’re crazy, so no one will believe you”)? There's a long history of inconvenient women forced into mental institutions, because people given power over others don't always exercise it well. It doesn’t appear the author has considered the implications of his ideas beyond his own pain, and while his experiences are a valid consideration, the inquiry can’t stop there.

 

So in the end, while there is some good journalistic writing here and I found the book more engaging than a 2-star rating implies, it falls short of the author’s stated goals. He writes in the introduction that he wants reading the book to hurt, and he wants to give a voice to people with mental illness. The book includes a few tragic stories taken from the news, dealing with police shootings and suicide in prison, and certainly his son’s suicide is one of the most tragic events a family can experience. But far more page time is spent on Powers family vacations and why the author hates Thomas Szasz. And I’m confused as to how he believes he’s given anyone a voice when there’s no indication he interviewed anyone with mental illness for the book; even his own surviving son appears to have had no involvement. Raising awareness is good, but this book is too much of the author’s feelings and too little of anything else. What a wasted opportunity.

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review 2017-08-01 02:12
Rise of the Empire (The Riyria Revelations #3-4) (Audiobook)
Rise of Empire (The Riyria Revelations, #3-4) - Michael J. Sullivan,Tim Gerard Reynolds

Fantasy-lite at its most mediocre. 

 

My lord, that thing was long! Two books in one volume is just too much when the exposition is this dry. On top of that, whoever edited the audiobook decided that splitting chapters up into several smaller, shorter chapters was a good idea. Honestly, I think it just contributed to the feeling of "this is never going to end" that I started getting about halfway through. 

 

I like the characters, and the stars are mostly for them. Hadrian and Royce have good banter, and Arista, Amelia and Modina have some interesting conflicts and personal journeys to go through. Really, the women do have the better part of the story here. The problem I'm having with these is the execution. Characters speak the exposition in the most expositiony way possible. Instead of aiming for subtext and intrigue, the characters continue to spew every thought to their enemies because of course that's the smart thing to do. There are no twists or attempts to subvert tropes. There is an attempt at a cliffhanger at the end of this one, but let's face it - everything will be fine, so I'm not worried.

 

I'm rewatching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer right now and recently got through the season two episode "Lie to Me." At the end, Buffy asks Giles if life ever gets easier and tells Giles to lie to her. He answers:

 

"Yes. It's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and... everybody lives happily ever after."

 

Sullivan seems to be writing his stories with this sentiment in mind, only he forgot the part about it being a lie (with one or two minor exceptions). This is very "what you see is what you get" and maybe it's just the wrong series to be trying to read alongside A Song of Ice and Fire and Young Wizards.

 

Since I did like the first of the prequels, I think I'll go back to those and see if that was one-time fluke or if Sullivan just got better with time. I'll have to debate with myself if I want to bother finishing this original series though. It's just not holding my attention - though that's no fault of the narrator, whose doing the best he can with the material he's been giving and he's probably the only reason the story even has some semblance of life to it. 

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review 2017-07-12 03:36
An action-packed SF sequel that satisfies and entertains
Dark and Stars (Serengeti, #2) - J.B. Rockwell

I could've done a better job of keeping track of details, but I really thought that Serengeti was on her own a longer than we're told here. My issues aside, the important thing is that her time alone is over -- her sister ships have found her and have brought her to a spaceport for repairs.

 

She is soon reunited with a crew, and informed about the state of the Alliance Fleet -- which is worse than you might think. Following the devastating defeat in Serengeti, the Fleet turned in on itself, spending the intervening years in-fighting, neglecting its mission and the people it's supposed to protect.

 

Serengeti's recovery has provided the motivation for some to come up with a real solution to the problems within the Fleet. The primary movers here are the ship AIs, with only a little help from the captains/crew. I'd have liked to see more action from humans that aren't part of Serengeti's crew -- but, honestly -- I barely thought of that until after I was done with the book. Anyway, these ships have a plan that'll take care of the problems within the Fleet and enable them all to return to what they're supposed to be doing.

 

If they can just pull it off.

 

Next to McGuire's Aeslin mice, I'm not sure there's a cuter or more delightful character than Oona, the robot that was created in the last book. Not only is she adorable, she's very, very clever. Sign me up for a novel about her. The rest of the characters -- AI or human -- are well-drawn, engaging, and -- typically -- fun. The Fleet's admiral and the spokesman for the stealth ships are just dynamite. Maybe, just maybe, we could've gotten a little deeper with some of those not aligned with our friends -- but the story didn't require that.

 

The action is solid, the more imaginative SF aspects are told in a manner that you just buy, with little regard for plausibility or anything (I don't know, maybe the technologies depicted are plausible). Rockwell takes the solid foundation she laid down in Serengeti and builds on it with a strong adventure story. While I enjoyed all of Serengeti, the most likeable parts were early on, when her crew was still on board. This book gives us that from start to stop (well, with a quick break), with plenty of action and intrigue. There's still the heart, the great characters -- but add in the excitement, camaraderie and intrigue, and this one tops its predecessor.

 

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post -- I really appreciate it, but I made up my own mind about it.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/07/11/dark-and-stars-by-j-b-rockwell
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-11 05:32
The Unsung Hero (Troubleshooters #1) (Audiobook)
The Unsung Hero - Suzanne Brockmann

This audiobook is brought to you by Patrick Lawlor and Siri. Ok, Melanie Ewbanks reads the female POVs (I googled it - she is not Siri), but true story: I was driving to a meeting at a building I hadn't been to before when I first started listening to this audiobook, so I had my GPS turned on. The first time Ms. Ewbanks took over the narration, I seriously thought that my GPS lady got bored and started to randomly narrate the book. (I googled the GPS lady too - not Ms. Ewbanks.) She improves a little as the story goes on - or I just got used to her - but if you want to know what sex scenes sound like when read to you by a Siri-esque voice, now's your chance! (I didn't, so I skipped over them. Even when Lawlor was reading them. Narrators reading sex scenes are just painful.) Patrick Lawlor did a much better job of getting into the material and bringing life and warmth to the story. Unfortunately - as happens too often with dual narrators - the narrators are clearly not in the studio together when they recorded their parts, so Lawlor still has to do female voices and Siri still has to do male voices and I have no idea why you would pay for two narrators and then split up the reading this way. Stop doing this to your listeners!

 

Sadly, even the best narrators couldn't have saved this book. This has three - count them - one, two, THREE - romances crammed into one long-ass boring romance novel with an attempt at an intriguing suspense subplot to thread it all together. It just doesn't work. Rating them from blandest to most promising, the romances are these:

 

3 - Charles, Cybelle, Joe - Love triangle. Bored now. Love triangle set during WW II? UGHHHH! At least it's not set in Pearl Harbor? Seriously, it's WW II and that's the best the author could think to do with these characters? STAHP. The only good thing about this part of the story is that Charles and Joe stay friends.

 

2 - Kelly and Tom - The old "girl kisses boy, boy freaks out and enlists in the Navy, boy and girl don't see each other for 16 years and in all that time they clearly barely even change since they're right back where they left off as soon as they're in the same room again" story. Yeah, nothing new here either. I did like Tom's struggles with his head injury and wondering if he's still capable of leading. I'm just not sure this story actually answers that question. I also liked Kelly's struggles with understanding her father, Charles, and getting closer to him as his health is failing.

 

1 - Mallory and David - The old "geek boy who's really a nice guy (but not a Nice Guy) stalks beautiful girl and gets her" story. Ok, stalking is a little strong. He just makes himself visible, and he's a lot more confident and self-assured than geek boys tend to be in these stories. Mallory's change of heart toward him is gradual, and while it occasionally threatens to veer into boring romance cliche territory, it mostly avoids it.

 

The terrorist stalker subplot is one I've read before also, so again, nothing new here. This was published pre-9/11, so maybe the regulations were a wee bit more relaxed then, but I doubt it. If a bomb threat gets called in, it has to be investigated. End of story. If a building needs to be evacuated in a hurry, pull the fire alarm. The ending was convoluted and eye roll worthy, and the negligence on display here by literally everyone except our protags defies logic. 

 

This series is not off to a good start, but I've seen other reviews mention the books get better after this one, so I'm going to at least give the next one a try.

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review 2017-07-07 02:27
Don’t Look Down ★★☆☆☆
Don't Look Down - Bob Mayer,Jennifer Crusie

This degenerated from silly but cute to just plain old stupid. The plot is an unnecessarily convoluted and nonsensical plot that somehow injects

terrorists and mobsters and FBI and CIA and money laundering and stolen ancient artifacts

(spoiler show)

into a Romance. Maybe it’s being purposefully meta, since that’s apparently what’s happened to the hot mess of a movie that our heroine has been hired to finish.

 

This heroine and her hero, ugh. She knows the guy for all of three days, and hasn’t even slept with him, thinks he doesn’t even have any romantic or sexual interest in her at all, but she’s considering moving herself and her family from NY & LA, respectively, to a swamp in Florida so he can be a part of her life. Then she just literally walks into a swamp in the dark in hopes of finding him so she can have sex with him. And she does! And they do! And it’s awesome! No bugs or anything.

 

I think it was at this point that I got so frustrated with this story, and cared so little about the characters or what happened to them, that it took real willpower to power on to the end rather than DNFing. I got through it by cheering on the alligator.

 

Hardcover version. I read this for the 2017 Booklikes-opoly square Cars Land 18: Read a book that was published in 2006, 2011, 2013, or 2014, the years of Cars and its sequels, or that has a car on the cover. This book was published in 2006.

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