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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 2016-12-14 21:50
Public Display of Everything - Cara Dee

I needed something light and short while waiting for the newest episode of YOI (it is killing meeeee... I am avoiding spoilers but it is hardddd). I hate voyeurism but after reading so many good reviews, I decided to read it. The voyeurism thing didn't bother me so much, since Cory has his face hidden and it is about him only, not him and Flynn together (that happens after). It begins kinda cute actually; Flynn seemed a perky, innocent guy and Cory finds him adorable since day 1. I like this kind of attraction. They do get together pretty fast for my liking. But still, they were cute together.

Unfortunately later on I find Flynn a bit too strange. I don't get why he was soooo innocent. Instead of perky, I think he was kinda creepy. Both of them have MEH past, MEH traumas. And the whole thing with Luke got on my nerves. I hated him. He is Cory's uncle (around 40s), and he will have his own book since he is also an attractive gay guy. BUT... he is also the father of 2 boys. One of the boys' mother is a girl of a one night stand. The other of a wife. BUT he cheated on his fiancee with a guy, reason why Cory lost all contact with him (but forgives him at the end since he is family, blah blah). This is the main reason why I couldn't like this book. Cheater Luke is going to have his own book? No thanks.

And honestly, by half of the book, I did not even care about Cory and Flynn anymore and their so-called love. I just wanted to finish the book and refresh my page to watch the newest episode of my anime :(

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review 2016-12-14 21:45
Being Sloane Jacobs - Lauren Morrill

No, no, NO. This was supposed to be a Triple Win for me.

There are two Sloane Jacobs. One of them is an ice-skater...


The other one plays hockey...


They are unhappy with their lives and when they meet, decide to do a Parent Trap/The Pauper and The Prince thing.

Starts OK, but when they meet, they have like, zero bonding. They do not even like each other, but still, they decided to carry on with the plan. I don't claim to be an expert about ice-skating and hockey, but how realistic is for a hockey player to do a pair skating performance after 4 weeks? I can forgive an ice-skater to play hockey, but a hockey player to do well in ice-skating?? Not because she can skate it means she do figure skating! The hockey-Sloane was big and graceless. And she won 2nd place at the end? Say what?

The story was sooo juvenile, I wasn't expecting it from looking at the cover (covers can be deceitful, I know). Both of them find a Mean Girl in their camp; one of them (Ivy, the ice-skater) was soo 2-dimensional. She even says that "pink is her color". What. So both Sloane, to prove they are strong, take revenge of the Mean Girls. In such an immature way. Pranks I expect from, I don't know, maybe 12-years-old boys.

Their respective love interest were sooo boring. Both of them "soooo good looking". I had an instant dislike with one of them, when the author described him as looking like a Bieber. Yuck. And towards the end, when each of the boys find out that his girl was lying to him, it was all "what? you are lying to me? so that kiss was all a lie?", and each girl was "nooo, please listen to me, let me explain" with tears down the cheeks. Oh my, what a cliche soap opera.

I didn't like this book. Predictable with unlikable characters. I started skimming when they girls were exposed. I barely read their "excellent" performances, which was soooo unrealistic. The hockey-player winning a 2nd place in pair figure skating... ha!

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review 2016-11-15 22:10
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology - Rebecca Paley,Leah Remini

I should shelf this book in the horror section... I don't understand how in the world this cult still exists, it is crazy. Why would people go into this willingly? It is totally wacko, and their representatives are even more wackos. That Tom Cruise is some case. Should be in a mental institution. He is lucky he is charismatic. But damn, I will never see him with the same eyes again. Not that I liked him before, I have always sensed some weird vibes from him, but then, he is charming. Seems like behind that charming smile hides a monster-kid, ugh.

The whole concept of Scientology is scary and crazy; are we living in the past? How can people still be on this when they are forced to pay thousands of $$, be humiliated (like, being forced to clean public bathrooms with a toothbrush, or being punched repeatedly??) and controlled by other people? Who the hell are these "representatives" to demand money and personal secrets and then, silence? And the rest all keep quiet and pay and, if demanded to, are willing to erase a loving one (a friend, a family member) as he/she has never existed, only because said person is a SP ("Suppressive Person", or someone who is against the "church") or else. What. This is freakishly scary. And nuts.

It is a very interesting book (I was not familiar with Leah Remini before this, but I liked her personality, straightforward and blunt). There are hundreds of acronyms and special names given by this cult; it was a bit overwhelming and sometimes confusing. I have millions of questions currently, so now I am spending my time googling about Shelly Miscavige, and David Miscavige and Crazy Psycho Tom Cruise and the likes.

Recommended. It is informative, in regards to celebrities and Scientology (juicy stuffs) and it is very short (the last 30 pages or so are just photos). Now I am going to dig more into Scientology cult story if I can.

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review 2016-10-09 16:38
The course of true love never did run smooth
The Lady Anne (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 2) - Ammonia Book Covers,Brooke Aldrich,Lawrence G. Lovasik

I write this review as one of the members of behalf of Rosie’s Books Review Team. I was provided with a free copy of the book as part of the team.

I have read and enjoyed La Petite Boulain, the first book in the Above all Others series and really enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Anne Boleyn’s childhood, and particularly, the way the story was told, in the first person from the point of view of young Anne, or, to be more precise, the young Anne as remembered by the older Anne at the moment of awaiting her death in the Tower.

Here we see Anne return to England after spending part of her childhood and teenage years in courts abroad. She is sad to leave France, as she feels by now more French than English, and the weather and the difficulties of her trip don’t help make her feel at home. Luckily, things take a turn for the better quickly. She meets Thomas Wyatt, a neighbour, accomplished poet, and a childhood friend, and once she joins the court, becoming one of Queen Katherine’s ladies in waiting, she soon meets interesting people, makes new friends, rekindles old friendships, and becomes a fashion icon and very admired for her style, accomplishments, and her personality.

I was curious to see how this novel would portray Anne as a young woman, in an era more familiar to most people than that of her early years. She is presented as an interesting mixture of a clever and intelligent woman, with far wider knowledge and experiences than many of the women her age she meets, but still a young girl at heart, who loves the idea of courting, handsome and romantic knights, and has to admit to being proud of the way men are attracted to her and women copy her dresses and jewels. She changes her mind often and she thinks she is in love with Tom Wyatt one day, although it’s an impossible love, but then decides it’s only friendship. She falls in love with Henry Percy (of much higher standing than her as he’s due to become the Earl of Northumberland) and with her father’s approval pursues a marriage that would have been very advantageous for her family, but when Cardinal Wolsey and Henry’s father forbid the match, her disappointment makes her hate him. And then, there’s King Henry…

I must confess that I enjoyed the discussions about Anne’s ideas and her education in religion and philosophy in the first book, and there were only passing references to it here (partly because she worried about the company she keeps and how they would react if they were aware of her opinions, and partly because there are other things that occupy more of her time), and there is much more about romance and romantic ideas. King Henry seems to notice her following an accident (although perhaps before that) and her behaviour and her refusal to become his mistress seem to spur him on rather than make him forget her and move on. If Henry Percy gave up on her without a fight, this is a man who would risk everything (even the future of his kingdom) for his own enjoyment and to prove himself, and in Anne, he meets a challenge. Not being a big reader of romance, the pull and push of the relationship and the will she/won’t she (especially knowing how things will turn up) part of it was not what interested me the most, although the scenes are well done and I found the fights and disagreements between the couple enjoyable. I became intrigued by King Henry’s portrayal, not so much by what he does and says, but by how others see him. There is a very apt warning her brother George gives her, recalling how King Henry was walking with his arm around a nobleman’s shoulders one afternoon and two days later the said nobleman’s head was topping a pole on the King’s orders.

I was more interested in matters of politics and alliances (confusing as they were), the inner workings of the court, marriages and births, and Anne’s reflections about the roles of women and men in the society of the time, that she struggles against but ultimately feels obliged to follow. I was also intrigued by the depiction of her family, her brother George, always close to her, her sister Mary, who although Anne always saw as too free and easy, she comes to understand and appreciate (and who manages to achieve a happy existence in her own terms, eventually), her mother, who suffers from a strange illness, and her father, who appears to be only interested in the family’s advancement (although claims that it is not for himself, but for those who’ll come after). He seemingly has no respect for morality if it can get in the way of achieving his goals, and at times he treats his daughters as pawns or worse. In the novel, Anne is portrayed as having much of the initiative, at least at the beginning, regarding her relationship with King Henry, but I was very intrigued by the role her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, would come to play, and how much he influenced later events and the rise of Anne to become Queen.

This volume made me wonder, more than the first one, how reliable a narrator is Anne supposed to be. She makes a very interesting comment about wearing masks and the fact that we all perform our roles in public, whatever our feelings or thoughts might really be. After all, this is Anne remembering her life and trying to distract herself from her likely dark fate. Sometimes she does protest too much, when talking about her accomplishments, intelligence and fashion sense, and insists that she does not believe in false modesty. She also talks about Tom Wyatt’s affections and how she had not encouraged him, but she evidently enjoys his attentions. At other times, she describes events and scenes as if she were at the same time protagonist and observer (from telling us what she was feeling and her concerns, she will go on to describe what she looked like or what she was wearing). She does highlight the behaviours she thinks show her in a good light and easily finds ways in which to dismiss some of her more selfish or problematic behaviours, but at a time such as the one she’s living through, after having lost everything and everybody, it’s only understandable. If anything, it shows her as a complex and contradictory individual and makes her appear more real.

The writing is once more fluid and beautifully detailed, bringing to life places, customs and times long past.

Although I know what will happen next, I’m intrigued to read Anne’s version of events and look forward to the next book. I highly recommend this series to anybody interested in Anne Boleyn who enjoys historical fiction, and to anybody who is considering reading about such a fascinating historical figure.

 

 

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