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review 2017-03-14 03:28
Beside Myself | Ann Morgan | Full Review
Beside Myself - Kelli Ann Morgan

I'm going to preface this review by saying that, even after successfully making it all the way through this book, I still don't understand the abundance of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book.

 

Beside Myself is described as a "literary thriller", literary being shorthand for descriptive (but not quite prose) writing, and thriller.... I'm not sure. The book definitely ramps up toward the end, but it isn't an edge-of-your-seat what-will-happen-next thriller. By the middle I was invested enough to want to know Hellie's fate, but that was about it.

 

Hellie is Helen. Except she's not, she's Ellie. Helen and Ellie are six year old twins who swap places, a 'prank' of sorts, it's really Helen's idea, but suddenly Ellie begins to enjoy the privileges her twin's life affords her and refuses to finish the game and swap back. Helen is pushed into the "Ellie" box, where she is expected to be less than smart, to have some issues, which only makes it harder for people to listen when she insists that she isn't Ellie, she's Helen. It's an interesting idea for a book, and the idea itself deserves the four and five stars, but other than that it falls short.

 

I don't like Helen, and as much as she is actually a victim in her story, I couldn't really root for her. Normally unlikeable characters are my thing, but her treatment of Ellie from childhood just couldn't make me like her. It's evident to me that a lot of Ellie's troubles are actually from Helen's treatment of her. Helen constantly belittles her, makes fun of her, and bullies her alongside her friends. Why wouldn't Ellie want to be Helen? Helen's the golden child, the one who follows all the rules, the one who their (admittedly off-kilter) mother loves.

 

None of this was what prompted my below average review however. 

 

Reading this book made me annoyed, then frustrated, then angry. How half of this made it through the editing process I have no idea, and I can't find many other reviews that mention it. Beside Myself is written in chapters that alternate between the present and the past. Except that the present chapters are written in third-person past tense, and the past chapters are written in first-person present tense. It doesn't make sense story-telling wise. 

 

Then, halfway through the book, for no explicable reason, the past chapters switch to second-person present tense (from "I do this" to "You do this"). Needless to say, I was ripped out from my little reading cloud asking "Wait, what?" After some thought I could come up with a reason this might be done, namely to do with Helen's disconnect with her own identity, but if that's what it is it is never explained. I couldn't get past it.

 

The second thing that bothered me a little that other reviews touched on, was the multiple things characters are referred to. While the main story doesn't have a large cast of characters, each one is often referred to by multiple names. I didn't have trouble in following this, but other reviewers have apparently. Examples include: Helen referred to as Helen, Ellie, and Smudge. Ellie referred to as Ellie, Helen, Hellie (Hellie is a good identifier as it is the Helen version of Ellie), and their step-father being called Horace and Arkela. 

 

Onto the third (it wasn't until writing this review I realised how many problems I had with this book). As in my preface, the term "literary" here is used for descriptive. Evidently the author has never been told that you can have too much description. I actually quite like prose writing and descriptive writing myself, but the problem with Beside Myself is the needless description of everything in every moment, and the repetitiveness of this description. This description is actually problematic in one instance:

"There was a tray in front of her and a pair of chocolate-coloured hands manouvering it into position ... "There," said the nurse in a sing-song Nigerian accent"

There are problems with describing a person of colour as being "chocolate", not to mention the fact that it's an incredibly overused identifier, but Morgan then goes on to explicitly state that she was Nigerian. Most people, I would think, would be aware that Nigerians are PoC. 

 

My fourth and final issue with the book is similar, it is the repetitiveness of some descriptions. Nearly every scene that refers to some kind of sex act is described as "(someone) moving above (her, me, you)". There are probably a million ways to describe this, and while this works as a way to tell readers what is happening, it's dull and repetitive by the second or third time. 

 

Now, some more good words about this book.

 

While it isn't exactly a thriller it is actually an interesting look into some great themes including Identity, mental illness, suicide, and family. If that is something you are interested in it's probably worth giving this book a shot, despite my less than stellar review. Although I don't think Helen/Smudge's illness is explicitly stated it is clear that she suffers from manic and depressive episodes as well as hallucinations and self-identity problems, and Beside Myself provides an interesting insight into the mental goings on of a character who suffers from this. I would be interested to see the opinions and reviews of someone who may be able to relate to the Helen/Smudge character.

 

It is important to note though this book should carry some warnings, it does include scenes/mention of: mental illness, suicide, and rape.

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review 2017-02-17 23:56
Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order
South Riding - Shirley Williams,Marion Shaw,Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-01-24 16:00
The Drowning Tree - Carol Goodman
The Drowning Tree - Carol Goodman

Such a pretty cover, not that you can tell from the thumbnail, but trust me. I had this and the Mary Stewart 3-in-1 Merlin book on the coffee table at the same time. Same colors. One looks like some bizarre Jesus theory, the other looks brooding and mysterious. The girls and I all noticed.

Not just the cover is my cuppa. Something horrible happened twenty years ago, and now many of the same people are back in town and one of them ends up dead. More Laura Lippman than Barbara Vine, but very moody and atmospheric, and I love the bit about the artists, and the past resembling the present. With the mother and daughter pair it comes across as the Gilmore Girls in need of SSRIs. Plus there's a little insight into the making of stained glass, as well as the restoration thereof. Learning about an unusual job was always the coolest part of a Dick Francis.

Just a big old delicious pudding of impending doom.

 

(My copy is not the one showing here)

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text 2017-01-23 17:24
Calvin - Martine Leavitt
Calvin - Martine Leavitt

Calvin was born on the day the last Calvin and Hobbes ran. His grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger, he grew up with a best friend named Suzie, and now he's older, and schizophrenic, and maybe an epic journey will make everything better?

The author's tone is empathetic, but never pitying. There's just enough humor to the whole thing to keep it from being melodrama.

Library copy

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review 2017-01-10 15:41
Murder most foul
Death Descends on Saturn Villa: The Gower Street Detective: Book 3 (Grower Street Detectives) - M.R.C. Kasasian

Death Descends on Saturn Villa is the third book in the Gower Street Detective series by M.R.C. Kasasian. (Go here for the review of the first book and here for the second.) The tension continues to ratchet higher and higher between the famous detective Sidney Grice and his protege March Middleton as we inch closer and closer to the truth about Grice's past and his connection to March's mother. Kasasian is finally starting to clear up some of the mystery revolving around their pasts but he's still weaving webs of intrigue around them both (only fitting I suppose). This book centers on a case which is high stakes and multifaceted with March as the prime suspect. DUM DUM DUUUUUM (That's supposed to be menacingly tense music not a commentary on the intelligence of the storyline by the way.) Once again, I feel I need to caution readers who might have sensitive stomachs because Kasasian has a gift for detailed descriptions of gore. I must also mention that if you get triggered easily then you should approach this book with caution. (You'll probably be fine but I just want to make you aware.) This book ultimately raises more questions than it answers but one thing it does do is make Grice a little more human. If you've enjoyed the first two books in the series then you're sure to enjoy this continuation. The fourth book in the series, The Secrets of Gaslight Lane, is due out on April 4th of this year so get caught up while you still have plenty of time. XD

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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