Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

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Mental illness can be a difficult topic to discuss. In his novel Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett attempts to grapple with the subject. He tells the story of a family who deals with the mental illness of their patriarch early on. When Margaret made the decision to marry John, she was aware of his depression. The novel follows the effects of John's struggles with depression and the way those difficulties impact his entire family.

Haslett provides insight into each member of the family's unique reaction to mental illness by having each chapter alternate perspective to that of a different character. This approach can be illuminating at times while creating a distance between reader and character at others. I found the chapters about the mother and sisters to be particularly effective. They attempt to create some kind of normalcy within a family that is riddled with the uncertainty that mental illness can bring.

Where the novel lost me was in the chapters of one brother in particular, Michael. Like his father, Michael suffers from mental illness that makes his chapters nearly impossible to comprehend. He has a particular obsession with music that was endearing at first. It was a way to form some kind of connection. Unfortunately, he seems to deteriorate over time, making his chapters more and more confusing and hard to connect with.

While I think this is an intentional tool for Haslett to demonstrate the troubled mind of a man with severe mental illness, it makes for a book that is often difficult to follow. I have a very mixed reaction to this book because of that. On the one hand, I appreciate how Haslett uses Michael to help the reader understand the other family member's challenge of dealing with a loved one with mental illness. On the other hand, these portions were so uncomfortable to read that I nearly stopped reading the book all together. Imagine Me Gone is as brilliantly conceived as it is frustrating to digest. I can appreciate why the book has been so acclaimed, but I really struggled to connect with it.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 43)

Friday Flicks: American Assassin

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"You go down out there, you're a ghost. There's nobody, nobody coming back for you."

A couple months ago, I read American Assassin by the late author Vince Flynn. The origin story for his hero Mitch Rapp provided some solid back story to the CIA operative. Hollywood has been trying to bring the hero to the screen for years. By adapting this prequel novel and casting young Dylan O'Brien of Maze Runner fame as Rapp, filmmakers have set up this movie to serve as the first in a planned franchise based upon Flynn's novels.

The film opens with the gruesome scene of Mitch witnessing his fiance being murdered in cold blood during a terrorist attack on a beach. Driven by grief and an unyielding thirst for revenge, Rapp begins the process of infiltrating the terrorist group responsible for the attack. As a lone civilian in contact with some of the world's most wanted terrorists, he quickly catches the attention of the CIA. Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) takes a particular interest in Rapp. His personal drive, physical strength, and discreet investigative prowess could make him an ideal candidate for the agency's top secret Orion group.

Kennedy intervenes in Rapp's crazed mission to infiltrate the terrorist group and whisks him off to a remote cabin in the woods for training. Orion's operatives are trained and managed by Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hurley instantly dislikes Rapp and argues that he lacks both the experience and mental fortitude to join the team. Soon the CIA learns that an American born terrorist "Ghost" is planning to construct a nuclear weapon, Rapp and Hurley are forced to put their differences aside for the good of the country.

I have a mixed reaction to this film. Much of the action and acting comes off as very "by the numbers". It is easy to see where the story is going, and the movie offers little in terms of political commentary or innovation. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy myself. Michael Keaton shines as the ornery Hurley, reveling in every scene he's given. The arc of Rapp's character is much more developed and believable than it was in the novel, offering a true emotional payoff. O'Brien has the potential to grow into the role if another movie is made. A tease at the end of the film offers a tantalizing taste of things to come. While it never soars, American Assassin is still a solid action flick that marks a promising start to a potential franchise.


The Late Show by Michael Connelly

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As a lover of crime fiction and mysteries, it pains me to admit that I've never read a novel by acclaimed author Michael Connelly. My book blogging buddies have done their part to recommend his books, and I've enjoyed the Harry Bosch series from Amazon. Still, I've been hesitant to pick up one of his books. Starting an established series can be a daunting task, especially when I have so many other novels to read and review. This fall, however, the stars finally seemed to align. When his publisher offered me a copy of his latest novel, the start of a brand new character and series, I couldn't say no.

Renee Ballard is a veteran of the LAPD who spends her evenings working the Late Show. She hasn't always worked this overnight shift, but a sexual harassment complaint against another officer didn't quite go as planned. She's a woman in a male dominated profession working a shift that sees her hand off each case to her daytime colleagues. Ballard has mostly comes to terms with her new found work life. She dutifully files her reports each morning before finding some rest at home with her dog.

In a rare break from the monotony of her usual evenings, Ballard is hit with a double-whammy of crimes that she can't let go. The first involves the brutal beating of a transgender prostitute. The second is a shootout at a nightclub that left several people dead. Her superiors grant her the authority to investigate the the assault case, but are strangely secretive about the shootout. Rachel works well into the daytime hours on little sleep to get to the bottom of this horrific case. But how close can she get to the suspect without putting herself and her career at risk?

After reading The Late Show, I can now see why Michael Connelly's books are so highly regarded. He writes with a bare-bones urgency that keeps the pages turning and the suspense tightly wound. It did take me a while to start rooting for Ballard. Connelly's focus on advancing the plot made Ballard's development as a character take a back burner at first. As the novel and plot progress, we learn more about Ballard. By the climax of the novel, I felt like I was right there with her discovering all the shocking secrets and twists. Count me in as a fan of Michael Connelly who can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 42)

Long Dead Beatniks: The New Pharaohs, A Guest Post by Daniel Falatko

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In the ancient Egyptian and Persian empires, Pharaohs and Kings remained fully worshiped for hundreds of years after their mortal bodies had perished. Massive cults would tend to their tombs, keeping the torches lit and the gardens lush. Festivals in their honor would occur regularly. New monuments would be erected. Thousands of bulls would be sacrificed. Fine wines and enough food to feed the populace would be laid out on the temple grounds to satiate the deceased Ruler in the afterlife. In their lifetimes these Pharaohs and Kings were seen as living Gods, and in their deaths they attained a level of eternal worship reserved for Saviors and those that have always existed beyond the mortal chains.

While this type of cult worship of deceased men has mostly died out in modern times, there is one glaring exception: Dead Beatniks.

How many books can there possibly be on the Beat Generation? 10,000? 87, 000? 1,00,011? It's hard to tell through traditional Amazon and Google searches due to the sheer immensity of the collected material on these dead literary icons. Just as an example, how many books on William S. Burroughs exist in the informational ether? An exact number is similarly hard to pinpoint, but at least 80 for sure. Keep in mind that dear old Willie wasn't anywhere near as mainstream as his handsome contemporary Jack Kerouac or that bearded jester Allen Ginsberg. So you can imagine how many weighty tomes have been dedicated to those two. When you add all of these printed pages to the dozens of professional and amateur documentaries on the Beats, the many yearly gatherings from large festivals to open mic poetry nights, the hundreds of web pages and message boards, and the long lineage of testimonials from artists both obscure and world famous, you can clearly see an ancient Pharaoh style centuries-long cult worship beginning to take shape.

So how long have some of these beatniks been dead? Winos never last long, so Kerouac has been amongst the dead for going on 50 years. The same goes for fringe characters who never strike it rich, so goodby to Neal Cassidy for around the same amount of time. Dear Old Junkie Uncle Bill has been gone since the 90s. The same for allen and his comb-over. These particular dead beatniks are certainly the titans of the scene, much to the consternation of the unfortunately still living Gary Snyder, who most likely regrets his years of mountain climbing and pure Buddhist health since they've allowed him to live in comparative obscurity while his contemporaries have died in worshipped glory.

When you factor in that the average ancient Pharaoh post-death cult lasted 300 years in the most extreme cases, you can see that the worship of dead beatniks has a very good chance of reaching this empirical level. Fifty years on and there seems to be at least a couple weighty biographies released on the Wino God and The Junkie God each year, and there appears to be no letup in the volume of events, festivals, think pieces, testimonials, and other modern style God offerings/sacrifices to these long dead Kings.

The curious and commendable aspect of this worship is its ability to find enough oxygen to exist in the suffocating atmosphere of today's ultra-politially-correct, language-and-thought policed, scorched earth landscape. This age is certainly not very forgiving to the arts. The increasing inability to separate the personal lives of artists and their works by large chunks of the populace should not be very kind to the beats, after all. In an age where John Lennon himself is seen as some sort of devil for the lone sin of having been a complicated person, then what about a gun toting, right wing, sex tourist old junkie? Or how about a NAMBLA-supporting, self-hating Jew? A child-abandoning dirty old man, anyone? How about a sexist conservative Catholic drunk who banged his friends' wives and died a deadbeat dad despite millions of paperbacks sold? Can the fact that these "problematic" aspects can continue to fly under the radar while the weight and impact of their artistic works are allowed to shine for themselves as they should be seen as an ancient-style reluctance to view once living Gods as being bound to the standards of the meek mortal masses? There may be a heat seeking missile of a think piece being cooked up as we speak in the Slate of HuffPo SJW basement, but until now it does look as if the dead beatnik Pharaohs, remarkably, have escaped the torches and pitchforks which have diminished the cults of other long dead Emperors and Kings.

Who would have ever thought that a ragtag and disparate band of 50's bebop-damaged jivesters who published between them a grand total of 3 (three) culturally-relevant works many decades past could somehow dodge and duck the pendulums of shifting modern cultures and tastes to ascend the gilded tombs of the Pharaohs, attended to by mass cults for what is starting to look like centuries to come? Keep in mind that these dudes were alive at a time when there was such a thing as a successful poet for chrissakes. The whole sixties thing that most people point to as the beginning of everything that is right and cool with the world hadn't even happened yet when these giants first walked the earth. And yet here they are poised to be the first set of cultural icons to match the cult worship endurance test of ancient times.

With the inevitable take-up from far-in-the-future generations eternally curious about dudes who took drugs and slept with lots of people, it really is beginning to look as if the dead beatniks, of all people, will be the New Pharaohs.

So lay your pottery at the foot of the stone steps and lead your bull to the alter. Place your fruit jugs of wine upon the massive pile. Dedicate 1/5 of your crop money to the erection of the new stone monuments. Hail the long dead beatnik Pharaohs and sacrifice you own well-being to assure that they are will nurtured and fully-equipped in the afterlife.

Or just crack open that beat-up paperback of Cities of The Red Night for the 27th time.

Daniel Fatalko's novel Travels and Travails of Small Minds is on sale October 2nd. He is the author of a previous novel, Condominium. He is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in New York City.




The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

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Ruth Ramsey is the Sex Ed teacher at a local high school. She firmly believes that providing kids with a strong knowledge of safe sex practices will result in them coming to mature decisions. Knowledge is power, after all. When the local evangelical church The Tabernacle begins to intervene in the school curriculum, Ruth decides to take a stand. The church is pushing abstinence only education that has been proven not to work. Ruth finds herself facing the decision to follow her values or tow the line and teach something she does not believe in. 

Tim Mason has been saved. Before joining The Tabernacle, he was a drug addict who abandoned his wife and daughter to get his fix. Since finding religion, he's remarried, joined the church band, and coaches his daughters soccer team. Life is pretty good. When the soccer team pulls off an upset to make their way to the league championships, Tim spontaneously bows his head to offer a prayer with the girls. This seemly innocent gesture turns to controversy when another parent, Ruth Ramsey, takes objection to Tim "pushing his religion" on her daughter.

The Abstinence Teacher sees Tom Perrotta explore spirituality, sexuality, and the balance between the two in a family drama that both entertains and inspires. While the novel is rooted firmly in the "modern time" of its publication year (2007), it manages to be surprisingly relevant to discussions that are happening today. It is interesting that 10 years later, we are still debating the ideals of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Perrotta's writing is, at times, vibrant and compelling. Other times he grows a bit heavy handed, especially when proclaiming the novel's moral takeaways. Despite some shortcomings, The Abstinence Teacher focuses on topics that continue to be worthy of discussion and debate. It won't stand as one of my favorite reads this year, but it did inspire me to reflect on our current political climate.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 41)

Author Q&A/Giveaway: A Few Minor Adjustments by Cherie Kephart

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A Book A Week is pleased to welcome author Cherie Kephart to the blog! Cherie recently chatted with us about her new memoir A Few Minor Adjustments. In addition to spending some time with us, Cherie and her publisher have graciously provided a couple copies of her book to give away. If this sounds like something you'd like to read, be sure to enter to win a copy at the end of this post.

Your inspirational memoir, A Few Minor Adjustments begins in Zambia, when you were working there as a Peace Corps volunteer. What transpired during your time there, and how has your experience as a traveler influenced your personal journey on the road to better health?

When I traveled, I was forced to open my mind, to pay attention, and to be adventurous. I had to learn to be comfortable with my fear of the unknown. Living in Zambia taught me that. I stayed with a local Zambian family, ate dishes such as boiled millet and fried-caterpillars. I build makeshift wells and latrines near a crocodile-infested river close to the border of politically unstable Zaire. Each day was an adventure, especially when it came to my health. I had giardia, dysentery, a putzi fly infection resulting in maggots in my butt, and almost died from an uncommon case of malaria. Almost dying in Africa was a pivotal point for me. I realized I needed a fierce will to live if I was going to survive. Now all these years later, that has never changed. It's the one constant that has kept me going.

After falling ill in Zambia, you returned to the US and began a journey that centered around trying to cope with continuing mysterious health issues. What were some of the high and low points of that time when you were first struggling to figure out the cause of your symptoms?

The worst part was the not knowing why I was so sick, if I would ever heal, or if I was going to die. Every day I woke with the same questions, and each night I went to bed with no answer. It was terrifying. And it went on for years. I was hundreds of doctors, healers, and therapists: rheumatologists, cardiologists, integrative medicine specialists, neurologists, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and eccentric healers such as a Russian ex-physicist who waved fertile chicken-eggs over my chest to try to reset the rhythm of my heart.

I came close to committing suicide. But that's the miraculous part. We don't realize what we are capable of until we are faced with enormous challenges. I learned to respect my inner strength, to know how much I could endure and how much I could rise above. I kept finding ways to change myself and my situation, like changing my attitude; changing the foods I ate, trying new therapies and treatments, including an exploratory heart procedure. I stayed open and stopped looking back. What a magnificent lesson!

There are many individuals, including family, friends, and the various healers you've spoken about who helped you along the way. What impact did these people have on your attempts to both live with and diagnose your illness?

That was one of the most beautiful gifts I've ever been given; to see how much people cared and fell their compassion and love. My family and friends never gave up on me. That kept me strong. Without them, I wouldn't be here. I'm certain of that, especially with regard to my mother and my grandfather. Both of them helped me financially, since I lost the ability to work. They were also there from me emotionally. My boyfriend Alex, the one I dedicated the book to, was amazing. He went to doctor appointments, did research on my health, cared for me while I was bedridden and unable to walk unassisted. I will never forget it. People often tell me how strong I am. I always reply the same way, "I'm only as strong as my support system." As horrendous as my physical health was, I always had love.

During the course of documenting what was happening with your health, you decided to turn your personal story into an inspirational memoir. What inspired you to do this, and how did writing the book help with your healing process?

I've always been fascinated with memoirs. Reading a memoir, I get to dive deep into someone else's world, to understand their most intimate struggles and triumphs. I got to know them. It's like I get to live another life for a little while. I also feel that memoirs connect us, bridging the gaps between different aspects of our humanity.

Writing a memoir is deeply cathartic. I believe we write a memoir twice. The first time we write it, we write it for ourselves. We write to release the emotions and energy surrounding everything we have endured. Then, when it is at the point where we feel clarity around it, we re-write and fine-tune it to make it accessible and ready to release to the world. We prepare the story in such a way that enables people to easily come along our inner and outer journeys and gain insights from them. Ernest Hemingway said it best, "Write hard and clear about what hurts." That's what I did.

It's difficult to explain how writing this memoir contributed to my healing. I certainly don't think it mad the process go any faster. But it made me go deeper into the crevices of pain where I didn't necessarily want to go. So the healing I've experienced is more profound and lasting.

What would you like readers to remember most about your story?

We all have pain and suffering, but we all have joy and beauty. It's really about perspective and choosing each day to show up in a positive way and to have more compassion for each other, and ourselves. If we don't understand something, like an undiagnosed illness, then it is our duty as human beings not to turn away or reject the unknown, but to offer compassion, even if it is something we don't understand. Actually, especially if it's something we don't understand.

You've said that you would like to give a voice to those who are also struggling with an undiagnosed illness. What would you say to those who are on a similar path as yours?

If I could survive all that I have, and it's been a lot for one person to endure, then anyone else can, too. Even when we feel like ending it all, we have to find a reason to live for just one more sunrise and then one more sunset. Because we never know what is around the corner. There were so many times I was ready to end it all. I was barely alive. Now, I look back, and I'm so glad I didn't give up. As long as you have the will to live, you can heal.

With such a powerfully personal and inspirational story, what's next for you? Are there any new books on your horizon?

My next projects are companion books to this memoir: The Healing 100 and The Symptoms 100. The Healing 100 highlights the top one-hundred things I did to heal, and The Symptoms 100 focuses on the top 100 symptoms I had what what helped me to work through them. I also have a collection of poetry, Poetry of Peace, which chronicles four stages of life, Seeing the World, Through Darkness, Into Light, and With Peace. It's really about the emotional and spiritual aspects of healing. Lastly, I am creating a cookbook filled with allergy-free recipes: The Cookbook for People Who Can't Eat Anything. I'm excited about these projects since the goal is to provide insight, a touch of humor, and ideas on ways to heal. I hope people can learn from my experience, be inspired, and have some tools for their own healing journey.

Our thanks to Cherie Kephart for joining us today. For more on Cherie and her memoir A Few Minor Adjustments visit her website www.CherieKephart.com

To enter for a chance to win either a physical or ebook copy of this novel, use the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US/Canadian residents, no PO boxes please. Ends October 4, 2017. Winners will have 48 hours to respond after being contacted.

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