Thursday, October 31, 2013

DNF: Confessions of a Sociopath

Happy Halloween!! I know it's been a while since I posted. Sorry!! Sometimes school and other obligations take up my attention. I'm always reading though!!

On to the business at hand!! This isn't a review of a horror book, but I was a bit scared by this woman's thought process.

I had high hopes for Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas. The title alone caught my attention. I was also intrigued by the cover. Who is the person behind the mask? This is a memoir by a diagnosed sociopath. I'll confess, I don't really know the definition for sociopath. It's a term that I hear tossed about on TV a lot. After attempting to read this book, I think the term sociopath is taken rather lightly in popular culture.

On the surface, M.E. Thomas (not her real name by the way) admits that she is a rather ordinary person. She's not a criminal. She probably looks just like everyone else. She is religious. She is an attorney and a professor of law. She goes about her day just like everybody else. But she's not like most people, she lacks traits and emotions that most of us take for granted. She lacks a conscious. She lacks empathy. She's a huge manipulator. She enjoys risky behavior. She comes across as a social person, but is anti-social at heart. She has had dreams of killing people. She is also rather full of herself. Honestly, that sounds like a lot of people and most of them are probably on Wall Street!! But this woman did go to a psychologist and was diagnosed as a sociopath.

I could not get through the whole book. When I read a memoir, I want to feel some empathy for the writer or at least to be more knowledgeable about the person than I was before. It's hard to feel empathy for a person who doesn't feel it herself. M.E. Thomas is very self-aware and honest in her writing. I think it is very brave of her to subject herself to scrutiny. But as honest as I find her writing, I also find it to be very narcissistic.

"I think I am pretty realistic about my intelligence. I am probably smarter than you, dear reader, but I know that in the rare instance this will not be true. I accept that there are many more kinds of intelligence than just raw brainpower (which of course I have in spades), but I do not necessarily respect them all." Pgs. 14-15

That quote is very early in the book, but I still gave it a chance. I kept on reading for about 90 more pages. There just reached a point when I couldn't take it anymore. I hate to stop reading a book, but the author was making me angry. I know I have to remember, she is not an ordinary person. It's hard to read a book by a person who comes across as unlikeable. The book also includes a lot of medical research and terminology in the book. The book feels very clinical in its approach, even when it comes to her childhood. I just could not get into the book. After a while it felt like a chore to read this book. Maybe in a few months I can try again, but for right now I have to walk away from it.

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Random House)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My take on: The Wedding Gift

A young girl born into slavery wants more out of life. She wants to walk without being watched. She wants to earn a living without being watched. She wants to go beyond the gates of the plantation without fear of being whipped. She wants to be free mentally, emotionally, and physically. This girl, Sarah Campbell, is a dreamer.

Theodora Allen, the wife of Cornelius, is also a bit of a dreamer. She dreams of days spent playing with her future grandchildren. She wants a closer relationship with her sons. She wants a respectable husband for her daughter, Clarissa. Most of all, she dreams of the day when her opinions will matter. A day when her husband, the master of a large plantation, will listen to her speak rather than beating her into submission.

Author Marlen Suyapa Bodden transports readers back to 1850s Alabama in The Wedding Gift. It was a time when slavery was a way of life in the South, but it was also a time of shame in the North. Free men and women and white Southerners who spoke against slavery did so at their own risk. In their own way, Sarah and Theodora were risk takers; Sarah for believing that slavery won't rule her life forever and Theodora for finding her voice amongst strong-willed men.

Despite her circumstances, Sarah was a very inquisitive child. She asked questions when others wouldn't. She wants to know why her mother, Emmeline, goes to Master Allen's room at night? Sarah wants to know why their family, including her sister Belle, can't be free? Why can't she learn to read like Clarissa? Why do the other slaves make fun of Sarah's fair skin? And why does Sarah look so much like Clarissa? Reading a book like this in 2013, it's hard to imagine that this was a way life. I can't imagine someone trying to limit not just my ability to learn but my freedom.

If not for the kindness of Theodora, Sarah would never have blossomed into an intelligent young woman. Theodora allowed Sarah to sit in during Clarissa's lessons. It was at great personal risk to herself, but Theodora could see it made Sarah and Clarissa happy. So what if Sarah became smarter? Theodora was just too kind-hearted to say no. The ability to read and write were very powerful weapons during slavery. It's a weapon that Sarah uses to her advantage. Even when Clarissa gets married and Sarah is forced to go with her to a new plantation, Sarah knows her intelligence will pay off. Clarissa's marriage was one of convenience and shame, not a marriage out of love or passion. Sarah doesn't pass judgment on Clarissa, instead she's methodically plotting her physical and mental escape from the Allen family.

By the time I reached the last chapter, I wasn't that enamored with this book. In some parts, I felt the pacing was slow. But when I got to the last two pages, I had to completely change my mind. There is a HUGE plot twist within the last two pages. I'm not going to give it away, but the last two pages totally changed my mind about the book. The writer asks readers not to judge the characters through the eyes of today, but through the past. If you were in the position of these characters, certainly you would have acted just like them. You would do anything to survive. You would do anything to make sure those who betrayed you paid for their actions. By the end, I saw Sarah's character in a different light. She's no longer this sweet and determined person. She morphed into a young woman with a severe mean streak. I didn't know if I should be sympathetic toward her character, or to hate her.

I definitely recommend reading it!! When you do, tell me what you think of the ending!!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book at BookExpo America

Monday, October 14, 2013

My take on: Extracted

I'm not even sure how to start this review. Some books are just so far out of my comfort zone, that I'm not sure what to say about them. Extracted by Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler H. Jolley is one of those books. It's not a bad book, it's just different from what I normally read.

Looking at the cover, I thought this was a science fiction or steampunk novel. There is definitely a story there, and an air of mystery.

The Tesla Institute trains a special group of young adults called Rifters. They're trained in the art of time travel. They protect the time stream. I seriously wanted to write that they're protecting "the space time continuum." While I was reading this, I couldn't help but think about the movie series Back to the Future. Where was Marty with the DeLorean? As you can see, I don't read too many books about time travel. In this book, traveling back and forth to different time periods is the norm. Some students have fantasies of altering some moments (ex: the sinking of the Titanic) in history, but they are warned against it. Changing history could put the entire universe in jeopardy. Plus, you don't want to run into a younger version of yourself in the time stream like Marty McFly. See why I kept thinking of Back to the Future!!! The Hollows, a rival faction of time travelers, are doing just that. Members of the Hollows don't care if they are messing with time. All they want is to find Tesla and take control of the time stream.

Lex, a member of the Hollows, and Ember, a Rifter, are tied together, but they don't know how. Ember is constantly haunted by nightmares. Could they be nightmares from her past? Are they a glimpse into her future? She's strong when she needs to be, but the nightmares can be crippling. Lex is forced into enemy territory when his girlfriend, Stein, dies during a mission. To get her back, Lex has to steal the Dox, which can allow time travelers to re-enter their own timeline.

I'll be honest, I had to re-read some parts. I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss something. I'm so used to contemporary stories; it just takes me some time to understand  more complex plots. What wasn't complex is the character interaction, which was great. Ember is surrounded by a great group of friends. Ethan is overly confident, but Ember isn't afraid to banter back and forth with him. Her friend Kara can be a little maddening, but she is a true friend to Ember. Lex has the same level of camaraderie with Stein and Nobel, so it makes sense he is willing to into enemy territory for his girlfriend. Overall, this is a fun and engaging read. It's also good that I stepped outside of my comfort zone, otherwise I would be cutting myself off from some very worthy books!!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book at BookExpo America as part of a blog tour with the publisher (Spencer Hill Press)

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Day in the Life of author Angela Correll

Please welcome Angela Correll author of Grounded. 

My favorite time to write is early in the morning when my mind is clear and fresh, like a white palette ready for color. With a steaming mug of coffee and a laptop, I settle into a big comfy chair and prop my feet on the ottoman.  I put words down with little worry about how it flows. That will come later during the revisions.
Most of the time, I know the general direction, but that could change as I let it take it’s own organic shape, depending on the characters and how they tell their stories.  I don’t always know what’s coming and sometimes it’s a surprise!
          Around two or three hours is about my limit unless I am pushing through to finish a section. Then I leave it until the next morning and allow it to
simmer, just like a pot of vegetable soup. The next morning I read over the previous work and see what needs to be added or taken away, like tasting the soup to see if it needs a pinch of something.
But the actual writing is only a part of the process. Just as important are chunks of time to think. Long walks, bathtub soaks, and driving trips give me time to percolate the story and let characters develop their own personalities. Sometimes this is where the plot takes an unexpected turn or some piece of the symbolism fits together.  For type A personalities, this part is hard to carve out because we want to produce something on the laptop screen, but the value is exponential.
Another part is observation. I write about a farming community in Kentucky, so I need to know when the Walnut trees bloom in the spring and when the leaves fall in the autumn. Weaving in the season with what is happening in the setting is important for giving a sense of place.  I pay close attention to my surroundings when I am writing about a particular season so I can bring the reader and all of his or her senses into this area at a certain time.
Observing people is also a key aspect.  I am in an area where dialect is rich and colorful and colloquialisms are as plentiful as the bluegrass. Listening to how people pronounce words, the cadence of their speech, facial expressions and body language is part of my job if I want to write something true to the place.
After all these things go in to make a manuscript, then the revisions begin. Sometimes characters get dropped or sidelined to tighten the story, or maybe a subplot is changed to fit the theme better. Being open to these changes is imperative to making the story better. Sometimes I can see this myself but many times it takes multiple outside readers to weigh in and when I see a consistent theme, I take the advice to heart.  The revisions take as long as it takes. And even then, your publisher will have more to make. The story is not done until it is finally in print and on the bookshelf.
A day in the life of a writer might be filled with any of the above parts, but I would be remiss if I missed one of the most important: Marketing.
For those of us who are introverts, we have a rich inner life but the thought of going out there and having to sell something is like being forced to go into the barnyard with a flogging rooster. Actually, that might be preferable. But it’s part of the whole package, and even more so these days as publishers are slimming down their publicity departments to the bare bones.
But even that part can be fun. Getting to meet readers who want to talk about the book and the characters, listening to folks who desire to write and don’t know how to get started, and being inspired for the next book by the urgings from readers.
           Every day can be different, but this is one writer who is happy to be on the journey.

My take on: Almost True Confessions

An amateur sleuth with a knack for spotting grammatical errors? It might sound strange, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about copy editor Miranda "Rannie" Bookman and her adventures in Almost True Confessions by Jane O'Connor.

This is the second in a series, but I don't think you need to read the first book to understand this one. Why did I enjoy the book? As a former newspaper copy editor and as someone trying to get into book publishing, I totally get her humor. If I see a mistake in a newspaper article or book, I just want to fix it. I'm sure I've made plenty of grammar mistakes on this blog, but I do my best to limit them. In the book, Rannie cringes at the sight or sound of improper grammar. All I could do was laugh. Like all copy editors, she has her quirks. She only works with a certain kind of pencil. She also has a deep addiction to peanut butter and jelly!!

Rannie is just a single mother trying to scrape by as a freelance copy editor. She used to rub elbows with all the top editors and authors at publishing house Simon & Schuster. A BIG-TIME error on the cover of an anniversary edition of the Nancy Drew classic The Secret of the Old Clock, led to Rannie's downfall. Just imagine the word "clock" without the "l." It's not the best word to have on a children's classic! But Ellen Donahoe, an editor at Simon & Schuster, is still on Rannie's side. They're good friends. Ellen also supplies Rannie with a steady diet of freelance work. Rannie's latest assignment is to edit the manuscript of the reclusive Ret Sullivan, an author known for her high-profile biographies. Ret was horribly disfigured after Mike Bellettra, an actor and the subject of one of her biographies, attacked her. One hundred-year-old, socialite, and philanthropist Charlotte Cummings is the latest target of Ret's prose.

Before Rannie can even get started, Ret is murdered. Is it just a coincidence? Is there something hidden in the manuscript? Another murder shortly after Ret's is just too much for Rannie. The second victim was very close to Rannie. She can't stay out of the investigation. Her boyfriend, Tim, also a former cop, warns Rannie at every turn to stay out of it. She's a copy editor, not a detective. I felt like the murders were secondary. The real action, charm, and intrigue is within Rannie's own life. Her daughter, Alice, is away at college and her son, Nate, is almost out of the house. Tim is the steady voice of reason. Her mother-in-law, Mary, provides plenty of comic relief with her gaggle of semi-intoxicated, rich friends. Rannie's mother, Harriet, is in town after a horrible but funny experience with online dating.

Can a copy editor truly double as an amateur sleuth? In real life, I don't think so. But I was engrossed in this fictional world. I don't think Rannie set out to uncover a murder plot. She keeps getting pulled back in. The clues present themselves at odd times and places. A suspect is offered up pretty quickly, but I had my doubts about that person. It seemed a little too easy and too convenient. I was disappointed in the ending. It felt a little abrupt. Everything gets wrapped up in just a few pages. I'm not always a fan of that. Overall, it's a light and easy read. I could see myself reading another book in the series.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Friday, October 4, 2013

My take on: January First

It's hard to put into words my thoughts on January First by Michael Schofield. I can't help but feel sorry for January "Jani" Schofield, her brother, Bodhi, and her parents Michael and Susan. At just age six, Jani was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took months and months of violent outbursts, hallucinations, and suicide attempts before Jani was given a definitive diagnosis. The path to get there was long and fraught with hopelessness.

I've seen a lot about this family on various television shows, but I think those programs only scratched the surface. I think the book goes much deeper than a television show can. The book is solely from Michael Schofield's perspective. I definitely felt like I was in his head. I could totally understand why he and his wife felt like giving up. Jani's violence was just so unpredictable. A cry or a whimper from her little brother was enough to set her off. If she didn't get to hit or throw something at Bodhi, Jani just couldn't rest. She has to hit him or her mind can't rest. When her parents tried to protect their infant son, Jani is quick to hit them -- violently.

Jani lives in her own world -- Calalini. She has a lot of friends in that world, something she lacked in the real world. Rats, cats, dogs, and whatever else Jani's mind could conjure live in this world. It's very real to Jani, but getting her to live in the real world was an enormous challenge for her parents. Their efforts to get help seem like an indictment on the mental health profession in this country. Her parents got a first-hand look at the lack of treatment for children as young as Jani. Diagnosing her with such a severe mental illness seemed to be the last thing doctors wanted to do. It had to be autism. Maybe it was ADHD. Maybe it was anxiety. It just can't be schizophrenia, despite a history of it on both sides of the family.

I could tell how much Michael and Susan loved their daughter. It seemed like Jani was a little closer to Michael than Susan. I don't think it's unusual for a child to cling more to one parent over the other. In this case, I think Michael's deep attachment left him with the inability to be objective. Michael got to go work, while Susan was left at home with two young children. Sometimes I felt like he was blaming his wife for things and that he was playing the role of martyr. She has two parents who worry about her, but in reading this book sometimes it felt like one. With this book, there is only one perspective to follow. I really wish they had written the book together. I'm sure there is a reason why they didn't. How men and women see things can often be totally different. Based on this book, Susan was definitely at her breaking point but she also seemed more rational. I hate to play a certain card, but I have to. Michael Schofield suffers from depression and at the time of Jani's diagnosis was on medication. Could his own mental health issues cloud his judgment? He had his own history with hospitalization and did not want his daughter to fall down the same path. If Michael and Susan could keep her behavior under control, perhaps Jani's will get better. I don't know, but it would have been nice to have Susan's opinion contrasted with Michael's.

We often see people on the street who are clearly suffering from some type of mental illness. At some point in their lives, they were just like Jani. Their parents were just like Jani's parents. Assuming there were signs in their childhood, imagine how different their lives could have been with proper medical care early on? This was definitely a brave book to write. Michael opened himself and his family up to criticism. Throughout the book the family often seemed alone and desperate for help. But in writing this book, he could also be saving other children like Jani. The book isn't perfect, but it is worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Random House) in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My take on: The Husband's Secret

It's very easy to guess the secret in The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, but it was very hard to tell if I was going to like the book. I went back and forth. There are three main plotlines, and early on I wasn't sure how they related. Now that I have finished the book, the best words to describe it are "emotional roller coaster!!"

I was hoping for more mystery surrounding the secret, but there wasn't any. The book is really about the impact of that secret. What if people know about the secret? Are you the same person? Was everything you knew about that person a lie? What about the people who don't know about the secret? Do they deserve to know? Will their lives be better or worse with that knowledge. The book is essentially asking, "What if....?"

Cecilia Fitzpatrick is constantly asking herself, "what if?" Her husband John-Paul is the one with the secret. Her husband left her a letter to be opened only upon his death. John-Paul isn't dead, but Cecilia finds the letter by accident. Initially, Cecilia isn't sure whether or not she should read the letter. John-Paul doesn't want her to. Cecilia doesn't want to, but the letter was just too peculiar to ignore. John-Paul's anxiety about the letter was just too hard to ignore. Once she reads the letter, her life goes into a tailspin. Cecilia is the "perfect" wife and mother to their three daughters Polly, Esther, and Isabel. Their lives are perfect. Cecilia makes sure her family has everything they need. Everything in their house has a place. She has the perfect job as a Tupperware saleswoman. Everything was just right until that letter and its secrets surfaced.

Another woman, Tess O'Leary knows her husband, Will's, secret. He's in love or at least think he's in love with her cousin Felicity. Nice cousin isn't she? Don't worry this little love triangle isn't a spoiler because it's revealed in the second chapter. By the end of the book this little tidbit of information does play a huge role in Tess and Will's future. If Will and Felicity hadn't confessed their feelings, would they have let Tess continue on in ignorance? What does Tess do with this knowledge? She runs away with their son, Liam. She runs away from their problems. She runs to her mother, Lucy. She runs away and very quickly embarks on a rather impulsive path.

Rachel Crowley doesn't have a secret, but one is being kept from her. Rachel's teenage daughter, Janie, was murdered in 1984 and her killer is out there somewhere. The killer is free. Will she ever know why Janie died? Will she ever have closure? Rachel's husband, Ed, died years ago. Her son, Rob, her daughter-in-law, Lauren, and her grandson, Jacob, are preparing to move away. Soon Rachel will be left alone with her thoughts. The thoughts of Janie and her murder have never gone away. She always wonders what kind of woman Janie could have become?

The book starts off a little slow, but I quickly found myself engrossed in the story. Initially, it might not seem like all of these stories relate to each other but they do. Everyone is at a stage in their lives when they are pondering, "what if?" Should you open Pandora's Box? Revealing the truth or learning of the truth doesn't always make your life better. Liane Moriarty certainly knows how to immerse her readers in an engaging and emotional story. I would definitely pick up a book by her again!!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin) as part of the monthly book club selection with She Reads