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review 2017-12-11 22:41
A morally ambiguous thriller and a story of tainted friendships that will appeal to readers of King’s It.
The Chalk Man: A Novel - Tasha Tudor

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.

The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.

The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.

A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by. 

 

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text 2017-10-23 16:45
Review: Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Profilic Serial Killer
Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer - Ann McElhinney,Phelim McAleer

This book is not for everyone. The authors are very honest about what Kermit Gosnell, and what Gosnell did went far beyond abortion. He murdered and decimated. If you are uncomfortable with Ed Gein’s story, do not read this book, for Gosnell was the same type of hoarder.

This book was finely investigated, so I only deduct one star for these reasons:
* the unnecessary, in my opinion, long chapter lecturing the reader on proper journalistic practices. It’s near the end of the book, so by the time it is reached, I as the reader have the full picture of the bizarre news dodge of this story. I don’t need a mini journalism class to drive it home.
* the occasional use of “pro-abortion” in place of “pro-choice” in general (the only person I have run across who is truly pro-abortion is Dr. Gosnell, for pro- implies enthusiasm, gusto); and, in companion with this, the introduction written by a member of the Duck Dynasty family. This case is so vile, it didn’t need to be politicized at all, in any way. Just tell the reader what Gosnell, his wife, and his staff did. You’ll probably change a lot of minds on abortion. I think these leans of bias make the annoyance of the lesson of the unbiased Fourth Estate stronger. To truly make this point, the book should have carried absolutely no agenda—including no biased language (a no-no in basic journalism) and no biased celebrity endorsement.

I can’t say this enough: this is an important case, and, despite its above flaws, an important book. But I am going to type a phrase below that was in the crime scene report about Ed Gein, and please let it be your litmus test for whether or not you should read this book.

That phrase is: cup of noses

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review 2017-08-25 12:18
A good psychological portrayal of a young man suffering from schizophrenia and a mystery that is not all in his mind.
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks - Brian Cohn

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, I recommend you check here, as she manages a great group of reviewers and if they like your book, you’ve made it!

Having read and enjoyed Brian Cohn’s previous novel The Last Detective  (you can check my review here), I was very intrigued by his new novel. Although it also promised a mystery/thriller of sorts, this one was set firmly in the present, well, as firmly as anything can be when told by a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who rarely takes his medication. As I am a psychiatrist, and I read many thrillers, the book had a double interest for me.

As the description says, the story is told is narrated, in the first person, by the main character, the Brendan Meeks of the title. Although he is from a good family and had an affluent (if not the happiest) childhood, his mental illness disrupted his education (he was studying a masters in computer sciences at the time), and his life. He now lives in a rundown apartment in St. Louis, surrounded by other marginal characters (a war veteran suffering from PTSD who never leaves the house, a drug-addict girl whose dealer has become something more personal, an understanding Bosnian landlord…). His main support is his sister Wendy. When she dies, he decides to investigate her death, and things get even more complicated, as his brain starts making connections and seeing coincidences that might or might not be really there.

Brendan is the perfect example of an unreliable narrator. His mental illness makes him misinterpret things, give ominous meanings to random events, and believe that everything that happens relates to him and “the code”. Brendan hears voices, abusive voices, mostly in the second person, that give him orders, insult him, tell him to harm himself and others… He has a complex system of paranoid delusions, all related to a “code” he believes was implanted in his brain, and he is convinced that there is a conspiracy of various agencies (mostly men dressed in dark suits driving black SUVs) that will stop at nothing to try and recover that information. Thanks to his parents’ money (as this is the USA, his access to care would be limited otherwise) he sees a psychiatrist once a week, but he rarely takes medication, as he is convinced that if he does, he won’t be able to escape these agents that are after him. Yes, the medication helps with the voices, but it does not seem to touch his delusions (if it is all a delusion). There are several points in the novel when Brendan ends up in hospital and is given medication, and then he seems to hold it together for a while, enough to go after some clues and make some enquiries, but the longer he goes without medication, the more we doubt anything we read and wonder if any of the connections his brain makes are real or just a part of his illness.

I thought the depiction of Brendan’s mental illness and symptoms was very well done. It brought to my mind conversations with many of my patients, including his use of loud music or the radio to drown the voices, his feelings about the medication, his self-doubt, the attitude of others towards him (most of the characters are very understanding and friendly towards Brendan, although he faces doubt and disbelief a few times, not surprisingly, especially in his dealings with the police and the authorities), and his thought processes. He is a likeable and relatable character, faced with an incredibly difficult situation, but determined to keep going no matter what. His sister’s death motivates him to focus and concentrate on something other than himself and his own worries, and that, ultimately, is what helps him move on and accept the possibility of a more positive future. He also shows at times, flashes of the humour that was in evidence in the author’s previous novel, although here less dark and less often (as it again fluctuates according to the character’s experiences).

The narration is fluid and fast, the pace changing in keeping with the point of view and the mental state of the protagonist. There are clues to the later discoveries from early on (and I did guess a few of the plot points) although the narrator’s mental state creates a good deal of confusion and doubt. The rest of the characters are less well-drawn than Brendan, although that also fits in with the narration style (we only learn as much as he tell us or thinks about them at the time, including his doubts and suspicions when he is not well), and the same goes for his altered perceptions of places and events (sometimes offering plenty of detail about unimportant things, and others paying hardly any attention at all).

Where the book did not work that well for me was when it came to the mystery/thriller part of it. There are inconsistencies and plot holes that I don’t think can be put down to the mental state or the altered perception of the character. There is an important plot point that did not fit in for me and tested my suspension of disbelief (in fact made me wonder if the level of unreliability extended beyond what the novel seemed to suggest up to that point and I became even more suspicious of everything), and I suspect readers who love police procedural stories will also wonder about a few of the things that happen and how they all fit together, but, otherwise, there are plenty of twists, and as I said, the build-up of the character and the depiction of his world and perspective is well achieved. Although the subject matter includes drugs, overdoses, corruption, child neglect, difficult family situations, abuse, adultery, and murder, there is no excessive or graphic use of violence or gore, and everything is filtered through Brendan’s point of view, and he is (despite whatever the voices might say) kind and warm-hearted.

I recommend it to readers interested in unreliable narrators, who love mysteries (but perhaps not sticklers for details or looking for realistic and detailed investigations), and are keen on sympathetic psychological portrayals of the everyday life of a young man suffering from schizophrenia.

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review 2017-04-07 14:19
Rarity from the Hollow- Robert Eggleton

   Not everyone will read the story the way I did. In fact, wading through twenty or so of the at this point in time 94 Amayon.com reviews, I couldn’t find any others that were reading the exact same message.

  This is a story that’s omnipresent voice explores the decent of an adolescent girl into madness. At the books end, I imagine her institutionalised, living her conscious life entirely in an invented world of her imagination, while kept ‘physically safe’ by psychiatric nurses.

   The setting of West Virginia is irrelevant, other than that I read that it is a place where the author worked as a psychotherapist. One can read in the deprived corners of any state on Earth.

  The book is comic, by line, sometimes treading in the deep crud of extreme social and physical abuse and poverty, by chapter. Lacy Dawn is the daughter of an abusive PTSD suffering father, and a down-trodden and objectified mother. We read about how, especially after the murder of her best friend she starts to tip over the edge, eventually losing even remote connection with reality. As she descends into the protective cocoon of her imagination she engages in a range of abnormal behaviour typical of traumatised children, and especially of those children that have being exposed to the very worst of adult behaviour. Drugs, guns, and sexual exploitation of all sorts are the bread and butter of everyday life in the neighbourhood of this poor child.

   If one chooses to read that way, she ‘really’ goes on an adventure across space, engaged to marry a robot that is slowly turning into a physically ‘entire’ man. If you don’t, and I don’t. The distant shopping Mall is the furthest she ever gets from home.

For my perspective, this is book is conceptualised brilliantly, and executed well. The writing is good, as is the pace of the plot. Perhaps the ending is a little weak, but by that point where could Lacy Dawn’s mind go that could be more distant from reality, and more protective of what little is left of her sanity. The satirical plot, the harsh existence which became an escape to the stars, or the closed spaces of the mind, is very clever. The ending was appropriate, as Lacy builds her own sanctuary, one in which she is at last in control of her life.

   Where could a sequel go? To rehab from drugs and mental recovery, or further into the stars?

   The message: “however life shits on you, don’t shit on the children” is delivered so harshly that only the comical prose could carry the ‘normal’ reader to the stories psychotic conclusion. If we don’t protect and fight for wholesome family values, our societies will all decay into an impoverished, disease ridden, Hobbesian Hollow.

Lacy Dawns mental space may be unique, but unfortunately isn’t that abnormal. Well, that is the view of a relatively sane man who only understands one psychology, my own.       Get well, Lacy Dawn and let Faith rest in peace, but never her death be hidden from the judgment of society.

AMAZONLINK

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review 2017-03-29 01:20
I would have been a runaway
Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979 (Slightly Foxed Editions) - Ysenda Maxtone-Graham

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham is exactly what I was looking for this week. As the title suggests, this is a non-fiction book about what it was like to attend a boarding school for girls from the years of 1939-79 (in the United Kingdom obviously). The author conducted numerous interviews of women who attended these school who recalled startlingly vivid memories (both ill and pleasant) of their time there. From what it was like to be separated from family at a young age (some incredibly young) to the traumatic recollections of the horrible food they were forced to eat to what really went on when a bunch of hormonal girls were kept sequestered without any boys in sight this is a book that is both informative and interesting. (It's also super funny.) I've read some fanciful stories about what it's like to live in a boarding school but never true accounts from the girls themselves about what actually went on behind those austere facades. (Seriously a ton of them were in manor houses and castles which makes me super jealous.) There are many similarities between the institutions and also some gargantuan differences. For instance, some of the places (Cheltenham for instance) were strict, highly academic, and the girls that left there were more likely to continue into higher education. Others were more practically minded (or obsessed with horses and sports) and the girls that left there were generally encouraged to go to secretarial college and then look for a husband almost immediately after entering the workforce. It's an eye-opening read about what it was like for these upper-crust girls who were sent away by their families and then suppressed by these same people into wanting less for themselves. I highly recommend this not only because it's extremely well-written and researched but also because it's so fascinating comparing it to the way young women of today are educated and their expectations after leaving school. 10/10

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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