“Cadillac Chronicles” is here and waiting!

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BOOKGIRL1987′S TWO CENTS: As soon as I knock out one or two other Currently Reading books, I will start my second Brett Hartman adventure. This 2012 novel promises a unique plot, and it was also a great Amazon steal!

ABOUT THE BOOK (via Goodreads.com): Sixteen year-old Alex Riley’s top priorities in life are to find his long-absent father and a girl with a decent set of breasts. But his mother has a knack for sabotaging his plans. To advance her political career, she takes in an elderly black man named Lester Bray. Lester arrives with a vintage Cadillac and an old man’s personality. It takes only a week for Alex’s mother to ask Lester to leave. That makes Alex angry. On the morning of his eviction, Lester and Alex set out on a road trip, ostensibly to find the boy’s father in Fort Lauderdale. But the two don’t just head south. They also cross through un-navigated political, racial, and personal territory. A wild ride, Cadillac Chronicles explores what it means to—finally—find a real friend.

Just Saying “No!” to Frothy Spring Reading

Ah, spring has sprung and the sunshine greets me most mornings. It’s the perfect time to pull out those light, happy books that make one think of renewal and rebirth, of the hopeful human experience, (or what I call “frothy spring reading.”)

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I like stories that make me crinkle my nose in disgust and wonder how anyone could do such a thing…and turn the page in hopes of finding out!

I would do just that if I didn’t have one small problem: I don’t have many of those books on my shelf.

In fact, I look over the stacks and realize I’m largely uninterested in those light, happy reading romps. For better or worse, I am mostly drawn to the types of stories that incite dark curiosity as opposed to airy revelation. (I admit, revelation is wonderful and heavy and all that, but to some degree it implies closure and a conclusion.) I don’t want to have everything settled at the end of the story, and I certainly don’t want to read about heaving Victorian bosoms as I sip a dainty cup of tea. A grisly murder mystery and my hefty Java Joe is much more preferable on beautiful days like this one. Does that equation seem a little unbalanced? Maybe, but I can’t help it.

Maybe that’s why I find myself reading two nonfiction books that would be better suited for Halloween or a similarly “dark” time of the year when thoughts turn to death, not life. But death, like life, is always with us, and I want to read about it! I have decided to (at least for now) say “no!” to Frothy Spring Reading. It’s funny, this time last year I was reading about Marilyn Monroe, now I’m reading about Gary Gilmore and Lizzie Borden. Oh, what a difference a year makes in our reading lives! (Although the Monroe story ended in mystery as well…)

12468At the moment I am re-reading Norman Mailer’s 1979 true-crime tome “The Executioner’s Song.” I’ve been reading it slowly since January and I’m in no rush to finish it. Apparently I read this book several years ago but have no memory of most of it! (I guess eventually we have to clean out our hard drive to make room for newer information.) I’m on page 217 of 1,050 so it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint. It is the real-life story of (petty criminal) and murderer Gary Gilmore, and any crime buff must read it. Of course, my brain scans over the “petty criminal” part pretty quickly, because everyone knows those who kill are much more interesting than those who steal or commit fraud. (Or maybe that’s just my humble opinion.) For more information about the book, click here.

The other “light and frothy” read I’m slowly working my way through is Victoria Lincoln’s “A Private Disgrace: Lizzie 72678Borden By Daylight.” Published in 1967, it’s quite a bit older than I would like but my Lizzie Borden library search turned up only this book and edition. I thought this library selection was a bit paltry, to say the least, for much has been written and speculated about this “axe-wielding” lady. However, the book is moving along swimmingly and I’m right up to the morning of the murders on page 76 of 317. Is it wrong that I like to savor these rather unsavory subjects, murder and evil? Or is it just a healthy human curiosity that I have the option and privilege of fulfilling via literature? (For my sake, let’s go with the latter.) For more information about the book, click here.

Maybe I shouldn’t recommend these books to people who don’t enjoy these topics. I’m by no means trying to convert those “light, frothy” readers to my side of the literary road. However, those who enjoy reading about fictional murderers (such as Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s works) might consider this: the inspiration behind a fictional work often originates in the “stranger than fiction” category of, you guessed it, real life.

Isn’t that scary-cool, and isn’t it awesome that we can indulge in these worlds at our leisure as readers? I think so. I am encouraging Fellow Readers everywhere to pick up some gore (fictional or otherwise), and immerse themselves in an alternate (and appalling) world for a change. These journeys are readily available; just grab one and enjoy!

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Book Review: “Hammerhead84″ by Brett Hartman

hammerhead-225After almost a year of deeply unsatisfying reading, it was a real pleasure to complete “Hammerhead84” by Brett Hartman. My main regret is that I did not read this book sooner. I intuited correctly that this book would appeal to me on several levels, the first being that it is a touching memoir of mental illness and an examination of psychology/psychiatry—both of which interest me. The fact that much of the story takes place in my hometown of Auburn, Alabama added a much-appreciated personal touch to the narrative and reading experience. Last but certainly not least is the redemptive reality of Hartman’s long struggle to get and stay “sane” after the most tumultuous period of his young life.
The book touches on so many topics of mental health and illness that it would be unfair to try to recite them all here in a simple review. Suffice it to say that I walked away with a renewed appreciation for what both patients and caregivers experience during involuntary commitments to mental health wards and hospitals. Everyone involved struggles, and Hartman does a fair job of showing both sides of the story; the people in charge of restraining severely ill patients and those patients being restrained (largely by a brute society that does not attempt to understand them on a personal level). “Hammerhead84” (read the book to decipher the title!) functions as both a personal contribution to the mental health field and a therapeutic validation of a man’s dilemma of losing and (much, much later) finding himself once again.

Throughout Hartman’s chronicle I found myself wrapped up emotionally as he describes in detail how harrowing a mental breakdown and “recovery” can be. (The scary part is that the word “recovery” is so misleading; there is never a true “recovery” for Hartman, as he continually doubts the validity of the progress he makes.) I won’t reveal the precipitating event that propelled him to question his sanity and his identity; you will discover the traumatic incident in the first few pages. You will understand his feelings of guilt and legal reparation, but you will not expect the emotional upheaval that quickly takes their place. During a few sections you might feel you are reading fiction; the memoir includes flashbacks and internal dialogues that quietly add a surreal quality to the story. The injustices and humiliations Hartman endured only add to this feeling. You must step back from the story and remind yourself that all this really happened to another human being.

The thing is it was not hard to relate to Hartman at all. At all times he comes across as a completely rational person who just happens to be experiencing technical difficulties upstairs. At no point during the reading of this book did I feel like I couldn’t trust his account of what happened, or that he was adding spin to the pages. I liked him and pitied him and almost cried for him while also knowing that his story does have a pretty happy “ending.” Knowing beforehand that he has gone on to live a successfully “normal” life (as for “normal,” I shouldn’t have to mention that it doesn’t really exist) did not impede my ability to see his struggle as wholly genuine and profound. Hartman does not write in a nonchalant manner, as if he is trying to mechanically report something that happened to him in his earlier years. Writing with the benefit of his present healthy state of mind, he somehow managed to bring me right into the trenches with him. He wrote so convincingly that at times I thought we might not get to the other side.

The fact that “we” indeed find brighter days makes the rollercoaster ride worthwhile. It’s exhausting reading but I had a great guide to take me down the trail. His refusal to lay back and take things quietly reinforces the subtitle of his book: “a memoir of persistence.” By the end of the book Hartman has completed his college education and has decided to pursue a career in psychology, a life decision that seems to imply that he has accepted his past in the stronghold of psychiatric illness. He does not rebel against what has made him, he makes it his career! By remaining “wary of the forces of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry,” and noting that “the most compelling problem as I see it is the widespread practice of instantly drugging psychotic symptoms as soon as they emerge,” (Hartman 317), he urges people, especially those in authority, to look further for the individual lost in the cloud of mental illness. He suggests that it is not okay to see a fellow human as merely a “number” and not worthy of the time and attention that medication so clearly has made obsolete.

Brett Hartman has struggled and he has persisted. He most certainly has authored a book that will persist in my mind for a long while. I highly recommend that you take this journey.

About Brett Hartman (via Goodreads.com)

Born in Philadelphia, raised in Ft. Lauderdale, I distinguished myself early in life as the perpetual tallest kid in class, yet still managed to suck at basketball. I distinguished myself again in 1984 as the first of my graduating class to endure a psychotic breakdown. (Read all about that in my memoir, Hammerhead 84). I spent a lot of time in school: Auburn University, Villanova and Indiana State from which I earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. My sleep-deprived life consists mostly of working as a psychologist, writing whenever I can and raising two rowdy boys with my wife in Albany, NY. Cadillac Chronicles is my first novel.

Book Review: “Down Came the Rain” by Brooke Shields

9781401301897_p0_v1_s260x420Last December I finished one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve ever read. Usually the words “celebrity memoir” turn me off immediately, but I feel fortunate to have made time for this one. It is always a small miracle when a famous actor writes a book about themselves and manages to decenter their life and career in Hollywood from the narrative. I loved that Hollywood was on the periphery of the story, and that the book focused on something much more universally understood than the chaotic world of film stars on movie sets. There is no gloss and glamour between these pages; nothing but an honest and heartbreaking account of human suffering, desperation, and eventually, redemption. Brooke Shields describes her very personal struggle to survive new motherhood with clarity and consistency. I feel that she spared the reader no detail in giving the full portrait of her postpartum depression.

In the first half of the book, Shields documents her journey to motherhood swiftly, with a keen, unwavering eye on the critical events that lead to a simultaneous “birth” (her daughter’s) and “death” (what felt like her own.) She lifts the veil on what could essentially be any woman’s living nightmare: having a child and losing everything else. She starts out on her journey with a determined, laser-like focus on achieving fertility. She tries every medical procedure available in order to get pregnant, (which requires patience and more patience, something she admits to having little of), finally gets pregnant (has a pretty calm pregnancy), and has an intensely difficult labor (C-section). When her daughter finally arrives at the end of a long and torturous road, Shields is exhausted and finds herself at a loss for how to care for her new child and herself. It seems the child she so desperately fought for has been delivered at a cost she cannot bear: her sanity.

While slowly recovering from a C-section delivery (which disappoints and relieves Shields at the same time), she realizes that something is very wrong. What at first appears to be general anxiety while learning the ropes of motherhood, soon becomes a major burden for Shields and her family of three. From labor onward, she has felt no connection whatsoever to her child and finds she cannot even look at her new child without feeling strange and deeply cynical. In one section of the book, while Shields is still in the hospital, she admits to staring at her daughter’s face and desperately searching for some kind of bond between the two of them, which in her mind does not exist at all. She admits to feeling as if she had just given birth to someone else’s child, and tries to apologize to her child for her lack of maternal instinct and general, paralyzing fear. Breastfeeding feels to Shields like an exercise in torture, and she struggles with feelings of resentment of the whole situation as well as her fear that her child will sense her “rejection” and reject her in turn. Shields spends several weeks in a degenerative depression that she blames on her inadequacies and partly on her daughter, in her weakest moments. She grapples with thoughts of suicide when the fog does not let up and begins to lose faith in everything that had once brought her happiness and contentment. The two most important people in her life (her husband and her new child, Rowan) seem to be suffering greatly on account of her inability to cope. Her guilt mounts and the walls seem to be closing in. She describes her thoughts on pages 71 and 72:

“I was desperate to have a natural and healthy connection with my daughter, but it was feeling so forced. It was as if I were trapped behind a thick glass wall. I had never felt apathy in my life, and when I had least expected it, it crept in and took over. I couldn’t shake the feeling of doom and gloom that pervaded each moment. I was afraid of myself and felt threatened by the dangerous thoughts running so calmly through my head. They all felt too real. When would I wake up from this bad dream?”

Eventually, the sadness does not pass (she pretty much bypasses the “baby blues” on the way to postpartum depression) and it dawns on Shields that she needs help. The major problem with this recognition is that she doesn’t realize what she needs help for, or how to reach out for it. The initially comforting words from family and friends have morphed into comments of alarm and uneasiness, and her endless crying jags and self-pity parties add up to more depression than she thought humanly possible. She constantly wonders: “Why don’t I love my daughter? Why can’t I express my love for her?”

The second half of the book focuses on Shields’ attempts at finding herself again while remaining oblivious to her diagnosis. Friends give her literature on postpartum depression and it goes unread for the longest time, while she waits for the clouds to lift. When she is finally prescribed an anti-depressant by her doctor, she fears addiction and swears off medication. Eventually, she considers the drug, only after being continually persuaded that she won’t become addicted and won’t be on it forever. After a brief but successful stint on the drug Paxil, she decides she’s feeling better and discontinues it. Her symptoms quickly return, and she realizes she doesn’t know enough about her situation to play doctor. She finally sits down to read the material given to her and identifies with every symptom and personal story she encounters. Armed with the knowledge that she has an actual disorder and isn’t going “crazy,” Shields feels lighter but isn’t out of the woods yet. She finds a doctor who further educates her on the “mind/body connection,” and soon she is seeing a therapist and taking her medication. Things start to look much better for all involved, and her relief is palpable at every new step taken toward repairing the “damage” done.

Throughout much of the book, Shields remains conflicted by the assumption that she should have the strength and energy to be a working mother. While trying medication and therapy, she experiments with both options (working, both with and without her daughter) and finds neither a satisfactory fit. Her guilt over neglecting her work or her child is too much to bear, so she chooses the more important of the options and returns to “mommying” full-time. Her symptoms lessen to the point where she and Rowan start developing in a more natural way, but she fears jeopardizing her progress. She finds a nice balance (working on a formula shoot, a four-hour miniseries, and a few episodes on “That ‘70s Show”) but steadily returns to motherhood with open arms after each project. (This is the kind of validation she has been looking for in the midst of her depression, the sign that being a mother has officially replaced being an actress.)

By the time the New Year rolls around, Shields and her little family are intact once again, and Rowan has not suffered emotionally or developmentally from her mother’s illness. Shields continues her prescribed journey to wellness, and finds that time and a little assistance can mean the difference between coming out from under the covers, or not. She not only closes the book on a positive note of her own story, she also offers information to readers regarding postpartum depression: how it can be predicted and detected, and finally, how it can be treated. She emphasizes the importance of knowing what you’re dealing with (an actual disorder as opposed to exhaustion and/or insanity), and frames the whole ordeal with the hindsight that she saw her situation through uneducated eyes. She ends the book with a few regrets, as only a type-A, managerial personality can, but she also ends with a tried-and-true promise that things will and can get better. For anyone.

Update: “Restless Reading Syndrome” and Loss of Technology!

Hello, Fellow Bloggers.

For the past few months I’ve been going through a pretty rough spell. I’m still reading but not with the intensity of previous months and find it hard to concentrate on any one thing. I am calling it my “Restless Reading Syndrome.” I do not have regular access to the Internet or a Smartphone anymore, so I am having to bypass the blog and many other wonderful technological things I’ve grown accustomed to. I’m hoping this situation is temporary. If not, I’ll do my best to keep things moving.

On the (small) bright side, I am still enjoying the quiet times that reading affords me. The rest of my life may be chaotic and uncertain but I still have my books. All hope is not lost…

Until Next Time,

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Happy Horror Reading

Hello Fellow Readers and Book Bloggers,

Halloween is eleven days off and that got me thinking about some of the Happy Horror Reading experiences I have had as an adult reader. I thought I’d share some of those great books with you all. Everyone has some idea in their mind of which authors produce the “best” horror, mystery, or suspense writing, but I’ll leave those compilations to the other guys and just include those that I’ve actually read and enjoyed. NOTE: Gillian Flynn is included simply because her novels have a deeply horrific thread running through them.

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1) The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, 1971

Four decades after it first shook the nation, then the world, William Peter Blatty’s thrilling masterwork of faith and demonic possession returns in an even more powerful form. Raw and profane, shocking and blood-chilling, it remains a modern parable of good and evil and perhaps the most terrifying novel ever written. (Goodreads)

2) Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn, 20095886881

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer. (Goodreads)

84424573) Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, 2012

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? (Goodreads)

4) Out, by Natsuo Kirino, 1997863848

Natsuo Kirino’s crime story can stand comparison with the work of other top-notch Western women writers in this genre, like Sarah Paretsky and Ruth Rendell. The story-though a bare summary makes it seem merely brutal and bloodthirsty, when it is much more than that- focuses on four women who work together in a lunch-box factory in the suburbs of Tokyo. One of them suffers from spouse abuse and, unable to take it any longer, murders her husband and appeals to her co-workers to help her dispose of the corpse. One of these friends— the brain behind the coverup-after cutting up the body in the bathroom of her house, has the other two dump it as garbage. The money from the man’s life insurance is then divided among them. But this is only the beginning. The successful, unpremeditated crime and the rewards it brings are the seed of other, premeditated schemes, escalating from one localized use of violence to a rash of similar deeds, with unpredictable outcomes for the women behind them. (Goodreads)

79120075) Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King, 2010

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The story opens with the confession of Wilfred James to the murder of his wife, Arlette, following their move to Hemingford, Nebraska onto land willed to Arlette by her father. (NOTE: my favorite story in this collection)

Big Driver

Mystery writer, Tess, has been supplementing her writing income for years by doing speaking engagements with no problems. But following a last-minute invitation to a book club 60 miles away, she takes a shortcut home with dire consequences.

Fair Extension

Harry Streeter, who is suffering from cancer, decides to make a deal with the devil but, as always, there is a price to pay.

A Good Marriage

Darcy Anderson learns more about her husband of over twenty years than she would have liked to know when she stumbles literally upon a box under a worktable in their garage. (Goodreads)

6) In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, 1965168642

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence. (Goodreads)