This book may be "chilling" and "informative" to the mainstream reader, but it is neither scientific, nor objective, and should be read for its entertainment value, and not as a course study on the broad field of psychopathy/sociopathy (for which there is no consensus regarding the symptom criteria, no sanctioned diagnosis, no official diagnostic term). While entertaining in a pedestrian way, every time a book like this is published, it produces another crop of arm-chair psychologists--that may be more dangerous than the sociopath, as defined by Stout. Bottomline: It is a chilling subject; the book is informative and entertaining on a very basic level; and clinicians will most likely be unimpressed. Definitely don't bother if you are looking for a constructive way to cope with a loved one with an antisocial personality disorder (sociopath-psychopath).
Shotgun Lovesongs takes a real human look not only at four guy-friends that grow up together in a small mid-western town, but what *home* means. That pull and push away, safe but suffocating, "place where everybody knows your name," and how it fits inside of us. The friends each strike out on a different path: leaving to find their voice, build a career better than they could have had if they'd stayed, drawn to a bigger life, staying and carrying on a legacy. Throughout their journeys, the four friends, and Beth, the girl that had a connection to them all, nurture each other and repel each other, and draw each other back together...home again.
The friends gather to attend a wedding in their home town. Each looks back nostalgically, narrating sections of the book from their point of view up to the wedding, when the events become current tense. Butler works the town into the traits of each of his characters, like an entity that molds and shapes who they become, then brings the story full circle proving that home is a place in the heart.
Butler's writing is at times poetic. There is an almost peaceful beauty to the writing, an honest and respectful voice redolent of hard-worked land and salt of the earth people. Though there is also a Big Chill / high school yearbook feel to the book, with plenty of capers, laughs, and tragedies that accompany life, the story doesn't rely on a catastrophic event to re-unite the characters. It is a slow and steady gurgling stream that gently flows by and through the seasons. [The buzz associated with the release of this book is the connection between author Butler and the Indie-folk band founded by Justin Vernon, Bon Iver; Butler went to high school with Justin Vernon. A fact I saw in every press release.]
The inherent problem with creating several voices from one head is -- that they all come from one head. The characters take on similarities, whether that is because they are all creations of Butler -- or all creations from Little Wing, Wisconsin -- is debatable. Either way, the audio narration could have benefitted from differentiating the voices. With similar thoughts and characteristics, even with a full cast, it was sometimes difficult to tell one character from the other, thus the 3 *'s.
I enjoyed this listen. It wasn't a grab-you-by-the-throat listen, I wasn't hanging on to hear what happened next, and I won't take away new wisdom, but I didn't want to put it down . It was a warm cozy blanket, curling up with your back against a tree on a blue-skied day and watching a peaceful stream -- recalling your own safe places, fond memories, and good friends. A poetic, peaceful stroll.
"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home..." John H. Payne
In sixth grade, my son had a motion-sensor big black raven, dubbed Edgar of course, that would screech, "The end is near! The end is near! Beware. Beware." It was supposed to be a Halloween decoration, but being too large for any container, the feathery fiend perched in his closet making regular appearances for general antagonizing, and every time there was coverage of another *rapture fail* (common occurrence in the 90's, Heaven's Gate, etc.). The harbinger of doom had its heyday on the eve of Y2K, then *mysteriously* disappeared January 1st. We thought about Edgar in 2011, when evangelist Harold Camping took to the Christian Radio airways and announced, "The end is near! The end is near! Prepare. Prepare." proclaiming May 21 the End of Times. As the days ticked by to the rapture, millions of donated dollars flowed into Camping. It goes without saying, Camping corrected the date on May 22, forecasting Oct. 21, 2011 as the correct End of Times, and so on.
The Last Days of California is a quirky and bittersweet story about a God-fearing family that packs their van and heads from Alabama to California to witness the rapture. I'm guessing it is during the time of Edgar and Camping's reign, before the turn to the new century (there are references where the 80's are fondly looked back upon). The story is told from the perspective of 15 yr. old Jess who gives a meaningful and authentic voice to the coming of age journey. The true meat of the story needs to be deciphered by the wisdom of those who have lived the different periods of life; it is an adult story (very adult) told in the language of youth and naiveté, at times both troubling and sweet.
The story didn't immediately appeal to me and I set it aside, thinking I had mistakenly downloaded a YA novel. Looking through some reviews for encouragement to continue, I saw a comparison to Flannery O'Connor [Boston Globe, E. Williamson]. I started again and was surprised by the depth of the story and the humanity of these people. It's no O'Connor, but it is a fantastic debut novel that works its way into your heart. *Not for everyone, it is a little blunt and not exactly cheery. As another reviewer pointed out, it might be difficult if you have young girls.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller was a fascinating character that captivated the country's attention in 2008, even earning a place on Top Ten Imposters of All Time lists, and an FBI *Most Wanted* poster. The wanna-be Mr. Ripley had assumed the roles of art collector, ship's captain, talk show host, even a Pentagon Advisor before being captured and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. All the juicy ingredients for a possibly fascinating book, especially when the author is a journalist and a personal friend of the chameleon -- but author Kirn's disappointing shot misses the target. Was Kirn hoping for a comparison to one of the great crime non-fiction novels? BLOOD Will Out...In Cold BLOOD?...that's where the similarities end. But, Capote's In Cold Blood, consider to be one of the best true-crime novels ever written, is a tough act to follow.
Blood Will Out, unfortunately, is not even on the same path. Not a chapter sheds new light, or insight, on the case against Rockefeller, or the man of many aliases. What Kirn delivers instead of smart revealing look at a psycho jackpot turns out to be nothing more than a lazy compilation of what we already know about Rockefeller, with some unspectacular personal interactions that come across as uninteresting petty incidents, even jealousies. The book lacks the research and professional polish to be an intriguing true story of a murder, or a mystery, and ends up masquerading as a limp re-hashed story. Wish it wasn't so. I followed the case and was hoping for a riveting new book and didn't even get a riveting chapter. [*Not a total wash. If this case is new to you, you might find this interesting.]
My first glance at the galley covers for this novel, I thought Rorschach ink blots -- then I saw the significant golden horses galloping from the darkness. A fairy tale of an enchanted place with golden horses? Only if seen through the eyes of a mute psychopath who spins gold out of cobwebs in the bowels of a dilapidated stone prison. He imagines his death-row cell an enchanted world where he can magically float up through the walls in the steam of his breath, or step into a book and escape into the sunlight. He is surrounded by monsters, convicted of unspeakable violent crimes, but these inmates fear the mute; he is the most fearful monster in this prison, and the narrator of Denfeld's novel.
Rene Denfeld "is a licensed investigator who specializes in death penalty work. She is known for her diligent, informed and in-depth investigations. Rene has extensive training and experience in subjects including FASD, drug effects and cognitive impairments." [Rene Denfeld web page] This is her first novel and she sticks to the advice, write what you know. In an interview with Harper Books, Denfeld characterized her novel thus: "What does it mean to be human?" Whether or not you find the answer to that most fundamental inquiry of existence, your reaction to this ink blot novel may reveal a lot about your character. The book by design, is intrusive, and uncomfortable, challenging our fundamental beliefs. *There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us*...Denfeld gives the monsters the same weight as the angels in her tale. Does this equal weight unbalance our own comfortable notions of good and evil? Do we believe in redemption? Is the death penalty the answer?
Neither the nature of the narrator's crime, nor his name, are revealed until the end of the novel. Again Denfeld's challenge, how much can we trust this all-seeing narrator? Between brutal depictions of the daily life in this prison, and the vulturous staff, we get the inmate's take on a fellow death-row prisoner about to be executed, York; the angel come to save him, The Lady (a mitigation specialist, mandatory for death penalty cases); and glimpses of a fallen priest, and a struggling warden. As The Lady researches York's case she uncovers his wretched childhood -- the worst kinds of abuse against the little boy and his mentally ill mother, sanctioned by a town that turned their heads. York was "an abortion that went undone." What she finds will justify a change of York's sentence; but York wants to carry on with the death penalty. She must also fight her own battles with the intruding memories of a childhood similar to York's. More challenges: Does York have the right to choose death? How does The Lady see both sides of a monstrous killer and an innocent child and find a cause to fight for?
This was the most genre challenging books I have read, and one of the most unsettling. You will see reviews that praise this books as an almost spiritual experience. And no doubt it will reside on the favorite shelf of many readers. You will also read that it was too dark, depressing, filled with despair, for readers. And I believe you will hear the confusion from readers; I felt 5 *'s, 1*, and settled for 3 *'s because of the theme of equal weight. The one unifying detail is Denfeld's writing -- it is outrageously beautiful and breathtaking, and goes against all the usual tenets of writing...like seeing the opalescent sheen of a horrific soul-eating beast's scales reflected in it's fiery breath and saying, "Oh, so beautiful." That contradiction brings me to my trouble with seeing just the redemptive beauty of this book. I felt manipulated. I could not completely reckon myself with equating good and evil, the wounded child and the vile murderer. I didn't see the beauty, until it was suggested. I could not play with balancing weights and judgments. I do not have the wisdom of Solomon, nor the compassion of saints, though I do have a similar background as Denfeld and admire her ability to stay unhardened and charitable.
What will you see? Will you believe in redemption? Will you see golden horses and angels, or monsters with black souls? I will keep coming back to see. This was a brave, beautifully written book regardless of any ratings, and I hope to read more from this magnificent writer in the future.
Weir hasn't invented anything new with his trip into the final frontier: after a series of catastrophic events, astronaut becomes stranded in space, must strategize how to survive, and ultimately return to Earth. It's a dependable existing premise, set in a macrocosm we know very little about, that allows us to nourish and engage our imaginations -- feed our inner space geek. The premise has been around even before Sputnik and Apollo battled it out in the race to space. Some will read this and draw old parallels to Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and that resourceful banana-paste-sucking monkey that found the sausage-like water plants that sustained Commander Kit; some will remember castaway Tom Hanks and his ball-Friday, Wilson; and some will make a more current comparison, a breathy Sandra Bullock dodging space debris, bouncing off stranded space vehicles like a ball in a pinball machine. The book as an experience is large and entertaining because of the subject. The premise works again, here, without leaving you feeling like you've been on this mission before, in large part because of the sense of wide-eyed wonder and heart Weir imparts to the subject.
Andy Weir, a self confessed "life-long big-time space nerd," as well as software engineer with an impressive working knowledge of botany, chemistry, and mechanics, self-published The Martian in 2012. There is a kind of personal passion evident by that accomplishment and you can 't help but sense the connection, especially as you get to know the every-man kind of astronaut Mark Watney.
Watney is a wise-cracking astronaut/botanist/ engineer with an asset no other astronaut exhibited during training ... when the space sh__ hit the fan, he kept cool, calm, and had the best one-liners. He's the guy you most want to have a beer with, then be stranded in space with. Weir has given him the smarts and swagger you'll recognize in author Jonathon Mayberry's Joe Ledger character. That rakish, self-deprecating attitude, and the fact that he "is the best botanist in the world...definitely on Mars," fills Watney's log entries (used as the narrative) as he fights to survive alone on Mars. The information is impressive, and convincing, with a balance of facts that makes this seem plausible (and that shows you how much I know about the sciences).
The elements that make this an entertaining and fun read also have a polar impact; Watney's quips, in the face of Murphy's Law is space, can trivialize the situation. I'd have liked to see the switch to ground control's actions expand on the gravity of the situation, but Weir took what is probably the more accurate approach...he took the earth-bound coverage away from NASA and turned it over to the reality TV obsessed media, where the world checks in daily to Keep Up With Watney.
[Being just minutes before the Academy Awards, I couldn't help but think how the hit-movie Gravity would read on the page compared to The Martian, and this might give a perspective to the visual among us. The Martian might be the better story, with a broader plot that successfully creates the desolation of being stranded in space and keeps it tethered to two additional minute by minute plots. In book form, Gravity would be more Sputnik than Apollo.] Four stars is enthusiastic in my view; the banter gets a little locker room and trite, the technology wearing, but it's the kind of good fun entertainment you don't get often in books. And how often do we come away thinking "Science is cool?" A good listen for March -- the month of Mars, or any time.
"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Stephen Hawking, giving us some food for thought.
Cheers for the new sub-genre of Weird Fiction: Fungal Fiction (although John Wyndham may have planted the seeds in 1951 with The Day of the Triffids). Lost, down the rabbit hole, through the mountains of madness, into the Garden of Earthly Delights where you might find H.P. Lovecraft tending the plants with a potion mixed by the likes of Ambrose Bierce and the Strugatsky brothers. You've only to go to the novel cover artist's site (Eric Nayquist) and see the animated cover to get your first chilling warning that the primordial lush beauty of the environment belies what lurks beneath the expanding Area X -- the mysterious target area of the *Southern Reach* program, controlled by a cloaked branch of the government. This is the 12th expedition sent into the *contaminated* area, a team comprised of 4 unnamed female scientists, with a vague protocol: a surveyor, a psychologist, an anthropologist, and our narrator, the biologist.
"Our mission was simple: to continue the government's investigation into the mysteries of Area X, slowly working our way out from base camp."
The story unfolds in a series of objective journal entries by the biologist beginning at the point of entry into Area X. The rusted remains of equipment and the husks of tents left by the previous 11 expeditions appear deceivingly untroubled. Listening is experiential, a bit like trekking by way of helmet cam... your field of vision limited to each step of your boots as you proceed into the terrain, all senses dependent on the observations of the biologist. Personal observations begin to seep into the narrative: her husband was a member of the ill-fated 11th expedition; there was a fifth member, a linguist that pulled out of the mission for reasons known only to the psychologist; there is a prominent tunnel/tower that is not on their map. The narrative seems to slant and erode the listener's confidence in the biologist. Even in the carefully chosen words to be recorded, you can hear the unraveling.
VanderMeer excels in rationing out this story with tortuous control, intensifying the doubt, dread, and sense of impending doom by degrees, as much as he does in spinning a fantastical tale with some real merit. The sense of an unearthly foreboding reminded me of Algernon Blackwood's The Willows (Lovecraft's favorite). So often the story span of a trilogy is dependent on its parts, but this may be the exception, as well as exceptional. Annihilation is a strong independent read, definitely one of those exciting and rare species that you race through and want more. With the release of the second installment expected in June, the third in September, this coming summer already has a bright spot. This was a great choice -- just way too short.
*Some of the power of this novel is in the unfurling of the events -- knowing too much could be a spoiler.
So often I pass on reviewing a book, and especially with the classics when I am reminded throughout the read that I am experiencing art, because those writers, that distinguish themselves from authors, reveal their God-given talent in their books and I feel myself in the presence of greatness on those pages. Like many Audible members, I peruse the book sites, I don't review books on other sites, but I do keep track of what I am listening to, reading, want to read, and even what some of you (the ones that I have identified and connected with) are reading off-Audible, on another *Good* site. This site is a very social and friendly site, and when I checked that I had completed To the Lighthouse another member asked not just my opinion, but my thoughts. What could this humble reader add? I went to the review boards. How impressive were these fastidious essays, discourses, treatises, philosophies (GIFs, quotes, cross-references and all!) as wonderfully written as if by scholars. How intimidating, humble and almost chastised; I had read the book twice, but had none of these insights...I decided, again, not to attempt putting my simple thoughts into words.
Decades later, here I am again with Ms. Woolf, fighting for a rhythm to the flow of words. Whose head am I in now? Again, drowning in a pointless stream of consciousness, surfacing, baptized and converted; again reaching for a plot through the thoughts and musings, finding it, instead, away from the book -- in a memory, or looking back at me from a mirror. This isn't a different book, but I am different. Where I once experienced this book as a young girl who might have stood on the shore line, wet toes buried in the sand, looking out over the water to that lighthouse, I came to it this time as a mature woman, looking back across the ebb and flow of those years I have crossed. My neon yellow highlighter long tossed away.
In the end, or at the conclusion of my pondering whether or not to write my thoughts, I decided that measured against the sophisticated compositions already available on this intuitive classic, my thoughts were amateurish and simple. And, I don't think I could put my thoughts about this book into words. Somehow this time around, I didn't mentally highlight the metaphors, the symbolism, the themes and motifs which back in high school my Engligh/Lit teacher insisted we find; I have lived them and understand them well, now I am a kindred spirit with Ms. Woolf.
For myself, it has taken hindsight to truly appreciate the resonating beauty, truth, and wisdom of this book (being beaten over the head is kind of my modus operandi). Now, I just want to go and float along with my thoughts, linger on lines, "'Oh, Mrs. Ramsay,' she sighed to that essence besides the boat...."
Did anyone else get the notice that this was one of Amazon's Best Books of February; the monthly e-mail from Audible stating that this was one of the new releases they were most excited about? I am flummoxed, seriously baffled. I would have just requested a refund, but I kept listening, trying to assure myself that I wasn't crazy. I'm still concerned about that status.
Let me just warn those of you that like an occasional cataclysmic thriller with a biblical twist, 'Flee for your lives! Don't look back...' There is no flood, no water, no Armeggedon, and no freakin' whale. I would continue with: no plot, horrible writing; but, the fact that Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, even Amazon/Audible found this praiseworthy...I must have lost my mind. If this really is good, I'm going out to look for four guys on different colored horses, 'human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria!'
In the opening opus of Powers' latest novel, recently terminated 70 y.o. Peter Els, musician and part time genetic-engineering-hobbyist, picks up the phone to report the death of his golden retriever Fidelio. Obsessing over the proper music for the pet's burial, Els recalls Fidelio's reaction over the years to the music the two of them had listened to, the barks and howls that indicated pleasure, or displeasure, the first piece, the last...his musings causing him to mistakenly dial 911. Els has thrown a blanket over the dead animal. The responding officers come into Els' home, explaining they don't respond to calls about deceased pets, but curious about the bumpy blanket, say they have to look under it. What they notice as they look around the room is the sophisticated lab equipment in this retired music professors home. It is post 9/11, and the officers escalate the investigation to the federal level. Els is soon a fugitive nick named Biohacker or Boiterrorist Bach, on the run.
So begins Els' escape and journey back through his life, the narration threading the history of his life through his musical compositions, the memories of the music he loved, the 60's, Mahler and Mozart et al. -- the whole cord (or chord) recalled through the fleeing artist's eyes in the language of music and science. This is where I realized the 'poverty of my expression' -- I needed more than just a love of music to truly grasp the amazing power of this novel, or to give a knowledgeable review. Powers' understanding of music (and microbiology) goes beyond extraordinary, and he writes about it like an experienced artist schooled on all the concepts needed to paint, easily creates a masterpiece. Such expertise and precise knowledge is awe-inspiring, but overwhelming when tackled by my 5 years of piano, 2 yrs. violin, and season tickets to the symphony. Much of the novel is spent describing in detail, musical creations that exist, and those still running through the character's minds, waiting to be created, technical music jargon that quickly becomes esoteric, the complexities too cerebral for me.
Powers explores the purpose of art, the concept of science and music, and the urgency an artist feels to create; what comes through clearly is the complexity and brilliance of this novel, the beautiful metaphor and prose. (And a deep desire for an accompanying soundtrack--music is listed on Richard Powers' website). I apologize for this unqualified review, and I am looking forward to another listener giving this the review is deserves. I didn't take off a star for what I didn't understand, but did subtract one because the characters were more brilliant than real. Even knowing Els was selfish and served his music mistress, I would like to have felt beyond the music, the emotional connection between Els and daughter Sara, wife Maddy. I would like to have experienced Peter Els outside of his own head -- freed for a minute from his frustrations. [*My mother used to play the song I chose for my title. Recalling the words to that song, and the moving chords and music, actually gave me a little insight to Peter Els ongoing search for his song.] Gratifying even with a limited understanding; music scholars, lovers of classical music, will love this.
There was Eve and that forbidden apple, Snow White and her poisonous apple, and here is Yvonne Carmichael, and her 'apple' of sorts -- a damning lie about Apple Tree Yard, a back alley near the House of Parliament where Yvonne and her former lover now sit, on trial for murder. A slow, but blunt start, this novel picks up speed like a sprinter and holds the listener in its slipstream until the very last sentence. I couldn't put it down, except for a few times when it was necessary to shake out the tension.
Doughty's novel is an intelligent, cleverly constructed suspense thriller, at times sharp, provocative, frank and straight forward, twisting into unexpected moments of beautiful prose and searing insight. This is a book that leads you into moral judgements, then has you chucking them aside, looking closer at substance and shadows. The author's depiction of the modern day woman and the duality of roles is brilliant : does good mother mean no career? earns half the income, so half the housework? does a philandering husband suffer the same scrutiny as an adulterous wife? are middle-aged men judged as harshly as middle-aged women?
The book begins by revealing the ending, but it is the last couple of sentences that pull the trigger. The first person narrative is done in the style of an imaginary retrospective letter Yvonne reads to her former lover (whom she calls only 'X' for most of the book) while she awaits questioning. Her cool professional style paints the events in a glaring, harsh light; the almost scientific delivery void of emotion, adding to the mystery and drama surrounding this crime...of passion ?
"DNA made me and DNA undid me."
While the pragmatic approach may slow down the launch, it's what develops the psychological arc of the story. Cutting in and out of the past and present, Yvonne selectively discloses the chain of events that propelled the two lovers to this tragic end. The details are rationed out like steamy little bits with just hints of everyday family life, dropped in like speed bumps as the affair proceeds with lightning rapidity.
“In 18 months' time, I would discover that his blood group was O Positive.”
A few moments later, the narration is thrust to the present, a black-robed barrister closing in.
Doughty's courtroom scenes make you understand the term *sweating bullets* -- they are deliberate and tense, as wonderfully agonizing as a poisonous spider crawling up an arm. Yvonne's facts begin to hint at the slightest insecurities about being an aging female. The barrister seems over confident. You feel the hold you thought you had on the truth slipping away and find yourself asking, where is the deceit. Is it the experienced lover that emphasized constantly to never admit the affair, there is no way to prove the affair, no evidence....or Yvonne herself, the respected 52 yr. old geneticist with "status and gravitas...when I don't have my tights round my ankles in a secluded chapel beneath the house of Parliament, that is." The truth is somewhere between the lines in Yvonne's narration. Yvonne may not elicit sympathy from readers, but she isn't deserving of the scarlet letter. She feels real and vulnerable, even similar to some modern professional women you may have met.
I wondered why this was placed on that curtained-off bottom shelf of Erotica & Sexuality, not a genre I usually choose. Call me kinky, but I would say more spicy than erotic; a tightly woven courtroom drama/psychological thriller (for men & women), that is definitely sexually and erotically charged -- deserving more of a full-frontal shelf in Fiction (since Henry Miller, Anais Niin, D. H. Lawrence are stacked in those shelves). Add cautionary tale to the many genres tagged to this book: one impulsive bad choice can upset the whole apple barrel.
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