Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Petalfrog”

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #40: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee

“I used to go through the newspaper, page by page, looking for interesting articles. When I found one, I would read it and then cut it out and throw away the rest. Before long, to save time, I looked through the paper and cut out the interesting articles, but I didn’t read them. After a while it was easier to look the the paper and just keep the whole if it contained an interesting article. Finally, I stopped even looking through the paper and just save the whole thing. I plan to read them when I have time.”

Stuff is written by Drs. Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, psychologists who specialize in research and treatment (often treatment research) of individuals with compulsive hoarding. Yep, they treat the folks that we see on A&E’s Hoarders and TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. The folks that we watch with our jaws hanging open as we witness mountains of things piled up to ceilings, covering two or three feet of floors (“goat trails”), and everything in total disarray despite protests of their importance — homes that are in total chaos, yet the hoarding individual is often blind to it. We watch in horror as discoveries of sailcats, rotten food in fridges that haven’t worked in years, and sometimes diapers (or bags) with feces emerge. We watch in concern as houses threaten to break under the burden of all the stuff. And most importantly we watch in disbelief and confusion — how do these people not see what is going? How are they blind to it? Why do they treat their supposedly treasured objects like trash? Why is it so difficulty to throw away what, to us, is clearly garbage? Unfortunately these shows offer only lip service to the many factors contributing to the growth and maintenance of a hoard.

Frost and Steketee, however, offer true answers. Based on years of research and clinical work, and using case studies, they explain the processes that lead to and maintain hoarding. Hoarding comes together as a messy marriage of excessive acquiring/accumulation and an inability to get rid of acquired stuff. Those are the parts we know about, but the authors explain why these two factors, and also why the selective blindness to the hoard, occur. The reasons, not surprisingly, are based in many areas of psychology — information processing (greater indecisiveness and more problems with decision making), cognitive-behavioral (irrational thoughts such as being afraid that throwing away a phone number will contribute to waste), anxiety avoidance (thinking about discarding causes anxiety, not throwing away reinforces anxiety relief), and minimal coping skills. Sometimes people also suffer from OCD or similar symptoms on the spectrum. Many suffer from perfectionism which leads them to do nothing rather than risk doing it wrong. Others suffer from delusional or magical thinking where they may anthropomorphize the objects (I can’t throw away this yogurt container since it will hurt their feelings). There is also emerging evidence for possible brain/genetic bases of hoarding. Most interestingly to me

As a doctoral psychology student I have always been fascinated by the hoarding shows on TV, but found myself having limited empathy for the majority of the people portrayed, at least when it came to the clean-up. I simply did not understand them, and could not conceptualize them in a way that made sense to me, and wound up feeling frustrated. I do have to say though, now having ways (based in psychology) to conceptualize what was going on (especially the information processing), my empathy has greatly increased. I thought often while watching the TV shows, “why don’t they just send them inpatient for a week or two and clean the place out?” This is definitely a topic addressed frequently in the book — the clean-up process and the many reasons why forced cleanout is a bad plan, and why the painful process of “one piece at a time” is the best way. Most hoarders have a deficiency in decision-making and categorization, and the “one piece at a time” is a way of teaching them those skills.

This book is completely fascinating, and written to appeal to the lay person. It has one of the most bizarre cases of animal hoarding that I’ve ever heard of (don’t worry, it’s not as scary to read as it is to watch, it’s just the back story is super weird). I seriously was sitting on the train with my jaw dropped at what I was reading. I won’t spoil it for you, but holy moley it was weird. I strongly recommend this to anyone who feels unsatisfied and full of questions after an episode of Hoarders or Buried Alive.

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #39: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a book of folklore stories set directly in the world of Harry Potter. It is the compilation of oral tales from the final book of the HP series, and cleverly introduces Harry, Hermione, and Ron to the “Deathly Hallows” through “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” In the Harry Potter universe, The Tales of Beedle the Bard are the equivalent of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, each with a moral lesson, and well-known by all Wizarding kids. The book is presented to us as a printed version of Hermione’s rune translation, with each of the five tales accompanied by analyses by Albus Dumbledore (Hogwarts’ headmaster). The stories get successively more intense, mature, and gruesome (for lack of a better word), which is very consistent with the growth of the Harry Potter series. The book is essentially designed to bring us directly into the Harry Potter universe, as if we too were wizards and simply reading an updated version of the Tales.

This is a short book, just over 100 pages, but it is a lovely palate cleanser from all the thrillers (murder, mystery, killer, horror) I’ve been reading lately. I definitely stick to a variation of the thriller/mystery/horror genre with an occasional foray into young adult or literary fiction, and it can be easy to get wrapped up in some of the heaviness and darkness and wind up craving something light and lovely. Thankfully, Beedle the Bard was exactly what I needed to wipe a clean slate before returning to the Kindle and all the books I have “scheduled” to read there. Some of the Tales were definitely darker than I expected (Woah, Hairy Heart), but told in such a beautiful fashion that they were actually delicious to read. I loved Dumbledore’s take and discussion of the various stories as well. Who doesn’t love a little Dumbledore in their life?

Can we also talk for a second about how gorgeous that cover is? It almost appears three dimensional, and has elements from each of the Tales in it. If I had a kid, I’d probably frame it for their bedroom wall!

Read the rest of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #38: The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

From Wikipedia, “The Harrowing is a horror novel by Alexandra Sokoloff. It was first published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press, and is the author’s debut book, following a screenwriting career.” I must say that this little blurb is not remotely surprising, as I kept thinking that the book seemed more like a movie than like a book. I really enjoyed the previous Alexandra Sokoloff book that I read and reviewed this had such great reviews on Amazon that I figured it would be another out of the ballpark hit for me. Well, I must say that Sokoloff has really stretched herself and improved as an author since this debut.

The Harrowing (I really like the name) is a ghost story set in a co-ed college dorm on a grand Gothic-style campus. Five students come together over the Thanksgiving weekend, the only ones to not go home. Robin Stone is the anchor of this story; she is sad, lonely, and briefly suicidal until she meets the other four who decided to stay. Each of the five have a reason for not staying, mostly because of their miserable family lives, and after drinking and getting high in the lounge they decide to play with a found Ouija Board. A spirit named Zachery communicates with them, and quickly creepy things start to happen to the group even after Thanksgiving is over and all the other students return. The group must figure out what type of supernatural force is at work, what it wants, and how to stop it before it kills them all.

I am not certain if this story is meant to be a young adult novel, but it certainly seemed to be designed to appeal to a younger audience. The characters are somewhat stereotypical (jock, nerd, brooding boy, slut, depressed girl), and the glimpses we get at deepening them are variable. The setting is also a bit stereotypical, and some of the dialogue a bit rote. I did enjoy the twist of the character who opened up to the spirit the most, as this is the person we would expect to lead the fight against it. I thought the use of Kabbalah and pulling from the Jewish faith was fairly inspired as many stories of good vs. evil tend to be told from the point of view of the Christian (specifically Catholic) faith. This offered a unique perspective on an ancient archetype and definitely helped grab my interest at a point when it was waning a bit. Some of the imagery is quite powerful, especially as the spirit enters the human world. I think it was a bit of a shame that by the time the story really found its legs and broke away from sterotypes, it hit the climax and ended.

This is a bit nitpicky, but there were also some errors in the story that pulled me out of it. For example, on my Kindle the spelling of “Luis Vuitton” was incredibly distracting. Also, I believe the college is in the U.S., yet mid-terms happened after Thanksgiving when the return from that holiday usually signals the move towards finals. At one point the police are looking for the characters, yet never try to reach them on the cell phone they have. The constant use of the phrase, “the Net,” was also quite distracting since it is a bit old-timey.

I wish that I loved this book more as I have had some truly lovely interaction with Alexandra Sokoloff since I published the review for Book of Shadows. She sent me an e-book (Huntress Moon) and a hard cover (The Price), both of which I am dying to read. I am happy to say that this was a debut, and she was switching a very different style of writing than she had previously been doing (screen-writing), so I am sure there was a huge learning curve to translate ideas and concepts into novel-form. Either way, I still enjoy Sokoloff’s focus on the supernatural and experimenting with it in different ways, and I am excited to read the two books she sent me.

Read the rest of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #37: Stranger in the Room by Amanda Kyle Williams

Keye Street is an ex-FBI profiler and current private detective, doing her best to make her new business work while staying true to herself. She gets a call from her cousin Miki, a troubled award-winning photographer, who claims she saw a man inside her home. Despite her initial skepticisim, Keye has Miki stay with her, even though Miki triggers Keye in every way possible. At the same time, Keye’s lover, Atlanta PD detective Rauser, is investigating the murder of a 13-year old boy. Keye and Rauser find themselves aligning when his case and Miki’s become intertwined.

This was a really solid mystery thriller. It is the second showing of Keye and Rauser; a follow-up to The Stranger You Seek. The pacing of this novel is really interesting. We are quickly involved in Miki’s stuff, but slowly eased into how her case connects with Rauser’s. While this is building up, Keye is also investigating a shady crematorium, which takes us out of Atlanta and into rural Georgia for about one-third of the book. It’s a great aside, and really creepy and gruesome in many ways. Once that mini-case has been solved, however, the action in Atlanta immediately picks up and we are thrown head-first into Miki’s case and the murders that Rauser must solve.

Keye and Rauser make a great team, both in and out of the bedroom. They are funny, sweet, loving, yet professional throughout. Their respect and caring for each other is palatable, and quite enjoyable. Keye herself, is a great character. She is Chinese-American and also adopted after her own parents were murdered, something that she struggles with understanding three decades later. She is an alcoholic, four years sober. I really felt for her struggle with wanting to drink and thought this was portrayed quite realistically. There is one scene at the end with the bad guy that is particularly heart-wrenching.

This book is fun, suspenseful, and most importantly FUNNY. I love the real-life style dialogue, and the wittiness of the characters. I loved the rich description of Atlanta and rural Georgia, as well as Keye’s mom’s cooking (yum yum). Overall, I thought this was a great book and I’d gladly read more by this author.

This was a netgalley read and is released on August 21st!!

Read more of my reviews at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #36: Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett

I wonder once again if this is really the way high school is supposed to be. It seems like everyone around me is having a great time drinking, dating, having sex and almost getting arrested. But somehow I always seem to be on the wrong side of the equation.

Confessions of an Angry Girl is an excellent young adult novel about the difficulty of dealing with high school, friends, love, and loss. Told from the wry, funny, and often sad and confused voice of Louise Rozett, this is a wonderfully crafted debut novel.

Read the rest at my blog here!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #35: Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff brings a unique, supernatural twist to the traditional crime thriller. The story is an overall success, with some truly excited and interesting moments.

Read the rest of my review here at my blog!!!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #34: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I’ve had this book for about two years, ever since it came out in 2010 (I even got the hard cover version), but somehow just got around to reading it. I love Stephen King. Most people complain about his overworked (and often “scenery chewing”) narrative, but that’s what makes me love his writing. I also have enjoyed his short story and novella works, often more than full length novels.

Full Dark, No Stars contains 4 novellas. Two are over 100 pages each and I even contemplated reviewing them separately since that meets the CBR4 criteria! According to Stephen King himself, his theme in the novellas was ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I think only two of the stories truly reflect that (i.e., they’re the only two we, as ordinary people, might be able to identify with).

1922 is the first story, and is the tale of a farmer who, along with his teenage son, kills his wife in order to preserve their farmland. All kinds of awful things happen following her murder, and the farmer slowly begins to descend into madness (or is his wife in fact haunting him?). It is unclear whether he is in fact going insane, or if there is a supernatural element, and this is left deliberately ambiguous. This story is fine, a bit long and dragging at points, but interesting enough.

Big Trucker is about a late-30s female author, Tess, who on her way home from a speaking engagement, gets a flat tire and is subsequently raped and left for dead by a trucker who stops to “help” her. She, taking cues from various revenge movies, decides to seek her own revenge on the trucker (he believes her dead). It is a really well-crafted tale, especially as the heroine remains throughout a regular lady. She doesn’t suddenly develop martial arts or weaponry skills, or become some skilled spy assassin. She makes mistakes, and she’s aware constantly that she might fail.

Fair Extension, the shortest of the four, was my least favorite story. Dave Streeter, recently diagnosed with a fatal cancer, finds himself making a deal with a wheeling dealing street vendor (who Dave assumes is crazy). He gives the vendor 15% of his income for the next 15 years of his life, and his cancer is taken away. However, part of that deal too, is he has to give his misfortune to the person he hates most in life. For Dave, this person happens to be his best friend who he holds a grudge against for stealing his girlfriend in college (keep in mind that Dave is nearly 50). I didn’t particularly enjoy this story as it left the least room for character development, and Dave feels no sort of remorse or moral qualm about the outcome of his decision. Perhaps that WAS the character development — sometimes people do shitty things for shitty reasons and actually feel fine with that.

The Good Marriage was probably my favorite of the four. Darcy has been married to Bob for 27 years. Their marriage is comfortable and happy even though the sparks have somewhat faded after over a quarter century together. While Bob is away on a business trip, Darcy discovers a horrible secret that he has been hiding, and in that one moment everything changes for her. For me, this was most in keeping with the ordinary people in extraordinary situations motif. Darcy’s discovery and decision are truly horrifying, and she had many options in front of her. In the end, the one she makes, while maybe not the one you or I would make, is totally justifiable.

I think, more so than “ordinary people in extraordinary situations,” King taps into a theme of our individual “others.” In all the stories, the main characters are faced with some deeper, darker, ego-driven part of themselves. This is made obvious in three of the stories; we’ve got The Conniving Man, The Courageous Woman, and the Darker Wife (plus we get some cameos from Tess’ GPS, Tom Tom, and her cat). This is certainly a fairly consistent theme across King’s stories, but I think the exploration of these other-selves is especially notable in these novellas since these other-selves seem to be what allows the protagonists to get through the “extraordinary” situations. It’s certainly an interesting notion — can we only get through difficult, unexpected, horrifying, unknown situations if we tap in to our deepest, darkest selves? Do those selves allow us to absolve responsibility for what we’re doing? Of course, since it’s Stephen King’s world, these questions are not answered in a black and white fashion. Some characters have better outcomes than others, but even those with the best must live with the knowledge of what they did in their extraordinary situation and the knowledge that they are no longer ordinary.

Read the rest of my reviews on my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #33: The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

As you can see by the cover of the book, the publisher’s are really pushing the Stieg Larrson connection. I mean who can blame them? The Girl series was wildly successful, so why not try to cash in on that? Unfortunately, The Gingerbread House (which is first in the Hammberby series) does not live up to the Stieg Larrson name. And why should it? Carin Gerhardsen is NOT Stieg Larrson, and aside from being a murder mystery the books really have no connection. I think it’s a bit disingenuous for the publishing house to make the connection, since it does set up expectations (as silly as that may be), in the reader’s mind.

Read the full review (and find out what the book is about) at my blog!

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review#32: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Night Eternal is the third installment in what I think of as the strigoi trilogy, following The Strain and The Fall. When I saw The Strain on Amazon, written by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro, I knew immediately I would be buying and reading the entire trilogy. First off, I LOVE when books come in a set. Secondly, how could these two possibly go wrong? Guillermo Del Toro is the genius director of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, two of the most beautiful and haunting movies I’ve ever seen. Chuck Hogan is author of Prince of Thieves, the book that Ben Affleck’s The Town was based on. He’s like Jr. Lehane. There was no room for anything but greatness with this trilogy, and I quickly devoured The Strain and moved on to The Fall. I finally got the paperback of The Night Eternal, and now I have completed the trilogy and discovered that sometimes, greatness can be overestimated.

Read the full spoiler-ific review here!!! Opens in new window

Petalfrog’s #CBR4 Review #31: The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K

I was really looking forward to reading this book. The plot summary seemed light and fun, and I was hoping to have a easy, breezy read that would make me laugh. I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book, but alas, I really disliked it.

Bernice is from a small Nevada town, where she and her husband own the local inn. She is a preacher’s daughter, and as such grew up sexually inhibited despite her secret interests in erotic antiques. She loves her husband and children, but is overall a bit bored with her life. She purchases an antique makeup case that was once owned by one of China’s most infamous concubines, Blissful Night. In the case she finds a container of face powder. She begins to wear the powder which makes her skin look flawless, along with a bizarre side effect of giving her powerful sexual visions of the people she comes in contact with. Most of the visions are of the future and what the people in them need to do to be “happy.” Bernice finds that the visions won’t go away until she tells the people in them what she has seen. Soon she’s blurting out what she has seen to her friends, inn guests, and random townsfolk. The plot summary at Goodreads described it as “sexual advice,” but really she’s just saying exactly what she’s seen in the visions. The side plot revolves around the town’s brothel (this is Nevada afterall), and the sexually repressed townspeople’s fight to get it shut down.

Here are some of my problems with this book:
1. Character development. Essentially there was none. Bernice is completely one-note and confusing as a main character. She’s pretty boring, and the little stories we get of her childhood do nothing to deepen her or make her interesting. She also kind of an idiot, as she believes the makeup box (rather than the powder) is giving her the visions. She blurts out these visions to people in the beginning, and is embarrassed by this, but later in the book with NO transition or thought process, she is suddenly deliberately telling people in the most nonchalant fashion. She even considers leaving her husband because she saw a vision of herself and the town reverend having a great sexual romp. The notion of equating good sex with eternal happiness is present throughout the book and I am not entirely sure what I think of that message. When she tells people her visions they immediately drop what they’re doing and run off to pursue what the vision showed. For example, she saw a vision of one of the town prostitutes having a love affair with a man in Italy. She tells her this and the prostitute immediately quits everything, flies to Europe, finds the man, and calls her the next day to tell her they’re madly in love and so happy.

Mrs. Wright watched Polly out of the corner of her eye, “What do you think the vision means?” she asked her. “I need to retire,” Polly said resolutely.

This happens CONSTANTLY. Perhaps the magic takes over the people she tells as well, but if so, you’d think this would be laid out.No one questions her or thinks this is odd and there is no discussion of whether she should in fact tell people what she sees, or of the consequences of doing so. Her mom gets a bit mad with her and the town gossip gets her kicked out of the church congregation, but there is little in terms of Bernice’s reaction or processing of any of this. It’s all so simplistic it’s a bit much to handle.

2. The sex scenes. I am by NO means a prude, and I love a book with a good sex scene, but these sexual visions were just bizarre. Lots of them have violence or humiliation as core to what makes people happy, as well as fetish stuff such as dressing up in Halloween costumes, and foot play (seriously, toes are involved in at least three of the visions). I get that the town is supposed to be filled with sexually repressed people, but I don’t see why every single one of them apparently needs kinky sex to be fulfilled. One of them also details Bernice’s vision of her daughter losing her virginity which I am not entirely sure why that was included. Overall, the visions don’t seem to contribute anything to the story overall, except to shock the reader. They are graphic but not erotic.

3. The writing. I could overlook one-dimensional characters, lack of development and motivation, and bizarre sex scenes IF the writing style was excellent and effective. Alas, it too is so simplistic, and at times even inconsistent, that I just could not enjoy the fantastical nature of the plot.

Without clothes she looked like a pitiful orphan but her thinness only made her breasts look larger and Rusty couldn’t take his eye off of them.

He was already drinking tea and listening to Mrs. Lin explain the complex signs and secret words that medieval gays used for communication…

The dialogue is also cringe-worthy, and really in no way how people actually speak. I often found myself laughing, not because it was funny, but because it was SO bad.

“I imagine that he looks ill because his passions keep him from sleeping. In bed that man would surprise me by gripping me like a vice and he would persevere even though the fierce impact of his body with mine would threaten to break his bones. It is the intensity of his passions that give him strength.”

What I DID like in this book was the tale of Blissful Night’s life that is interspersed throughout the story. She is the only interesting character in the whole book, and I was constantly interested to learn more about her and her life.

The reviews over at Goodreads are mostly positive (52% gave it 4 out of 5 stars), so it seems I am the exception in really disliking this book. I was not amused, entertained, or excited while reading it. I did not laugh out of humour, or feel connected to the characters. I was not turned on by the sex scenes. I did not have fun reading this. It’s sad really because the plot had lots of potential and could have been a fun romp. Instead it was awkward and badly written, as well as repetitive and a bit boring. I got this book through the e-book promotion at CBR4 and am very interested to read everyone else’s reviews! I wish I could have enjoyed this more, but alas, it was not to be this time around.

Read more of my reviews here!

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