American Psychosis, by E. Fuller Torrey

Synopsis: In this strongly stated book, Torrey describes how the formation of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) took place, accompanied by well-meaning, but ill-planned federal programs for the out-patient care of mentally 9780199988716_p0_v2_s550x406ill patients and the emptying of state-funded mental hospitals. Due to terrible conditions in state hospitals and to the discovery of antipsychotics, many well-intended people wanted to improve the condition of mentally ill people by giving them independence and better living conditions through outpatient treatment. So the founders of NIMH, with the help of President Kennedy, began a federal program intended to care for patients on an outpatient basis, as well as providing resources which were intended on reducing the onset of mental illness in future generations. Unfortunately, as the state hospitals closed en masse, these federal programs didn’t do their job as intended. The federal programs focused too much on trying (and failing) to reduce the new onset of mental illness, and not enough on taking care of people who were released from hospitals. Many people from the hospitals had nowhere to go and/or stopped taking their meds (for various reasons). The populations of homeless and jailed/imprisoned mentally ill people skyrocketed. Violence by and against people with mental illness skyrocketed. Chaos ensued.

My Thoughts: First of all, I think Torrey’s book was too strongly stated. He puts a lot of blame on the US federal government when these same problems with deinstitutionalization and ensuing homelessness/incarceration-of-mentally-ill occurred in other countries around the same time. The book was also long on problems, short on solutions – even in the chapter whose title suggested that solutions would be presented. Despite these flaws, I enjoyed reading American Psychosis. It was full of interesting facts that I didn’t know about what the federal government was doing during the deinstitutionalization of state hospitals.

I give this book 3.5 snowflakes for interesting information and research.3 and half snowflakes

 

The Three Sisters, by Sonia Halbach

The Three Sisters (The Krampus Chronicles Book 1), by Sonia Halbach
This book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange 
for a fair and honest review. 
Every Christmas Eve, Maggie has the same dream. Santa is walking on the top of her grandfather’s manor, when suddenly he slides off the end. But this year is different. This year, it’s a nightmare in which he is pushed by something sinister. Awakened from her dream, she decides to go sledding – ending up in an accident that leads to meeting the handsome (but older) Henry. Henry has come with strange claims: that Maggie’s grandfather, who is well known for writing the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, had plagiarized his poem. 


While exploring the mansion for proof of plagiarism, Henry and Maggie are accidentally swept into a strange underground village named Poppel – a village strangely resembling Santa’s fabled home. But not all is right in Poppel. It is ruled by tyrants called the Garrison, and Nikolaos is missing. She and Henry must find three hidden objects before the end of Christmas Eve, or else Maggie, Henry and their families are in terrible danger – as is the hidden village of Poppel. 

This was a refreshingly unique story based on the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Alpine German folklore of the anti-Santa named Krampus. Who knew a world could be built just around such a short poem? And I’d never heard of Krampus before reading this book. (Of course, just yesterday I went to the theaters and found out that a movie named Krampus is soon to be released, though there seems to be no relation between the two.) I really enjoyed reading this book. It was cute, adventurous, and had a tad of romantic tension. And one thing I really loved about this book is that the story was complete at the end. That is the perfect beginning to a series, as far as I’m concerned. I will definitely watch for the next in the series. 

4 snowflakes for creativity, action, romance, and fun

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir, narrated by R. C. Bray
When a team of Mars explorers runs into some problems while on Mars, they think that astronaut Mark Watney has died. The rest of the crew avoid the storm by immediately heading back home to Earth. Unknown to them, Watney is still alive and must survive on Mars alone with meager supplies left behind by the Mars expedition. With his extraordinary resourcefulness, he manages to survive while desperately hoping that Earth will realize that he’s still alive and come to rescue him. 

This book was as fantastic as everyone says it is. Watney’s struggle to survive is fascinating, and the action moves forward at a steady pace. Yeah, there’s a lot of technical language, which made the book a little slower than I would have liked at times, but it was never so slow that I wanted to stop listening. It was more of an “ok, I get that you’re doing awesome technical stuff, let’s move on.” But those scenes were only paragraph-long. I was a little amused at how much money and time America was willing to put in to save Watney. After all, he was only one person and there are so many people on earth that could have benefited greatly from that money. They could have helped thousands of people instead of just one. I get it. He’s a hero. But he also made the choice to go on a dangerous adventure. The homeless and hungry in America and around the world did not make the choice to starve. Shouldn’t they be helped first?

The narration in the audiobook was also excellent. The humorous parts were so well executed that I had to laugh out loud on numerous occasions. 

I can’t wait to see this movie. I plan on going with my boyfriend next Tuesday. 🙂
4.5 stars for interest level and superb execution

Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett; narrated by Matthew Frow, Jayne Entwistle, Ione Butler, Robert Hook, Heather Wilds, Nicholas Guy Smith, Hannah Curtis, Bruce Mann


When a group of four people have to land on an unknown planet to regroup and repair their ship, they decide to split into two groups – a man and woman who do not want to risk the flight back remain on “Eden” alone, and the two others set back off for Earth with promises to send a rescue ship as soon as possible. Generations later, the people of Eden are still waiting. Still hanging out in exactly the same crash-landing spot. Still following the matriarchal rules structured by the mother of all. But their small area is becoming too crowded. They have to forage farther and farther for food. 



John Redlantern is frustrated with “Family.” With their stubbornness at remaining in one spot when they could clearly spread out over the vast planet and have enough food for all. He’s tired of the extreme ritualistic nature of “Family.” The artifacts from planet Earth are passed around to be “ooohed” and “ahhhed” at, but they are meaningless to a people who have never experienced technology. John is tempted to disrupt the circle of the past, and create a new path for the “Family.” In doing so, he breaks down everything “Family” represents.

Let me start with an important point: although John Redlantern and his friends are teenagers, this is not a teen book. It’s “literary science fiction.” The beginning of the book, which builds the world, the people, and the tension, is really long and slow. It was a bit of a slog to get to the turning point. Once that happens they story finally begins to move a little faster – but even the post-turning-point action is slow. 

The reason the narrative is so slow is because this is a story about Meaning with a capital M, and not about plot or action. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a plot. A plot with Meaning. There were several allegories to the story. The obvious one is the Biblical creation story. It’s all about how innocence is lost when people begin to get bored. But boredom is in our nature. Without boredom, we never learn new things. And new experiences don’t just change you, they change the world. 

Dark Eden also explores a destructive nature of men – as opposed to a more structured, peaceful and confining nature of women. (This seems to be what the book implies, it’s not exactly what I think of the gender divide.)

Dark Eden demonstrates the irony that change is needed to survive, but change is destructive to survival. It’s not just a book about changing the world. It’s also about how the world changes the individual. The main characters in the book, especially John Redlantern and his lover Tina Spiketree, develop into strikingly different people as they adapt to the changing world. Innocence is replaced with deviousness. Ivory towers collapse, covering all bystanders with dust and grime. This is a story of identity.

In other ways, Dark Eden is a book about faith. How faith can lift you up and keep you strong during difficult times. But how it can be manipulated against you, as well. And how, as you realize everything you had faith in is mistaken, you are first paralyzed with numbness, but then are able to move on as a new person. 

I want to give a good review for this book with so much Meaning. I mean, it should have been good. It had Meaning. But a great book has both Meaning and an ability to fascinate even if you don’t see the Meaning. Dark Eden did not. In Dark Eden, the story was lost in the darkness because you were blinded by the bright, shiny Meaning. It was too slow, the hero wasn’t even likable if you considered him an anti-hero, and it was thoroughly uncaptivating. I totally understand why it won the Arthur C Clark award and why it comes so highly recommended. Beckett’s world was unique – colorful and dark at the same time. The setting was unsettling and realistic within the boundaries of science fiction. The lingual drift was a nice, realistic touch. But most of all, the book was slow and Meaningful.

3.5 snowflakes for unique world building and Meaning

As an afterthought – I would like to post this Twitter conversation: 

It is authors that are willing to interact with their readers, even when given a mediocre review, that are truly great. I had been on the fence about whether to read the second book in the series or not – because I am a little curious where his Meaning will go – this conversation put me over the edge to want to read it. Because when someone cares about his readers, I want to like his books more. 🙂

The Tide, by Anthony J. Melchiorri

The Tide, by Anthony J Melchiorri, narrated by Ryan Kennard Burke
Captain Dominic Holland (Dom) is head of a covert operations team which investigates bioterrorism. As he and his team check out some suspicious activity on what was believed to be an abandoned oil rig, bone-armored mutant men begin to wash up on shores of countries around the world. Soon, citizens become crazed – brutally attacking and devouring people. Dom’s team rushes to find a cure to the bioweapon, as civilization crashes around them. 


I found this book in the new releases in Audible and thought I’d try it out. The genre is basically bioweapon zombie apocalypse, but the “zombies” aren’t actually zombies. They are living humans who develop bony armor around their bodies and get brain activation of unthinking violence. It was a fast-paced, high-action book. The science was very reasonable – clearly Melchiorri did his research – which I like to see in biotech books (otherwise I tend to roll my eyes and criticize every little mistake). Yes, the race for a cure moved along much too fast to be realistic, but that’s the nature of the genre, not a problem with Melchiorri’s writing. Nobody wants to read a book with the pacing of real life, after all. 🙂 

I think this book will be quite enjoyable to anyone who likes biotech apocalypse thrillers, especially those who enjoyed Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero. But beware, it is the first in a series, and the story just cuts off at the end – there’s not a satisfying conclusion. Luckily, Melchiorri is releasing the second one hot on the heels of the first, so this may not be an issue for many readers. 

I decided to give this book four stars despite the fact that there wasn’t a satisfying ending. The science was excellent and it was just what a biotech thriller should be. 

The Blank Slate, by Stephen Pinker

The Blank Slate, by Stephen Pinker; narrated by Victor Bevine

In The Blank Slate, Pinker outlines three dogmas that he says are the prevailing views of human nature in modern philosophy: 

1) The blank slate, in which the mind has no innate (genetic) properties and, as John Watson boasted, through conditioning you could train a child to become anybody you want her to become. 

2) The noble savage, in which people are born good, and society forms them into deviants. Pinker suggested that Rousseau was a strong proponent of this theory, but according to Wikipedia (which is always accurate), Rousseau never used this term. 

3)  The ghost in the machine, in which people’s choices are solely dependent upon their soul. 

Personally, I’m a little skeptical that these are the dominant views of most scholars of human nature. I’m sure there are quite a few people who believe quite firmly in a genetic component to behavior, as Pinker does. But perhaps I’m biased because I’m a biologist and not a psychologist. 

Pinker provides evidence that these three dogmas are false, and that there is a strong genetic drive in human behavior.  
The first section in The Blank Slate that really caught my attention was the one on racism. He brings up the controversial book The Bell Curve, by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Much to the dismay of the politically correct (I’m sure), Pinker suggests that Herrnstein’s data are correct and that African Americans have a lower IQ than white people, and that this difference is at least partly genetic. He says that the reason people are so horrified by The Bell Curve is due to their fear of inequality. That it is not racist to report such data – what is racist is to judge someone solely upon that data and not upon the person’s demonstrated abilities. 

Pinker also suggests that we only fear inequality when bigotry on the subject already exists. For instance, there is another set of studies in which height and IQ are positively correlated. He points out that no one frets about those studies, because there isn’t an already existing negative bias about short people. 

I was originally offended by Pinker’s thoughts on racism, but then I realized that at some level, at least, he is correct. I don’t like the data because it implies something that I don’t want to believe. I still cringe at the data presented in The Bell Curve, and I like to think there was some bias in the studies which led to incorrect results. That Herrnstein and Murray were terrible racists who should be shunned from academia. But Pinker managed to sew a seed of doubt. 

More interesting sections were those on violence and rape. Pinker suggests that both violence and rape are part of human nature. He says that most people cringe at this concept because we believe that anything that is “human nature” must be good. But why do we believe that? Are we all proponents of “the noble savage” dogma? 

In the section on rape, Pinker references Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer’s book A Natural History of Rape. This book posits that rape is motivated by sexual and aggressive urges, not upon a male desire to dominate females (as many feminists claim). Personally, I have no problem believing that rape is motivated by sex and violence and not by male domination. In fact, it never occurred to me that men rape women for the purpose of oppressing them. Is this really a currently common belief? I guess I should follow the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter more. Perhaps that would educate me on this subject. If you follow that hastag, please let me know your thoughts.

This brings us into Pinker’s section on the genetic differences between women and men. Pinker points out that it is not sexist to suggest that there are genetic (and therefore emotional as well as physical) differences between women and men. There are two kinds of feminism: gender feminism and equity feminism. Gender feminists believe that the male and female “roles” are determined by society and not by genetics. Pinker argues that these roles are genetically driven – that girls naturally want to play with dolls and boys naturally want to roughhouse. He points out that although his beliefs are contrary to gender feminism, they are compatible with equity feminism, in which women and men deserve civil and legal equality. Pinker says that most modern women don’t consider themselves feminists because they equate “feminism” with gender feminism. That most women are equity feminists, they just don’t know it. 

In fact, that’s true of me. I always considered myself “not a feminist” because I believe that my feminine qualities are naturally derived and not societally derived. Now I know that I am a feminist. 🙂

Overall, I found this book fascinating. I didn’t think I was going to agree with Pinker…especially when I first started the book. But he presented some pretty good arguments. One problem I did have with the book, though, is how arrogant Pinker is. Instead of saying “I will now provide evidence that…” he says “I will now prove…” 

He also makes an off-putting comment that poked a pet peeve of mine. He says that any scientist that believes in the three prevailing dogmas of human nature should be as skeptical of evolution as the Pope. I guess I’ve never asked the Pope his personal opinions of evolution, but being a Roman Catholic, I know that evolution is quite acceptable in the Church. If you don’t know anything about what Catholics believe, then don’t write about them. 

This is a pet peeve of mine because I’ve had people tell me: “I know about Catholics because I’ve read about them. If you don’t believe [insert false belief here] then you aren’t a very good Catholic.” Someone literally said that to me (where the inserted false belief was that mother Mary is divine). It is ignorant statements by otherwise intelligent and educated people like Pinker that make well-read people think they know more about my religion than I do. 

That aside, I still recommend the book. 🙂

4.5 snowflakes for fascinating subject, good research, and writing style

Reason for reading: Interest, TBR pile
Format: Audiobook

Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco



The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco 

Genre: Teen Horror / Suspense

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Fire, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

SummaryTarquin (Tark) Halloway has been haunted his entire life. With a mentally ill mother and a caring father who works too much, he feels he has no one to talk to about the strange lady that slinks through mirrors and makes Tark do terrible things. But when he meets a roaming spirit, Okiku, they both begin to remember what it is to be human. With the help from Tark’s cousin Callie, Okiku and Tark must rid himself of his haunting. 

My Thoughts: Let me tell you, if I had read this book when I was 14, I would have been sleeping with the lights on for weeks. The spookiness / imagery is reminiscent of Japanese horror films that The Grudge (Ju-On: The Grudge) and The Ring (Ringu) were based on. (Have you seen the originals? Not the American remakes. Watch the real thing. Darn spooky! That’s what The Girl From the Well is like.) Same evil-ghost-child-with-long-creepy-hair-staring-at-you-in-crazy-fast-did-that-actually-just-happen-flashes feel to it. 

Part of Rin Chupeco’s spooky genius is her narration style. The story is narrated from the POV of the ghost, Okiku. Often, it reads like a 3rd person omniscient narrative, because Okiku mostly observes rather than acting. I often forgot I was reading a first person POV, and then suddenly Okiku would say something in the first person, and it was like she had just appeared out of nowhere. Like a ghost. Spooky. And then, sometimes Okiku would describe herself in the third person – a description of a ghost as Callie or Tark would have seen. This gave Okiku’s character a sense of otherness. She felt inhuman. Ineffable.

Overall, I think this was an fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more of Chupeco’s works. I miss the old days when ghosts were ghosts and monsters were monsters. I applaud Chupeco’s work as one more for the #reclaimhorror team. (Ok, I just made that hashtag up, so technically she’s the first on the team. But it’s all good.)




Rin Chupeco: Despite uncanny resemblances to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco has always maintained her sense of humor. Raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a technical writer and travel blogger, but now makes things up for a living. The Girl from the Well is her debut novel. Connect with Rin at www.rinchupeco.com.

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