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review 2018-07-11 15:36
Unusual science-fiction which makes us question what it means to be human
The Last Feast - Zeb Haradon

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

I had read a number of reviews of this author’s previous novel, The Usurper King, and although I haven’t read it yet I was intrigued by the subject and the feedback on the quality of his writing, and following a recommendation of his new book by a fellow reviewer, I could not resist.

This book is difficult to categorise and, for me, that is one of its appeals, although it will perhaps put off some genre readers. I won’t rehash the plot as the description is detailed enough and the book is quite short (it is perhaps a bit long for a novella, but it is shorter than most novels). The setting and much of the action would fit into the science-fiction genre. The degree of detail and description of technology and processes is not such that it should put off casual readers (I found the scientific background intriguing although I’m not an expert and cannot comment on how accurate it is), although it might not satisfy hard science-fiction fans.

A number of characters appear in the short novel, but the main character and first-person narrator of the story is Jim. Like Scheherazade, he is doomed to be forever telling stories, although, in his case, it is always the same story, the story, or history, of his (their) origin. Somehow (I won’t go into the details. I’ll leave that for readers to discover), Jim has managed to cheat death and has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although the story he is forever retelling is, at least in appearance, the story of how he ended up in his current situation, through the process of telling the story, we learn about Jim himself. Snippets of his life keep coming up, and these are enmeshed with the history of humanity at large, as he has become, accidentally, the somewhat reluctant chronicler of human civilisation. I am not sure any of the characters are sympathetic

The story —which gets at some of the fundamental questions Philosophy has been studying for centuries— involves a small spaceship crew faced with an impossible situation. What if they were the only beings left alive in the universe and only had access to finite resources in order to survive? (Yes, this sounds familiar). Would they hold on tight to the hope of a possible rescue from outside and risk their survival possibilities to pursue that dream? Or would they try to survive at whatever cost? The book divides the crew into two, the ones who are more realistic and are happy to continue living on their current circumstances, and the ones that refuse to give up the hope for a better but uncertain life. There are members of the crew that seem to cycle from one position to another, and some who keep their cards close to their chests and we don’t know full well what they think. Suicide is high in the book, and the desperation of the characters that choose that way out is credible and easy to understand and empathise with. The narrative takes the characters to the limit and then pushes them beyond it. Ultimately, it is impossible not to read this book and wonder what makes life worth living. Is life itself enough in its own right? Is survival against all odds the best attitude? What is the result of, and the price to pay for, pursuing such a course of action?

I am fascinated by the novel, and particularly by Jim’s character. As he tells the story, it becomes clear that at some point he made a momentous decision. He says he has been on the brink of suicide for hundreds of years, but after something tragic happened (no spoilers), he decided he would keep on living. Although the book has plenty of strange goings on (cannibalism, BDSM sex… which make for a hard read but are not the most graphically detailed and gore examples I have read, by any means) and it shuns conventional morality, this decision and Jim’s motivation behind it are what will keep this book present in my mind, and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time. (Why would anybody put himself or herself through such a thing? How do we deal with loss and grief?)

There are references to literary classics (and the author’s note at the end mentions some of them and also the conception of the project, its development, and its different incarnations), to historical artefacts and works of art, and the distinctive voice of the narrator (a mixture of wit, matter-of-factness and the odd flash of dark humour), the quality of the writing, and the story combine to make it a compelling and disquieting read. After reading this book, I’ve become very intrigued by the author, and I’m curious about his previous novel, as the protagonist of that book was also called Jim. That Jim was quickly becoming old and this one is determined to live forever. I wonder…

I recommend this book to people looking for an exceptional voice and a unique story, who don’t mind being challenged by difficult topics, dark subjects, and stories that don’t fit neatly into a clear genre. If you like to experiment and are looking for something different, I encourage you to give it a go.

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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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