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Posts Tagged ‘psychological’

Book Review: Safe In My Arms by Sara Shepard

Image of a digital book cover. A fence with a yellow backpack hanging on it. the title of the book is superimposed over it in a different shade of yellow.

Summary:
Three women whose children attend an elite preschool in coastal California find their lives intertwined when they all receive threatening notes in their children’s backpacks.

Review:
Sara Shepard is most famous for writing Pretty Little Liars, the series the hit tv show is based upon. In Pretty Little Liars the threat is text messages. Here it’s old school notes. Only this time, it’s the moms twisted into secrets and lies.

The three moms are at the center of the book, and I only actually liked one. Andrea is a trans woman who moved to California to be able to transition and live openly, away from her elite and judgmental family. Now, I will note I am a cis woman, and I would like to hear what a trans woman thinks of the representation, but I thought Andrea was written very well. I appreciated the realism of having to deal with some transphobia in her family but also being warmly welcomed by the other two women – both as a friend and as a woman. The author’s note at the end makes it clear she sought out a sensitivity reader for Andrea, and I could tell. If only the same efforts had been made for the other two women….

Lauren is struggling with postpartum rage (a symptom tied to postpartum depression). I just felt she was quite two-dimensional, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her.

Ronnie is a topless maid, formerly a stripper, who moved here from Pennsylvania with her daughter. It at first appears she did so to get away from an abusive man. I can’t talk about Ronnie without revealing a slight spoiler (it’s revealed about 1/3 of the way into the book), so be warned.

Ronnie’s “daughter” is actually her niece. Her sister was in a relationship with an abusive man and was addicted to something. It’s vaguely explained as drugs. Ronnie, after a violent fight with her sister’s significant other that ends with her discovering her sister wounded on the floor, takes the baby and runs with her. She never follows up to see if her sister is ok. No, no, she just steals her daughter, changes her daughter’s name, and decides her daughter is better off with her anyway. I just simply could not empathize with the child abductor here. Ronnie had other options to help her niece. She had never even tried anything else (beyond living with her sister to “protect” her). I’m ok with a book featuring a less than ideal character. I’m not ok with the whole tone of the book being that I should empathize with her or that what she did was a mistake.

Because that’s the thing. The book kind of wraps up with the message that all moms make mistakes and it’s ok to not be perfect. I mean, sure, within reason. But there’s it’s ok to not be perfect and then there’s you’re only in the mom club because you stole someone else’s child.

Also as someone who cares about addiction and recovery, I found the depiction of Ronnie’s sister Vanessa to be heartless. She isn’t given the same chance and possibility to recover and change and learn from her mistakes as the other mom’s. In fact, the whole “moms don’t have to be perfect” scene features the moms describing all the reasons their children make them drink alcohol. The hypocrisy of this scene sickened me.

Contemporary books are approaching the pandemic in a variety of ways. This one chose to set the story “post-pandemic.” I’m fine with that optimistic choice, and I understand why it was made. But the strange thing is it mostly seems to acknowledge the impacts of the pandemic as purely economic – there’s a lot of talk about economic challenges from when we all stayed home but almost zero mention of anything else. I think there was one mention of face masks? This is set in California. There was way more impact than just economic. It rubbed me the wrong way how it made it out to be all about economic issues, and also how things just immediately snapped back to normal. If one wants a normal contemporary book, fine, just don’t acknowledge the pandemic at all then. Include an author’s note that this is for escapism and move on. Don’t acknowledge it as an economic downturn like 2008 and nothing much else…..

Beyond this, the actual main issue going on at the school was interesting and twisty. I had my suspicions early on, but I still enjoyed the twists. What really saved the book for me, though, was Andrea. We need more positive trans rep in psychological thrillers, and Andrea was very well-done.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Cover of the book "The Good Sister."

Summary:
Fern and Rose are fraternal twins. Rose is smart, driven, and Fern’s protector. Fern doesn’t understand the world and so Rose has protected her, ever since they were small. For example, Fern didn’t understand that they spent every day in the library one year when they were little because they were homeless. Just one example of the many ways their mother failed them. In fact, Fern even became a librarian, she remembered that year so fondly. It’s a good thing she has Rose. When Rose struggles with infertility with her husband, Fern hatches a plan to repay Rose for being such a good sister. She’ll get pregnant and give the baby to her. But of course, not everything goes according to plan.

Review:
Sally Hepworth writes psychological thrillers starring casts of women in Australia. Sometimes they feature larger casts of women and other times it’s a couple of women pitted against each other. This is mostly the latter category.

I had my suspicions about the mystery early but thought that must not be it because it was so simplistic. I am sorry to report – it was indeed it. Some psychological thrillers lean a bit too heavily on the trope of – one person in this world is “crazy!” and did unpredictable “crazy!” things and there is no helping them because they are just so “crazy!” so let’s lock them up. I’m not a big fan of this trope for two reasons: 1) people are more complex than that 2) it’s a bit of a cheat to the reader because then things can happen that are unpredictable and make no sense. However, I get it that it’s a trope in psychological thrillers and am usually willing to give it a bit of a pass. In this case, however, the reader is told this character probably has Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. There’s a character who has told their therapist all about them, and that therapist hypothesizes that this character might have one of these two illnesses. Everyone else in the book just accepts this and moves on. I am not saying people with these personality disorders never do bad things or hurt others, but the same can be said of all types of people. Plus, the character’s actions aren’t made out to be about them as a person but rather a symptom of their illness. It reminds me of how Schizophrenia used to be treated in literature. This character doesn’t even get the decency of having the state investigate their mental health or a clear diagnosis. It both unnecessarily maligns two of the most maligned types of mental illnesses and creates an entirely two-dimensional character.

Then there’s the representation of Autism. From the beginning, it’s clear that Fern is Autistic (I am not using person-first language as many in the Autistic community prefer claiming the word as a part of who they are, rather than as an illness), but she is depicted in such a stereotypical way that it hurt to read. For example, constantly bringing up how she doesn’t like to look people in the eyes and belaboring the point at random times when she might make eye contact. Her sensory episodes felt as if they were written by someone outside of her body rather than by her – problematic since it was written in the first person. The whole first half of the book has a lot of anti-Autistic sentiment, including wondering whether or not Fern could actually be capable of raising a baby. Are these reversed at the end of the book? Somewhat. But to me the damage is done by wondering about it in the first half.

So why am I still giving this book three stars? I have to admit that it was a page turner – I had to know what happened to Fern and the baby growing inside her. I couldn’t stop reading until I knew. The energy of must-find-out that is needed in a thriller was there, even if I was disappointed by the characterization, representation, and ultimately found the solution to be a bit flat.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

August 24, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann MorganSummary:
When Helen agrees to swap places with her identical twin sister Ellie at the age of six, she thinks it’ll be a short fun game. But then Ellie refuses to swap back.  Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioral problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered?

Review:
This book is an amazing depiction of gaslighting. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse where the abuser insists to the abused that reality is not in fact reality, and the abused is crazy. (For more about gaslighting, see this great information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline). This book makes gaslighting completely real and understandable for anyone, whether they’ve gone through it themselves or not. It’s easy to see immediately how poor Helen gets slowly tortured and driven mad by everyone denying to her that she is who she says she is. The author takes care not to demonize Ellie though, since it’s abundantly clear part of why Ellie doesn’t want to switch back is because their mother has pre-decided which twin will be the good twin and which the bad, and she consequently treats Helen far better than she treats Ellie. Why wouldn’t she not want to switch back?

How this childhood trauma has wounded Helen becomes more clear over the course of the book. But it’s not just a plain recounting of they switched places then Helen went crazy. The book opens with Helen trying to rebuild her life from addiction and Ellie being in a coma from a car accident. Ellie’s husband reaches out to Helen in the hopes that hearing from her twin will bring her out of it, and slowly long-held secrets reveal themselves.

I thought the whole way through the book that it was slowly building to a certain ending. Then something else came at me out of left field and I was left breathless and aching for Helen. That’s not to say it’s a tragic ending, but it is a shocking one. One that left me with a very different “bad guy” than I thought I had the whole book.

It’s a stellar read, and one of those books that I wish I was able to read for the first time again. It’s that good. Recommended to lovers of psychological thrillers and/or twin swap afficionados.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Announcement: Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

Hello my lovely readers!

I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that I’ve signed both my novella and my novel up for Smashwords’s annual summer/winter sale (so entitled to cover both hemispheres).

BOTH of my books are 100% off aka FREE through the end of July!! Just use the coupon code SW100 when checking out to get my books for free!! Smashwords books are compatible with all ereaders, computers, and tablets, and you can also give Smashwords books as gifts. Click through to Smashwords by clicking on the titles.

cover_ecstaticevilEcstatic Evil
paranormal romance

Tova Gallagher isn’t just your average Bostonian. She also just so happens to be half-demon, and the demons and fairies have just issued a deadline for her to choose sides. But it’s hard to worry about the battle of good versus rebel when she’s just met a sexy stranger on the edge of the Charles River

Silhouette of woman and cat.Waiting For Daybreak
post-apocalyptic psychological science fiction

What is normal?
Frieda has never felt normal. She feels every emotion too strongly and lashes out at herself in punishment. But one day when she stays home from work too depressed to get out of bed, a virus breaks out turning her neighbors into flesh-eating, brain-hungry zombies. As her survival instinct kicks in keeping her safe from the zombies, Frieda can’t help but wonder if she now counts as healthy and normal, or is she still abnormal compared to every other human being who is craving brains?

Happy reading!

Celebrate Pride! 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual Characters

June 12, 2015 3 comments

The month of June in the United States is Pride Month, celebrating LGBTQ people, culture, and history.  In Boston, the culmination of Pride is this weekend, with the Pride Parade and block parties.  I wanted to contribute to my local celebration with a little something on my own blog–obviously a reading list! There are a lot of good reading lists out there for LGBTQ reads, so I wanted to do something a little different.  First, I wanted to feature one of the letters not featured very much — the B for bisexual.  Second, I wanted to to highlight both that bisexual people are everywhere and the issue of bi invisibility (more info on that term and issue here) by featuring books that have bisexual characters but that don’t mention that in their blurbs.  You’d be amazed how hard it can be to just find books with bisexual characters.  It’s usually downplayed or not named.  So, here is my list, in alphabetical order, with a mention as to which character is bi and whether the book ever actually uses the term “bisexual.”

  1. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersBad Glass
    by Richard E. Gropp
    Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Lovecraftian
    Brief Blurb:
    Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press.  Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job.  So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
    Who’s bi? Dean, the main character, is bi.  He at first appears to be straight but later it is revealed he also sometimes is interested in men.
    My Full Review
  2. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersThe Drowning Girl
    by Caitlin R. Kiernan
    Genre: Fantasy, Psychological
    Brief Blurb:
    India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Canning who came into her life and changed her world.  And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf.  But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf.  Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.
    Who’s bi? Eva Canning (both iterations of her).  Also, Abalyn, a transwoman who is also Imp’s girlfriend at one point. She states that she likes both men and women but currently prefers women because men in her experience tend to negatively react to her now that she has had bottom surgery.
    My Full Review
  3. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersDoctor Sleep
    by Stephen King
    Genre: Fantasy, Thriller
    Brief Blurb:
    Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.
    Who’s bi? Rose, the main antagonist.  What makes her the antagonist or the “big bad” has absolutely nothing to do with her sexuality. She’s just an antagonist who happens to be bi.
    My Full Review
  4. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersLove in the Time of Global Warming
    by Francesca Lia Block
    Genre: Fantasy, YA
    Brief Blurb:
    Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait.
    Who’s bi? Pen, the main character.  She has a crush on one of her best female friends in the time before the disaster, and then later falls for a transman.  There is one particularly beautiful scene where she talks about being afraid of telling her friends that she likes girls the way she likes boys.
    My Full Review not yet posted
  5. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersThe Miriam Black Series
    by Chuck Wendig
    Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
    Brief Blurb:
    Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though.  And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter.  You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone.  But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
    Who’s bi? Miriam, the kick-ass main character.  Miriam uses no labels for herself whatsoever (she would probably hate even being called a brunette, to a certain extent), so she also refuses to label her sexuality.  However, she also states she enjoys being with all genders.  It’s interesting to note that the first time Miriam’s sexuality comes up is not until the third book in the series, and only because she (minor spoiler warning) breaks up with her boyfriend.  A great example of how bisexual people’s sexuality can be erased when they’re in a monogamous relationship.
    My Full Review of the first book in the series

Waiting For Daybreak Blog Tour: Author’s Wrap-up!

September 1, 2012 3 comments

Wow. It’s hard to believe my first book release blog tour is over.  Overall, this was a very wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about running a tour, which I will share with other indie authors in future posts.  This post though is about Waiting For Daybreak, my future writing, and the wonderful participating bloggers.

I of course was pleased (and relieved) to see that bloggers mostly enjoyed my first novel.  Getting so much feedback and opinions let me see what quips and qualms were personal and what were things to bare in mind for my future books.

So what things did people disagree on?  The ending was mostly loved, although a few people thought it was a bit abrupt.  The length was deemed just right by some and too short by others.  Some people found the level of information about the zombies and amount of horror content just right. Others wanted more.  These are all choices that are ultimately up to the author, and I’m still pleased with the choices I made (or rather with the direction Frieda dictated the story to go).

The one universal quip, and which I admit I have always known is a fault of mine, was a desire for stronger setting/world building.  Although the world is always 100% clear in my mind, I can sometimes struggle to be sure that it is coming through on the page.  I have come up with a few strategies to improve this in future books and appreciate the honest feedback from all the bloggers.

The fact that everyone was so honest means I can trust that the one thing that everyone loved is truly good.  That is character building.  People loved Frieda, and they loved Snuggles.  They found her three-dimensional and well-rounded.  Flawed, aggravating sometimes even, but ultimately understandable.  A few people even mentioned that they came away with more empathy for people with a mental illness.  You guys, this feedback blew me away.  My whole concept and point was to create a main character in a genre book with a mental illness as a way to fight stigma and ableism.  The fact that this worked on any level at all…. Well. It rocked my world.  I hope seeing people talk about relating to Frieda and feeling for her will be an encouragement to people dealing with mental illnesses.  Plus, on a writer’s level, it’s just good to know that I can create deeply flawed characters who are still someone readers can root for.

I couldn’t’ve asked for much more from a blog tour for a debut book.  It’s strong, solid feedback for a first novel.  I know more clearly what I do well and what to keep a closer eye on in my editing process.

In addition to the feedback, I got to get to know a bunch of book bloggers.  I’ve never interviewed an author on my own blog before, and participating in interviews made me see how much fun they can be!  They gave me the chance to explain where my idea came from, clarify some aspects of who I am and how I write, and just connect on a more personal level with my readers.  It was so much fun!  Also having the blogs host giveaways of my book brought it to a broader audience.  It was so nice for me to see who chose to enter the giveaways and why.  I also greatly appreciated the space for guest posts to talk more about my own perspective of my book.  It was all-in-all a very positive experience for me.

One thing that came up repeatedly during the tour was people wondering precisely what mental illness Frieda has.  I honestly didn’t realize people would be so curious about this!  I’ve added an author’s note explaining her mental illness to the ebook versions (although I couldn’t add a note on to the print version).  I will reproduce it here now so those with review copies, giveaway copies, or the print book can satisfy their curiosity. 🙂

Frieda has Borderline Personality Disorder, commonly known as BPD.  The Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV-TR, which psychiatrists use in diagnosing mental illnesses, requires that a person exhibit at least five of the nine symptoms associated with BPD.  Frieda has all except for number one.

The diagnostic criteria are:

“(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation

(3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.

(5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

(6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms”

MICHAEL B. FIRST, M.D., ed. 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th Ed. (DSM-IV-TR™, 2000). Washington, DC. American Psychiatric Association. ISBN 0-89042-024-6, ISBN 0-89042-025-4. STAT!Ref Online Electronic Medical Library. http://online.statref.com/document.aspx?fxid=37&docid=314. 8/30/2012 12:18:14 PM CDT (UTC -05:00).

For more information on BPD, please see the DSM-IV-TR cited above.

There were two other things everyone wanted to know.  1) will there be a sequel? and 2) what am I currently working on?

I didn’t write Waiting For Daybreak with the intention of it being the start of a series.  But. A few weeks after finishing it, the germ of an idea jumped into my head.  I believe that Frieda’s story is not complete.  There are still many questions, primarily about her family, but also about what she will do with winter coming on.  I do intend to write a sequel addressing these questions.  However, it will require a bit of a road trip or two for research, so it won’t be coming out for at least two years.  It also has to wait for me to finish my current work in progress.

My current work in progress is a dark fantasy.  It is set in the Lovecraft universe and follows four siblings fifteen years after the Dark Ones have taken over Boston.  It will examine many themes, but the primary ones will be sibling relationships and what makes family family.  Each of the siblings will take turns expressing themselves, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to get into four very different minds.  I’ve had a love for Cthulhu for a long time, so I am truly enjoying getting to bury myself in this world.

I think that’s about it for my wrap-up, except for the all-important huge THANK YOU to every single participating blogger!!! Thank you for being willing to accept indie books in general and mine in particular.  Thank you for your honesty in reviewing and positivity in hosting guest posts, interviews, and giveaways.  Thank you for helping my writing to reach a broader audience.  Thank you for everything you did to help make my first blog tour and novel release a success!  There wouldn’t even have been a blog tour without you all, and I look forward to hopefully working with you all again in the future.

Note: If you would like to see the reviews, interviews, and guest posts, please check out the blog tour and reviews page.  It will remain up and be updated with new reviews as they show up, even though the tour is now over.  If you are interested in more of my writing, please check out my publications page.  Thanks!