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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 2016-10-09 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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review 2015-07-18 22:14
REVIEW: "The Friend Zone" by Kristen Callihan
The Friend Zone - Kristen Callihan

Kristen Callihan's The Hook Up was one of my favorite reads of 2014 so, of course, I was excited to read the sequel, The Friend Zone.  While this wasn't as wonderful as its predecessor, I did enjoy it and continue to impressed with the NA romances I've been reading lately.

 

Gray is the tight end on his college football team and is very close to realizing his dream of being drafted by the National Football League.  He even has an agent waiting to sign him after graduation.  So he is not prepared for the entrance of his agent's daughter, Ivy, into his life.  Ivy and Gray try to remain friends, but it becomes obvious that they are so much more to one another.

 

I really liked both Gray and Ivy.  Gray is a stud athlete, but he also, surprisingly, has a hell of a brain which he keeps a secret from most people.  His childhood wasn't the happiest and he is determined to make it in the pros to finally find a place he belongs.  For her part, Ivy has been surrounded by athletes her entire life and resents the attention that they get from her father.  She has recently graduated from college and is trying to figure out what she wants to do next.  Ivy has never felt a connection with someone like she does with Gray and is terrified of what will happen if they move out into relationship territory.

 

The plot of The Friend Zone basically deals with Gray and Ivy becoming friends (mostly through text messages) and trying to not mess things up when feelings get in the way.  I loved the development of their friendship and how comfortable they were with one another.  It is obvious to readers that they both are in love, but I appreciated that it took time before romance appeared.  The plot ended up being a question of "when will they" rather than "will they or won't they" which was fun.

 

So I would definitely recommend fans of NA romance or contemporaries in general check out Callihan's The Friend Zone.  It has mature characters who respect one another and are just searching for somewhere to belong with some fun side characters and enough sports talk to provide a great background.

Source: feministfairytalereviews.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-friend-zone-by-kristen-callihan.html
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review 2015-05-19 20:22
REVIEW: "The Deal" by Elle Kennedy
The Deal - Elle Kennedy

I have never read Elle Kennedy before, but I have heard great things about her sexy contemporary romances.  Since I adore sports-themed romances, I decided to give her debut New Adult book a try and am blown away by it.


The Deal has a similar plot to other NA books I've read with a college sports star needing tutoring and simultaneously falling in love with their tutor.  Garrett is the best player on his school's hockey team and usually has no problem balancing his classwork with his team commitments.  But, his ethics course is currently kicking his ass and he finds himself very close to missing games due to his low grade.  Hannah is the only student in the class who understands what the professor is wanting and this catches Garrett's attention.  It quickly becomes obvious that Hannah has a crush on one of the football players so Garret and Hannah decide to make a deal.  She will help him pass the class and he will pretend to date her in order to make Justin jealous.

 

While the plot is a little low on the creative side, what makes this book stand out for me is the characters.  Garrett and Hannah both have tortured pasts that they are trying to deal with and the find themselves trusting one another with their secrets as they spend time together.  I loved the way that the author had them growing as friends before jumping into bed.  Their constant back-and-forth was so funny and really showed the development of their relationship.  It was also fun to see Hannah interact with the rest of Garrett's housemates who I believe will be getting their own stories later in the series.

 

I recommend The Deal for anyone who loves mature NA with well-developed characters and a serious look at some current social issues like domestic violence and rape.  I will definitely be continuing this series and will probably add her adult books to my wishlist.

 
 
Source: feministfairytalereviews.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-deal-by-elle-kennedy.html
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review 2015-05-14 15:30
REVIEW: "The Royal We" by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
The Royal We - Jessica Morgan,Heather Cocks

I have been a fan of Heather and Jessica's blog, Go Fug Yourself, for many years so, when they decided to imagine what it would be like for a commoner to marry into a royal family, I knew I had to check it out.  The Royal We is obviously inspired by the much-publicized relationship between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but the Fug Girls make the story their own and readers are left with an entertaining, surprisingly thought-provoking look into the life in the spotlight.

 

The narrator of The Royal We is Bex Porter, an American college student who heads to Oxford for a semester abroad.  While there, she befriends one of the heirs to the British throne, Prince Nicholas, and eventually that friendship turns into something more.  The book covers almost ten years of Bex and Nick's life together and apart.  It is much more than a romance due to the fact that it shows that there is more to happiness than fancy clothes, exotic vacations, and a huge wedding.  Happily ever after is a difficult thing to achieve and Bex and Nick have to go through major trials to find it.  

 

I adored both Bex and Nick.  Bex is the last person one would think of as the girlfriend of a prince due to her laid-back personality, but she captures Nick's attention with her lust for life and snarky sense of humor.  For his part, Nick is much more than a Prince Charming-like stereotype.  He is a genuinely nice guy who cares about his friends and his family, but he also has trust issues and is not the best at communication.  Bex and Nick both have to grow a lot in this book and I appreciated how flawed they were which made them much more relatable.

 

There are other relationships in this book besides the obvious one between Bex and Nick.  Readers are also given tons of information about their college friends with my personal favorite being Bex's best friend, Cilla, who is both protective of Bex and willing to call her out.  Friendship is a very important component of The Royal We which I wasn't really expecting.  

 

I also have to mention to wonderfully developed sibling portrayals.  Bex is a twin and her sister, Lacey, is a huge part of her life.  They have some issues to go through especially in relation to the media attention that is inevitable once Bex and Nick's relationship goes public.  But, what I loved the most about them was their connection and that, in the end, they were there for one another.  And then there's Nick's playboy younger brother, Freddie, who almost steals the entire book.  I loved his devil-may-care persona that hides someone who has spent much of his life pushed to the side by his family and the rest of the country.

 

In conclusion, I found The Royal We to be a wonderful look at what it might be like to fall in love with a prince in today's society.  There is much more than what the fairy tales showed us and I appreciated the way that the authors balanced the good and the bad.  Love is important enough to sacrifice many things, but this book makes the reader think about whether it really is worth it in the end.  I highly recommend this for fans of the Fug Girls or anyone who has ever dreamed of finding a prince (or princess) of their very own.

Source: feministfairytalereviews.blogspot.com/2015/05/review-royal-we-by-heather-cocks-and.html
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